The Pittsburgh Steelers 2012 season will officially come to an end next Sunday and with that comes the reality that several players might be playing their final game in the black and gold. We will dive into free agency deeper once the season is officially over but here is a quick synopsis of those players.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
QB Charlie Batch – Batch is 38 years old now and will be wrapping up his 10th year with the Steelers next Sunday. His win over the Baltimore Ravens back in Week 13 was the last win the Steelers have on the books right now and it would be a hell of a way to go out. The only way Batch does return would be on another one-year qualifying contract for the veteran minimum but that decision is a long, long ways off from now. They need to get younger at the backup position.
NT Casey Hampton – The Steelers 2001 first-round draft pick took a pay cut to stay this season and the only way he returns for one more year is if the Steelers deem Alameda Ta\’amu a bust. Steve McLendon will be back as a restricted free agent and it is time to get younger. If Hampton is back it will be on a one-year qualifying contract for the veteran minimum. Don\’t rule that out as a possibility.
WR Plaxico Burress – We hardly got to reacquaint ourselves with Burress, who has been inactive for the last two games. He is as good as gone and not expected to be back next season.
LB Larry Foote – Foote is 32.5 years old and Sean Spence is waiting in the wings. If Foote is asked back it would be on a one-year qualifying contract like the others above. He might just decide to call it a career just the same.
QB Byron Leftwich – Leftwich just can\’t stay healthy and the Steelers need more dependability in their backups. If Batch is not back again as the No. 3 quarterback then Leftwich has a shot to fill that role at a minimum price once again. It will likely be an either or with those two or quite possibly neither. Like Batch, that decision likely wont be made until June.
S Will Allen – Allen plugged the hole at safety for a little while with Troy Polamalu sidelined, but his long relationship with head coach Mike Tomlin might finally have to come to an end.
T Max Starks – Starks was the Steelers iron man this year on offense as he heads into the final week of the season with the distinction of being the only player on offense to play every snap this year. If Starks is brought back next year it would be on another one-year deal similar to the one he got this past season. That\’s not totally out of the question to happen, but he is on the wrong side of 30, however. He deserves a tip of the hat this season.
LS Greg Warren – Is this finally it for Warren? The front office certainly will not be pleased with that bad snap that led to the missed field goal on Sunday. They can pay two rookies for what his minimum will be so it might very well be time for a younger and cheaper long snapper.
TE Leonard Pope – Goodbye big boy. Man, he really is tall.
LB Brandon Johnson – I bet you thought he was already gone. Those were two expensive special team penalties.
RB Rashard Mendenhall – He wants out of Pittsburgh and there is a team out there willing to pay him and put up with his state of mind. No conspiracy theories here. He is gone. At least they will get a 2014 compensatory pick for him.
G Ramon Foster – Foster really had a good season and is very versatile. He is so versatile that Bruce Arians might persuade the Indianapolis Colts to sign him. He is certain to get some offers in free agency and thus likely might be gone.
C/G Doug Legursky – He is a backup center with game experience so he might get an offer or two very late in free agency. The Colts maybe? The Arizona Cardinals? It is hard to see him returning right now unless it is for the minimum and for one year.
CB Keenan Lewis – It is too bad he bloomed so late. This one will be a tough one to lose but you have to think Lewis will get plenty attention on the free agent market. I will keep my fingers crossed, but I won\’t hold my breath that he will be back.
S Ryan Mundy – The only way he is back is to compete at training camp on a one-year minimum. He will not garner interest n the free agent market so there is a slight chance he might make it back to Latrobe for camp. Longshot, but not out of the question.
WR Mike Wallace – The only way Wallace is back is if he is franchised but the Steelers would be strapped cap wise if they did that. Never say never, but it is looking like they will let the screen door hit him in the backside and collect a 2014 compensatory pick.
CB Justin King – We never really knew you. Maybe he gets some snaps against the Browns to show he is worth another one-year deal for the minimum. Ah, who am I kidding? He\’s gone.
UNDER CONTRACT NEXT SEASON
DE Brett Keisel – Keisel is still under contract for 2013, but the Steelers need to find out what they have in Cameron Heyward, who will be entering his third season. Should “The Beard” be released he will clear $2.825 million in cap space. Being as 2013 will be his final season there is always a chance that they ask him to take a pay cut like Hampton did this past offseason, but that would only save around $1.8 million or so at the most.
LB James Harrison – Harrison has two years left on his contract but his bad knees and $10.035 million cap hit will make him hard to keep. Pay cut you say? Don\’t bet on it as it would have to be a huge one and a restructure is most definitely out of the question. I called this one prior to the start of this season. Wear your No. 92 jersey on Sunday as a sign of respect. He was one hell of a player.
G Willie Colon – Colon has been on injured reserve the last three seasons after being a picture of health prior to that. They Steelers only save $1.2 million by cutting him prior to June 1st but they have the option of cutting him loose early with a post June 1st designation that will save them $5.5 million in 2013, but cost them $4.3 million in 2014 as a dead money hit.
WR Jerricho Cotchery – How big of turnover is coming at this position? There is a cool $1 million to be saved by cutting Cotchery.
NOT GOING ANYWHERE
S Troy Polamau -Unless Polamalu decides to retire you can bank on him giving it a go one more season.
CB Ike Taylor – If indeed they lose Lewis via free agency they need Taylor to play across from Cortez Allen. Like Polamalu, he will be here one more season.
S Ryan Clark – Like Polamalu and Taylor, the Steelers need some stability in the secondary for one more season.