During his annual pre draft press conference on Monday, Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert was asked if he had ruled out tackle Max Starks and nose tackle Casey Hampton possibly returning this season.
"No, we haven\'t shut the door on anybody, quite honestly, that was with us last year, because we don\'t know what we\'re going to come out of the weekend with," said Colbert. "There may be some signees from that group of players, and again, it depends on how we fare out this weekend. I think that they would prefer to wait as well, because they could sign a contract and end up behind a first-round draft pick. So, we will keep those types of players in mind as we get through this weekend and see where things stand on Monday."
While that sounds all fine and good, the fact remains that the Steelers only have just over $600,000 in cap space available to them until June, when the release of guard Willie Colon will become official and free up an additional $5 million-plus in cap space. Should either Starks or Hampton want to play for the Steelers in 2013, both would presumably have to accept one-year qualifying contracts for the minimum that come with reduced cap hits.
In addition to taking the minimum, both players would also have to accept the fact that neither will be guaranteed a starting job. Both Marcus Gilbert and Mike Adams are expected to be the starting tackles this season, while Steve McLendon, who signed a new three-year contract this past weekend, is expected to be the starting nose tackle this year.
Starks said after the 2012 season ended that he would be open to returning to Pittsburgh in 2013, but not as a backup. Perhaps his demands have lowered by now as it doesn\'t appear that he has received any attention from other teams since the free agency signing period started.
Hampton, who said at the end of last season that he thinks he still has a couple of years left in him, as far as we can tell, hasn\'t garnered any interest from other teams either. That could of course change very quickly after the draft, however.
Should both Starks and Hampton accept qualifying deals, they would each count $620,000 against the salary cap, assuming they received the maximum signing bonus allowed of $65,000. If that wound up being the case, both could conceivably be fit under the salary cap after displacement takes place, but just barely.
Of the two, Starks would most likely have the best shot at returning. For starters, the Steelers lack depth currently at the tackle position, and second, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is probably lobbying hard for him.
How will it play out with both veterans? Never say never, but if either were to return, I would be willing to bet that it wouldn\'t happen until after June 1st.