S Ryan Clark will turn 35 early next season, and while few players are as popular and loved in Pittsburgh, the Steelers might be best suited to let him walk and build for the future.
21 Pittsburgh Steelers will become free agents on March 11, including some important role players in the Steelers 2013 season. Here’s my take on who the Steelers should make a priority and who they should let walk.
LB Jason Worilds
With the Steelers surely thinking long and hard about letting go of the injury-prone and overweight Lamar Woodley this offseason, resigning Worilds becomes by far the top priority of this free agent class. Once moved to his more natural left OLB position, Worilds was a force, notching eight sacks to lead the team. There will be a heavy market for the hot, young pass rusher and the Steelers may have a fight on their hands, which means they could use the franchise tag on him for this season. Let Worilds prove for a full season that he’s a special player, than lock him up long term next offseason if he’s worth it.
Think About It
DE Brett Keisel
Few players are as beloved by Steelers fans and teammates as Keisel, who played through injuries to produce another fine season. At 35, Keisel is obviously a rotational player at this point, but he still has a motor, is plenty strong, and is as intense a competitor and locker room leader as almost any player in the league. The market should be pretty slow for him at his age and nagging injury history, and Keisel surely wants to come back to the city he loves. If the Steelers can get him for one more year at the veteran minimum before he retires, they should do so.
WR Jerricho Cotchery
Cotchery loves Pittsburgh and Roethlisberger loves him, so it would seem that this marriage should continue. However, Cotchery is only 31 years old and coming off a season in which he caught a career-high 10 TDs as well as being a strong veteran presence in the locker room, so there will be a demand for his talents. At a reasonable price though, the Steelers should match and bring back Cotchery to use in their many 4 WR sets.
C Fernando Velasco
Velasco was great in the locker room and a hard worker who can play guard as well as center. There shouldn’t be much competition for his services, so the Steelers should be able to bring the reserve back at a low cost.
RB Jonathan Dwyer
I think whether Dwyer stays or goes the Steelers need to bring in a speed back with receiving skills for a third down role in their offense. However Dwyer runs hard for Pittsburgh and is a great energy/power guy off the bench. I seriously doubt any team would be willing to pay him like a feature back, but there will be some attention among teams in need of a change-of-pace power back.
DE Al Woods
Woods can play any defensive line position, but he gets pushed around far too easily and his positive plays come in sporadic bursts, surrounded by too many occasions of getting blown off the ball. If the market for Woods is non-existent and Steelers can bring him back for a low price, the versatile d-lineman might be worth it. Any higher and it’s a reach.
G/T Guy Whimper
The position on Whimper should be clear, he’s an NFL reserve and that’s it. He’s not a starter and if any team decides to pay him close to one, let him walk. His value is in his versatility, but he’s not worth anything more than low-end money.
S Ryan Clark
Clark can still hit with the best of them and has great value because of his ability to play in the box and read offenses. But his athletic ability is declining and he doesn’t have the range he used to in coverage. With Clark turning 35 in ten months and Polamalu turning 33 before next season, it’s essential that the Steelers get younger at the safety position as too many coverage issues were exposed this season. That could be that Clark might be a rotational player with a young guy if he comes back, playing in specialty packages only. Clark is still good enough that he could get a solid deal somewhere else for two years, and while the Steelers love the intangibles he brings to the team, it would be wise to let the 12-year veteran walk and focus on the future.
S Will Allen
Don’t get me wrong, there’s a good chance Will Allen returns as the 3rd safety in Pittsburgh in 2014, but it shouldn’t be for any more than the veteran minimum. Allen will be 32 when next season rolls around, and the Steelers are looking to get younger on defense. But Allen has experience, his playing style fits the Steelers defense, and he’s also a fierce special teams player. I doubt any other team pursues him hard at this point in his career, meaning the Steelers can probably nab him for another year or two at a low cost.
WR Emmanuel Sanders
Far too inconsistent and much better suited for the slot, Sanders was more down than up as the #2 man opposite Antonio Brown this season. If Markus Wheaton’s snaps increase from the slot this season as expected, and the Steelers bring in a big, possession receiver, it makes Sanders pretty expendable, especially when you consider he’s coming off his best season into a WR-starved free agent market in a pass-happy league that can’t have enough good receivers. Someone is going to overpay grossly for a middling talent at receiver. But it won’t be Pittsburgh.
RB Felix Jones
Jones was barely serviceable as a third running back and lacked explosion in the return game. He’s an injury prone player who lacks speed and vision in a serious way. Don’t be surprised to see Jones struggle to make an NFL roster this offseason.
DE Ziggy Hood
Hood hasn’t turned into the Aaron Smith successor the Steelers originally viewed him as, and, after his fifth season, it doesn’t look like that day will come. Someone will want defensive line depth enough to go after him and the Steelers should let that happen and make acquiring a 3-4 defensive end to bookend Craig Heyward a top priority.