By Jeremy Hritz
While the 2013 Steelers season is over, there will be no shortage of action over the next seven to eight months as the team begins the process of crafting their roster for a new season. The Steelers have answered many personnel questions through their play in the second half of the season, yet there are still several questions that will have to be addressed before the final product takes the field sometime in September 2014. This article takes a look at ten questions surrounding team personnel heading into the offseason.
1. Will Troy Polamalu return at full salary, take a pay cut, or get cut?
While Polamalu didn’t have his best season, he did make it through a full 16 game schedule healthy and delivered a handful of critical plays. He did, however, give up a few big plays as well, mainly because he was being asked to do too much in Dick LeBeau’s defense. It seems certain that Ryan Clark will not be resigned, so holding on to Polamalu is important, no matter how it happens. Though he is not the player he once was, he is better than any of the depth on the Steelers roster. 2014 should feature the safety tandem of Polamalu and Shamarko Thomas. Should Polamalu somehow go, the Steelers would more than likely be forced to make a move in free agency.
2. Do the Steelers resign Jason Worilds?
I am in the camp that the Steelers need to make this happen, however creative they need to be in massaging their cap situation. The Steelers historically have been a team that has developed their talent through the draft, and to let Worilds get away after he finally produced would be foolish a la Keenan Lewis. Locking up Worilds would provide for a young and solid outside linebacker tandem should Jarvis Jones take a step in his development next year.
3. What happens at the left inside linebacker position?
Are the Steelers sold on Vince Williams? Can Sean Spence rebound from his injury and be the player the Steelers expected him to be? Will they spend another draft pick on an inside linebacker? Or is there an outside chance that they bring back Larry Foote for one more year? Whatever the scenario, the Steelers need better play and more stability to complement Lawrence Timmons inside.
4. What happens on the defensive line?
Brett Keisel more than likely has played his final game as a Steeler. Ziggy Hood is a free agent, and it is uncertain whether or not he will be resigned. Cameron Heyward is animal and will be even better in 2014, while Steve McLendon should be more comfortable at nose tackle. There has been some discussion about whether or not McLendon could move to one of the end positions, with Al Woods taking over at nose tackle, and this would be a possibility if Hood is not resigned. The Steelers were not great against the run this year which wasn’t completely the fault of the defensive line, but the decisions made regarding its makeup for next season will speak volumes about their confidence in their personnel.
5. What do the Steelers do at the running back position?
The Steelers are set with a feature back in Le’Veon Bell, but beyond him, they will not have any other backs under contract. Felix Jones was serviceable this year for the Steelers but more than likely, he will not be resigned, while Jonathan Dwyer may have proved through his hard running and effectiveness on third downs that he can be a solid backup to Bell. The Steelers still need to add a speed back to provide an element of explosiveness to the offense, something that I have already wrote about, and something that I see the Steelers doing in the later rounds of the draft.
6. Do the Steelers resign Jerricho Cotchery?
Emmanuel Sanders will want too much money and won’t be back, and the Steelers are counting on Markus Wheaton progressing and taking over Sanders’ role next season. Sanders departure and Wheaton’s inexperience make it that much more important that the Steelers resign Cotchery; however, the Steelers won’t overspend on the 31-year-old receiver.
7. What position do the Steelers address with the 15th overall pick?
This will be one of the most debated questions this offseason, with arguments for a nose tackle, a big wide out, an offensive tackle, or a cornerback. While the Steelers aren’t perfect on the offensive line, they have other needs, primarily on defense, that they have to address. The only problem is that a defensive player selected in the first round won’t necessarily have an immediate impact (see Jones). With that in mind, the Steelers may be best served to add to what is already a strength, the offense, and give Ben Roethlisberger another weapon at wide receiver. Could it be that Big Ben finally gets the big receiver he’s always wanted? Could a rookie wide-out contribute in his first season?
8. What do the Steelers address with the 47th overall pick?
My gut and the current makeup of the Steelers roster says that with their second round pick, they’ll go after a cornerback. Ike Taylor’s career is nearly complete, and the team does not have any true depth at the position. Selecting a corner here provides for depth and early contributions in sub packages, while getting an opportunity to develop a starter for once Taylor does go.
9. Do the Steelers make any moves in free agency?
The Steelers are never big players in free agency, and this year shouldn’t be any different. The only way I can see them pursuing a semi-known name is if something cannot be worked out with Polamalu, as they will need some experience alongside of Thomas. Outside of that, despite a few no-names for depth purposes, it should be another quiet offseason in free agency.
10. Will there be any surprise cuts?
LaMarr Woodley seems the most likely to be cut, and there may be an outside chance that Polamalu could be let go if they cannot work out a pay cut. But are there any surprises waiting in the wings? Common sense says no, but the organizational leadership may have different plans.
What are your thoughts?