By Matthew Marczi
Player: Brett Keisel
Position: Defensive End
Experience: 12 Years
Free Agent Status: Unrestricted
2013 Salary Cap Hit: $4,900,000
2013 Season Breakdown: There’s no doubt that Brett Keisel’s level of play has slipped, particularly in 2013, which was yet another season derailed by injury. That in itself—frequent and repeated injuries—is already a significant cause for concern when it comes to the 35-year-old veteran defensive end, but there is also concern when it comes to his performance on the field as well.
For example, he missed six games in 2008, yet he still finished the season with 41 tackles. This year, in 12 games, he only amassed 29 tackles. He hasn’t had the same impact on games in 2013 overall as he had in the not too distant past, when he was being named to the Pro Bowl or listed as an alternate.
When he got injured this year, he tried to rush himself back, knowing full well that this could very well be his last year putting on a uniform. That backfired, and he was forced to sit out even longer.
When he returned for the last two games of the season, he played with the determination of a man knowing he was reaching the end of his career. He had a sack in each game, forced a fumble, and recovered another in those two games.
That doesn’t quite paint the full picture, however, especially when it comes to the season finale. It should be noted that he was going up against a backup to a backup in the form of left guard Garrett Gilkey, a rookie with almost no experience coming into the game.
Still, Keisel had stretches during the season that looked like the player of old, particularly when rushing the passer, which is certainly something that he does better than Ziggy Hood.
Free Agency Outlook: Even if there were a market for the 35-year-old defensive end—which is not entirely impossible, but unlikely—Keisel is probably at a point in his life where he wouldn’t consider playing for another city. The same could be said of other recent former Steelers like Hines Ward, James Farrior, and one of Keisel’s best friends, Aaron Smith, all of whom chose to retire rather than play elsewhere.
It will be interesting to see what the Steelers do. They have two other defensive ends also hitting unrestricted free agency in Hood and Al Woods, and they would likely want to re-sign two of the three. Woods will certainly come cheapest, and also has position flexibility, so I suspect it comes down to Keisel and Hood.
Hood is by far the younger player, and perhaps still has some room to grow—Keisel was a late bloomer himself. Yet he was benched in favor of Keisel and Cameron Heyward after the first four games of the season.
In the end, I would suspect that youth will win out and the Steelers will try to re-sign Hood to a reasonable, modest contract. He certainly hasn’t had a flashy career, but he could also draw interest as a defensive tackle by 4-3 teams. Keisel may be willing to accept a rotational role at a cheaper contract if the Steelers could afford that, but otherwise it’s likely that we’ve seen Keisel’s last days in a uniform.