While the Pittsburgh Steelers had former Buffalo Bills defensive lineman Alex Carrington in for a meeting and a physical yesterday, they did let him depart the facility without having first signed a contract.
While the two sides reportedly had a good visit and intend to continue communicating, the next team that schedules a visit with him may not be so hospitable toward letting him exit the building without giving his autograph to the team accountants.
With that in mind, it’s time to consider the alternatives to filling the void along the defensive line left by the departures of Ziggy Hood and Al Woods, though Cam Thomas should help replace Woods’ rotational role.
The most realistic, and perhaps most probable, alternative, despite its lack of long-term future, would have to be re-signing Brett Keisel.
This solution is but a quick fix, of course, but at some point, the Steelers may be left with no other alternative. Keisel certainly believes that he still has another year in him, and I suspect the team believes he can still play as well.
Yes, he has been bothered by injuries over the past few seasons, missing the better part of five games just last year, but he showed in the last two games that he could recover and play well when he does get injured.
Keisel has said that he doesn’t want to play for a veteran-minimum salary. So the Steelers will pay him more than veteran-minimum. That shouldn’t be an issue if it comes down to it that he is their best, or even only candidate to start alongside Cameron Heyward at defensive end this season.
As much as I was impressed with Brian Arnfelt’s playing during the 2013 preseason, in terms of looking the part of a 3-4 defensive end, I’m not about to hand him a starting job. He should, however, begin to see regular snaps this season in a rotation with a snap count climbing as the season progresses.
After all, even if the Steelers were to sign Carrington, for example, Arnfelt would still be the third defensive end on the depth chart, although Thomas is also capable of lining up as a 5-tech defensive end.
And if Keisel were re-signed, it would be a given that he will be coming off the field at regular intervals for a blow, which is a topic that he himself discussed in the event that he does play this season.
If nothing happens with Carrington tomorrow, then I believe that we are probably moving closer to the Keisel alternative, which will probably realistically be a better option at defensive end in 2014 than many of the other defensive end options currently available on the free agent market.
Perhaps by 2015, Arnfelt, or even Nick Williams, will be ready to take on a bigger role. Don’t forget that the Steelers have also taken a significant interest in exploring the defensive end crop in the upcoming draft. Keisel could be not only the bridge to the next starter, but also the teacher and the mentor.