Can The Steelers Squeeze One More Season Out Of Brett Keisel?

When you look at the defensive players in the NFL that turned 34 years or older last year you see a list of 26 of them. 3 of those 26 were Pittsburgh Steelers and they of course were Casey Hampton, James Harrison and Brett Keisel.

Hampton is of course an unrestricted free agent this offseason and the only chance that he has to return to Pittsburgh would be if he agreed to a one-year qualifying contract for the minimum that comes with a reduced salary cap hit. Is it likely to happen? Probably not, but you never know.

The situation with Harrison is one that I have discussed often dating back to last May and it surfaced again as the hot topic on Tuesday after his agent Bill Parise told John Harris of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that his client is willing to restructure his contract, but not take a pay cut in order to stay. We shall see how this eventually plays out over the course of the next two weeks and a half weeks.

That leaves us with Keisel, who is entering the final year of his contract. He will turn 35 in September and is scheduled to earn a base salary of $2.825 million. Working in his favor is the fact that he is coming off of a season that saw him start all 16 games and he registered 4.5 sacks while doing so. It was the first time since 2007, however, that he did not miss a game. He did injure his knee in the season finale against the Cleveland Browns, but that injury did not require surgery.

Working against Keisel is the fact that the Steelers have Cameron Heyward, their 2011 first round draft pick, who is needing to hit the field as a starter. He played just under 270 snaps on defense in his second season and you can bet that number is expected to at least double in 2013, if not triple.

Should Keisel wind up being relegated to a back up role in 2013 you have to wonder how the Steelers feel about paying him starter type money. They might not have a choice because currently sitting behind Heyward and Hood sits Al Woods on the depth chart. He saw the field for all of 30 snaps in 2012. While Steve McLendon can play end in a pinch, he will most likely be the starting nose tackle in 2013 and will be backed up by either Alameda Ta\’amu or Hebron Fangupo.

Will the Steelers draft another defensive end in April? Chances are good that they will, but that player, like the other defensive ends that came before him, will need at least a year of grooming before he is ready to contribute.

The Steelers could go to Keisel and ask him to take a cut in salary, but there is not much there to ask for. Maybe a cool million, but that\’s about it.

Another solution to save cap money on Keisel, without asking him to take a pay cut, would be to add another year onto his contract and turn $1.885 million of his $2.825 million salary into a signing bonus. This would create a 2013 cap savings on Keisel of $942,500 and leave that same amount as potential dead money in 2014. The Steelers did something similar to that with Aaron Smith back in 2011 in order to clear $875,000 in cap space for that season.

The last solution would be to make Keisel a cap casualty. That would clear $2.825 million in cap space, but leave the Steelers depth at defensive end extremely thin.

Hopefully the Steelers can squeeze one more year out of Keisel, even if it winds up being as a backup. We will know within a few more weeks if the Steelers are thinking the same thing.

  • Jason White

    I would like to see Heyward have a chance to start at either DE spot. He looked like a man possessed in the last game against Cleveland. Though I know this is Ziggy’s contract year so I expect him to be playing his ass off for a contract. But I definately believe that Keisel should be on the team for atleast one more year. If he is a backup I definately agree they gotta try to get him to take a little pay cut or add another year to get his cap number down. That would be some serious turnover if we have two new starters on the D-line.

  • steeltown

    Of course they can ‘squeeze one more season’ out of him.. and at $2.8million he’s a steal. Keisel is actually one of the few vet players under contract that is worth every penny of his contract.. Clark & Miller being the others

    They can still give Heyward some extra snaps on the DLine… lets not forget, we are one injury away from Heyward starting anyway

  • steeltown

    You know whats funny.. Worilds is another guy that seems to play Cleveland well. Look at the game logs he had a 2sack game against the Browns in 2011 and another 2sack game against them in 2012

  • RW

    Which is really interesting because he’s going up against one of the best LTs in the game (I know the first time he was playing LOLB, but still).

  • dgh57

    Of course Keisel will be back! I gotta have at least one more year of “THE BEARD” for crying out loud!!!!

  • I think they would be dumb not to. His play hasn’t dropped off like some of the other vets. Personally, I would rather see Keisel and Heyward on the field this year than Hood/Heyward.

  • Dan

    I would agree to keep him at $2.8m. Although we do need to get the younger players more involved and more into starting roles, we need the vets to help with the transition.
    Although we had the #1 defense last year, it wasn’t the type of defense that wins championships. I guess you’d say we had a break but don’t bend defense. Didn’t give up many yards, but we gave up points and lost the turn over battle. At the end of the day, winning games is nothing more than scoring more points than you allow, so O, D and Spec Teams should be equal, but I’d like to see a real focus on D in the draft.

  • HarryBackside

    Keisel should be the last name on the chopping block. I think he does have another year left in him, but if cutting him can free up the cash needed to sign Lewis, then Keisel has to go.

    I also don’t like the idea of pushing any more money to 2014 than absolutely necessary. The Steelers are going to have to start re-signing some of the guys coming off of rookie contracts next year. Pouncey will be entering his last season, so they need to try and lock him up before he enters free agency. Depending on how the season goes, they may also be looking to re-sign Worilds and Hood. If they don’t resign Hood, then the team is going to seriously consider locking Heyward up early, or run the risk of having no experience DE’s going into 2015.The Steelers have to look long term this off-season. They can’t afford to lose young talent just to hold on to veteran players for another year.

  • SteelersDepot

    Many of you seem to think that I am advocating cutting Keisel, but I am clearly not. As I stated, depth would be a HUGE concern if they did. Merely a post on his potential role and salary alternatives.

  • Bradys_Dad

    Absolutely 100% correct. It doesn’t hurt that BK is good for the city and the owners generally seem to like him. Now if we could only find another Arron Smith in the draft ………..

  • NW86

    It’s a fair concern, given the cap situation and the fact that there is a #1 draft pick behind him that is deserving of seeing the field more. DE was one place where they had good depth last year, and actually didn’t need it as Keisel played every game and I think Hood played 15 or 16.
    But the chances of that happening 2 years in a row aren’t great – they need to keep all 3, give them all a fair chance at the starting spots in camp, and know that the 3rd one will likely still see the field plenty at some point during the year. Brett is worth every bit of the $2.8M, even if he ends up in a more rotational role to keep everyone fresh.

  • Everything Steelers

    Players need playing time in this scheme to understand it…I got a chance to talk to Heyward a little bit last year and he said his head was swimming out there…moves so fast…but just by talking to him…he had such a possitive outlook on everything..I bet he has a breakout year if he gets to start…he needs snaps

  • Ahmad

    Yeah I think the Steelers can squeeze one more season out of Keisel. He has enough diesel left in the tank for one more season though I think he shouldn’t be handed the starting job. He needs to compete for it in camp.

  • mokhkw

    I remember when Keisel was a back-up with Kimo starting & then how much he struggled before James Harrison started at ROLB. I think that if Harrison is cut then Keisel’s worth to the team is less & I would start Heyward in his place and release him. Watch the games this past season without Harrison & see how much Keisel struggled, I’m guessing that all of his sacks/big plays came after Harrison returned from injury, even though he wasn’t 100%.

    Steelers 2 best run-stoppers are Hampton & Harrison. If those 2 don’t return and we have McLendon & Keisel playing next to each other with Worilds & Timmons beside & behind them this Defense will get gouged in the running game. You really want a DL of Keisel-McLendon-Hood to stop the run?

  • disqus_wdLdx4W76r

    I’d think he’d play for 2 mill even..we’ve already lost 2 Veterans leadership on defense..keep him even if in a situational roll..Heyward still dosent look ready to assume that position full time