Pittsburgh Steelers GM Kevin Colbert suggested on Monday that none of the team\’s remaining 10 unrestricted free agents will be re-signed before the free agency period begins on March 13th and while this news may sound out of the ordinary for some, it is really nothing out of the ordinary for them. The Steelers have made a practice over the years of tendering their restricted free agents that they want to keep and placing the franchise tag on their most notable unrestricted free agent that they want to keep. The only recent notable player that was scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent that was signed prior to the start of free agency was nose tackle Casey Hampton back in late February of 2010. The Steelers still could have placed the franchise tag on Hampton had a deal not been struck, but instead it allowed them to place the franchise tag on kicker Jeff Reed instead.
Over the years they have allowed several key unrestricted free agents to test the market and that is evidenced just last year as they allowed all of their unrestricted free agents to test the market except for linebacker LaMarr Woodley, who they used the franchise tag on. The key unrestricted free agents allowed to test the market included cornerback Ike Taylor and tackle Willie Colon, and both ended up resigning with the Steelers not long after free agency started. Other unrestricted free agents like cornerback William Gay, guard Trai Essex, nose tackle Chris Hoke, running back Mewelde Moore, long snapper Greg Warren, punter Daniel Sepulveda and tackle Jonathan Scott were also allowed to test free agency and they too ended up signing back with the Steelers.
The only unrestricted free agents that signed elsewhere during the 2011 free agency period were tight end Matt Spaeth, defensive tackle Nick Eason and linebacker Keyaron Fox. None of which surely were considered high priority by the Steelers, one would think.
Jumping back to 2010, safety Ryan Clark was also allowed to test the market even though he did have negotiations with the Steelers prior to free agency. Also unrestricted that offseason were running back Willie Parker, cornerback Deshea Townsend, quarterback Charlie Batch, linebacker Rocky Boiman, safety Tyrone Carter, defensive tackle Nick Eason, defensive tackle Travis Kirschke, and wide receiver Joey Galloway. Two of the Steelers potential restricted free agents that year also did not receive tenders and they were guard Darnell Stapleton and running back Carey Davis. As I mentioned above, Reed was franchised and Hampton re-signed just before the decision on the tag was due.
In 2009 tackle Max Starks, guard Chris Kemoeatu and wide receiver Nate Washington were all considered to be the notable unrestricted free agents of the Steelers. Starks was franchised while both Kemoeatu and Washington were allowed to test free agency. Kemoeatu seemed almost set to sign immediately with the New York Jets once free agency started, but the Steelers were able to resign him back with a last minute offer. Washington of course ended up signing with the Tennessee Titans.
The plan once again for the Steelers prior to the start of free agency will be to tender their restricted free agents they wish to retain, and I expect all of them except for tackle Jamon Meredith to get those. The only one that will not be a low original round tender will be wide receiver Mike Wallace, who the Steelers will either place the franchise tag on or tender at a first round level. Unrestricted free agents, quarterback Charlie Batch, quarterback Byron Leftwich, quarterback Dennis Dixon, wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery, tackle Max Starks, guard Trai Essex, cornerback William Gay, punter Daniel Sepulveda, running back Mewelde Moore and defensive back Anthony Madison will all be allowed to test free agency. Of the group, the Steelers would likely only consider Batch, Leftwich, Cotchery and Gay as candidates to resign should they not get attention during the free agency period.
So fear not Steeler Nation, despite the salary cap woes that Colbert pointed to on Monday, everything still appears to be status quot in regards to how the Steelers treat their unrestricted free agents.