Pittsburgh Steelers president Art Rooney II sat down with a few members of the Pittsburgh media on Tuesday for a half hour interview to discuss the Steelers past season and look ahead to 2012. You can read the question and answers here on the Post-Gazette blog.
When you read through everything there were not too many surprises if you ask me, but I will go over the main talking points below with my own comments and view points added to a few of the things that Rooney said. Even though we do not usually learn too much from these interviews every offseason, it is just good to hear some of the things we expect to hear come from the horses mouth.
Here we go.
New Wallace contract.
Rooney said that a new contract for Mike Wallace will be one of the priorities this offseason and that should come as no surprise. Wallace will be a restricted free agent and will be tendered at a first round level while they work on a new deal. The question now only becomes, how much and for how long. An average of around $9 million a season would be my guess and I have total faith that Omar Khan will get this hammered out to be as cap friendly as possible, especially for the 2012 season. I think it is safe to buy his jersey if you have that on your shopping list.
Wait and see with Mendenhall.
Rooney handled this question the best way possible. Rashard Mendenhall is entering the final year of his rookie contract and there really is no rush to do anything right now, especially considering he is now coming off of an ACL injury. Rooney stated that Mendenhall has shown that he can be a major contributor and that more than likely they will try to sign him to a new contract at the appropriate time, whenever that is. I am on record as saying I do not think he will see a second contract with the Steelers and I am still leaning that way right now. I am also not totally convinced that Mendenhall will be ready by the time training camp rolls around either. I could be wrong on both predictions, but Rooney has not really committed to him either at this point. He is still very young as he will be only 25 by the time camp rolls around, but for some reason I find it hard seeing him in the black and gold for 4 more years. Wait and see we shall do.
Over the cap and hard decisions forthcoming.
I have talked for quite a while now about the 2012 salary cap hell the Steelers would face this year and none of this should come as a big surprise to anyone. As I pointed out last week, they can save nearly $9 million in 2012 cap money at the beginning of March I think by guaranteeing the roster bonuses of LaMarr Woodley and Lawrence Timmons. Then the decisions with Hines Ward, Casey Hampton, James Farrior, Larry Foote, Aaron Smith, Bryant McFadden, Chris Kemoeatu, Jonathan Scott, Will Allen and Arnaz Battle must be made. Rooney stated a few restructures need to be done and that we all could see coming. Needless to say we should have quite a few of these answers right at the beginning of March, the start of the new league year.
No big free agency signings.
This is one thing we have come to expect over the years and I must admit it does not bother me one bit. If we see any this year it could be a right guard or swing tackle type at best, but I think you will mostly see the Steelers re-sign their own per usual. A few that come to mind are William Gay and even Kemoeatu if neither gets free agency attention. This assumes that Kemoeatu is an early salary cap casualty of course and these two could end up being brought back right before camp starts. There will not be much money to spend so do not hold your breath on Jerricho Cotchery coming back. I hope they find a way though.
Reeling in Roethlisberger.
Rooney is right that when he says Ben Roethlisberger needs to tweak his style of play a little and he must take fewer sacks. That is pretty much like saying water is wet. Everyone wants to blame offensive coordinator Bruce Arians for this, but in reality Roethlisberger needs to stop trying to extend so many plays in hopes for the explosive play on nearly every other throw. We have seen games like the ones he had this past season against the Tennessee Titans and the New England Patriots and I really expect Rooney, Mike Tomlin and Arians will really try to reel him in this year better. Drafting a quality guard early will help and hopefully Willie Colon returns to right tackle so Marcus Gilbert can flip over to the left side. Using the tight ends and running backs more in the passing game in 2012 will be a must. Hopefully Baron Batch can fill the 3rd down role and tight end Weslye Saunders can be used more in the passing game as well. They are not going to totally change the way Roethlisberger plays, they just need to get him to make smarter decisions. No news flash here.
Leftwich and Batch returning.
Also nothing really new here either. Rooney seems very comfortable in bringing back Byron Leftwich and Charlie Batch for one more season to back up Roethlisberger. They both will come on the cheap as well. Dennis Dixon is good as gone as an unrestricted free agent.
Offense needs more consistency and defense needs sacks and turnovers.
Once again Rooney points out the obvious. In short the redzone production needs improvement and the defense needs to get better pressure on opposing quarterbacks along with finding a way to produce more turnovers. A healthy Woodley and James Harrison should help with the sacks and pressures for starters. The redzone production begins with better execution and higher percentage short field plays. I mentioned the tight ends earlier and we can really take a lesson from how the New England Patriots use theirs in the redzone.
Keisel groin surgery?
Seems to be up in the air right now if Brett Keisel will indeed need surgery on his groin and I hope he gets done sooner than later if he needs it. I thought Keisel had a great 2011 and think we can squeeze one more season out of him as Cameron Heyward gets more of an expanded role as well in 2012.
Dan coming back.
This is a bit of a surprise, but Dan Rooney has spent enough time over in Ireland anyways. Will his presence help anything? Maybe a little, but hopefully he can use his influence on some of these rule changes and officiating. I think full time officials is the right idea and surprised this has yet to happen myself considering the money the league pulls in. Dan here is always better than Dan somewhere else.
More seats in Heinz Field for 2013.
Is this surprising to anyone? Didn\'t think so.