The questions are rolling in about the Pittsburgh Steelers 2012 free agents so I threw together a quick rundown of the restricted, unrestricted and exclusive rights free agents as the Steelers head into the offseason. The 6 restricted free agents will all certainly be tendered with only Mike Wallace receiving a first round tender. The other 5 will receive the lowest one year tenders. These amounts have not yet been released and I will post those amounts later in the offseason when they are made known. Both exclusive right free agents have no choice but to accept their tender offers and they can\’t entertain offers from other teams as they are exclusive. Restricted free agents can entertain offers from other teams and the Steelers will have 7 days I believe to match the offer or receive a draft pick in return for the round the player was originally drafted in as compensation. Here is the breakdown of the 2012 free agent class.
QB Charlie Batch – Batch was already on the outside looking in before the injury to Leftwich happened. Dixon never could seize the backup role and Batch found himself in the number 2 spot all season. Batch certainly will not play anywhere else in 2012 and depending on if the Steelers decide to go younger and cheaper, Batch very well could wind back up as the #3 quarterback should he decide he wants to play another year. This decision will not be made until just before camp starts.
QB Byron Leftwich – I have a feeling Leftwich will be back as the #2 if he doesn\’t get a better offer elsewhere. He missed the entire season after breaking his arm in the preseason and missed all of 2010 with a knee injury. The Steelers need at least one veteran backup and I doubt Leftwich has many suitors. He should come cheap.
QB Dennis Dixon – Dixon wants out and will more than likely end up elsewhere as a backup. I just can\’t see either side wanting each other at this point.
WR Jerricho Cotchery – Cotchery fits what the Steelers do, but he would be the 4th receiver should he return. He might explore the market and certainly will not get big money from the Steelers. He is a hard one to gauge and it would not surprise me either way. My gut tells me he will not be back as we sit here in January.
T Max Starks – The Steelers will get Willie Colon back next year and rookie Marcus Gilbert will likely be flipped over to left tackle. Starks was left to hang in the wind until after week 4 this past season and the best he could hope for is another one year minimum deal to return to camp to compete for a backup spot. He will be left to blow in the wind for a while. Don\’t hold your breath that he will be back especially now that we know he could need offseason ACL surgery.
G/T Trai Essex – Essex will not be sought after in free agency and the Steelers will likely let him stay on the street until they shape their roster. They need to go younger on the offensive line and Essex has likely played his last game with the Steelers unless another rash of injuries hit.
NT Chris Hoke – This has to be to be the end of the line for Hoke. What a great Steeler he was. The Steelers must get younger and that includes the backups. Steve McLendon will be back and another young nose tackle will likely come via the draft.
CB William Gay – The youth is on the roster in Curtis Brown and Cortez Brown. Gay will not be in high demand and I could see him back again for the minimum for depth purposes. Gay did not have an awful season and can help on special teams as part of the 53 man roster. He will be left to hang for a while much like he was last offseason.
P Daniel Sepulveda – You have to think this might be it for Sepulveda after several knee injuries. They took a risk keeping him again out of training camp only to see him tear up his knee again. He is a great kid but just can\’t stay healthy. Jeremy Kapinos was consistent and will likely be the guy in 2012.
RB Mewelde Moore – Moore will likely be on the outside looking in next season as the Steelers have a full roster of backs and only like to keep 3 or 4 at most on the 53 man roster. He would be a guy they could reach out to if another injury takes place as Moore is not likely to be sought after in free agency.
DB Anthony Madison – Madison was a one game special teams fix for the playoffs and will be gone once again.
WR Mike Wallace – (drafted 3rd round) – Wallace will be tendered at a first round level and I assume they will then work towards a multi-year deal with him once training camp begins. Should another team make him an offer the Steelers will have seven days to match it, or they will receive a first-round draft pick as compensation.
TE David Johnson – (drafted 7th round) – Johnson will be tendered at the lowest level and will be in camp competing for a roster spot.
G/C Doug Legursky – (undrafted) – Legursky will be tendered at the lowest level and should be back in camp as a swing interior guy. He can play all three spots inside.
G/T Ramon Foster – (undrafted) – Foster will also get a low round tender that will allow him to compete for a roster spot with no guarantees. Keep in mind that all of these tenders do not have signing bonuses included and all of them are easy to release with no salary cap implications.
CB Keenan Lewis – (drafted 3rd round) – Lewis will be tendered at the lowest level and the only team I could remotely see that might make him an offer would be the Arizona Cardinals, but it would cost them a 3rd round pick to sign him away. I am willing to bet he returns.
S Ryan Mundy – (drafted 6th round) – Mundy too will be tendered at the lowest level and he should be back in 2012 as a backup safety.
T Jamon Meredith – Has played for Sean Kugler for a while, but will unlikely be tendered.
RB Isaac Redman – Redman has no choice but to sign a contract for the minimum tendered to him as an exclusive rights free agent. He will be back in 2012 and very well could be the starting running back in week 1 if Rashard Mendenhall starts the season on the PUP list.
NT Steve McLendon – McLendon is also an exclusive rights free agent and will return on a minimum one year deal for 2012.
P Jeremy Kapinos – Kapinos had a good 2011 season and will likely be tendered a on-year deal that he must accept.