Here we are winding down the month of June and normally that signals that Steelers training camp will be getting underway in Latrobe in a month. The only problem of course is that the lockout is still going on and free agency has yet to take place. Outside of little tidbits of news and a few player interviews here and there, all we can do to fill the time is to speculate on certain things. So here is some speculation for you.
The Steelers entered the offseason with 3 key free agent decisions on their plate. They took care of one temporarily when they franchised linebacker LaMarr Woodley. Woodley signed his tender, worth about $10.1 million next season, right before the lockout started and now the Steelers can work towards getting a long term deal with him. The other two key free agents are of course cornerback Ike Taylor and tackle Willie Colon.
The good news with both Taylor and Colon is that it truly seems that they both want to return to Pittsburgh. The bad news is they both might look to get paid what their market value is to do so. On the surface you would think both are not interested in giving the Steelers much of a hometown discount, if any at all, but some unconfirmed reports suggest Colon indeed is willing to do just that. I am a little skeptical of that though.
I currently have the market value for Taylor at around $7-8 million a year including signing bonus, but that could indeed change depending on what the new salary cap total dollar amount ends up being and if a floor is put into place in addition. It does not mean that other teams will not over pay for his services either. The 2011 projected franchise tag amount of cornerbacks was around $14-15 million, so it is highly unlikely he will get anywhere near that amount. Should the Steelers end up signing Taylor for say $7.5 million a season, including signing bonus, it would likely make him the 3rd highest cap hit on the defensive side of the ball behind only Woodley and safety Troy Polamalu based on my salary cap numbers.
Veteran defensive end Aaron Smith, who is entering the final year of his contract, is set to count just over $6 million against the cap in 2011. It is no secret that he has been injury prone as he has missed 26 regular season games over the last 4 seasons. There are rumblings that he still might not be 100% by the time training camp starts, albeit I have seen nothing definitive on that. Regardless, he might be asked to take a pay cut if he wants to return for one more season with the Steelers as he certainly could be relegated to backing up 2009 first round draft pick Ziggy Hood. Should the Steelers release him outright, he will only count around $1.6 million in dead money and save the Steelers around 4.5 million against the cap. This money would help ease the cap burden should they get Taylor re-signed.
Smith certainly has been a model Steeler and you would hate to see his career end so abruptly. He would likely not get much attention from other teams if he were to be released, so he might be better served to take a $4 million pay cut and contribute as a role player and a shot at one more Super Bowl championship. Once again that $4 million could be funneled to Taylor, should they re-sign him. Just a thought.
Should Colon not want to give the discount, the market value and demand for his services will play a huge part in his status. He was rumored to want around $4-5 million a season initially as he returns from an Achilles\’ injury that cost him his entire 2010 season and speculation is that several teams might be interested in him whenever free agency begins. Even though he has said he is not totally against moving to guard, something I suggested months ago, he surely will still want to be paid like a starting tackle one would think. Left guard Chris Kemoeatu is scheduled to count $4million or so against the 2011 cap and left tackle Max Starks around $7 million plus. You can do the math there.
Should Colon indeed somehow re-sign with Pittsburgh, it will almost certainly cost Flozell Adams his roster spot. Adams is slated to cost the Steelers $5 million in 2011 and he can be released without salary cap implications, as the two-year contract he signed prior to training camp last year did not include a signing bonus. Adams has stated he wants to return in 2011, but only if he can start. If Colon re-signs, he will most likely be the starting right tackle if indeed Adams is jettisoned.
All of this said I still see it as highly unlikely that the Steelers are able to get both Taylor and Colon re-signed, but not impossible mind you. The new salary cap numbers will play a big part in this I am sure, but should either indeed get re-signed, I think the chances are good that either Smith or Adams pay for it. Perhaps even both.