This article was written by Craig Gottschalk of Nice Pick, Cowher.
The outside free agency market has been one of little value and almost one of little concern for the Steelers since Mike Tomlin came on as head coach and Kevin Colbert solidified his position as the General Manager.
The Steelers have put a huge emphasis on the draft in the last decade. They believe in brining in high valued players on the board and develop them into the future of the franchise. They also commit to the practice of retaining their own free agents as a way of keeping stability and maturity within a team as long as the talent is still top notch. Couple those with the fact that the Steelers are severely strapped for cash (once again and currently $8 million over as of this post), and you have a recipe for a rather stagnant and disappointing free agency period – at least outside looking in.
The Steelers have a :gulp: whopping 24 free agents on their roster to retain or let walk. Three of those are the team’s top three running backs – Rashard Mendenhall,Jonathan Dwyer, and Isaac Redman. And, while Todd Haley’s offense is supposed to have an emphasis on the running game than say a Bruce Arian’s offense, don’t expect the Steelers to get another Jerome Bettis type back – not even Peyton Hillis out of KC. The Steelers will try and sign one or two (but not all three) of these running backs for the 2013 season. And, don’t expect any of them to be long term.
Mike Wallace is another offensive player high on the watch list. However, that ship sailed long ago when Wallace refused to accept the Steelers tender offer before training camp and became a holdout. The fans are certainly embittered by that mess, and the team will look towards the draft for their 6’-0”+ speedster.
The defensive side of the ball is just as interesting. Will the Steelers keep Casey Hampton? ‘Big Snack’ had one of his most productive years, but with a bloated salary, bloated age, and knees that struggle to support that big bloated belly, the team will probably let him test the waters and hope that one of their youngsters steps up in ’13. Keenan Lewis is hands down the top priority for the Steelers defense. It took a while, but his production last season was much better than his early years. He solidified himself as the #2 corner behind Ike Taylor and will certainly expect a large pay bump over the $1.2 million he made last season. Will the Steelers be aggressive, or hope that Lewis only dips his toes into the market? There are certainly others in this mix, but Lewis is the big fish this season.
Don’t expect the Steelers to pursue anyone in free agency outside of their own team – at least anyone note worthy. Between Kevin Colbert and Omar Khan, the team will look to bring back as many men as they can and make up for the losses in the draft or within the depth charts. The big question is, will the Steelers be able to keep the majority of this free agent roster, or will they sink amidst a free agent bailout?