This weekend begins the NFL playoffs and for only the third time in 12 years, our Steelers will not be part of them. It was a season that began with so many questions long before it got started. These questions began immediately following the bitter end to the playoffs last year with a loss to Denver and will continue until we begin the 2013 season. We asked how they could let go of so many veterans, the beloved Hines Ward, James Farrior and Aaron Smith. We asked if Todd Haley would be a good fit in Pittsburgh, despite his previous ties to the organization. We asked if Mike Wallace was going to show up for training camp and remain a Steeler. We also asked if the aging defense could return to glory.
Most of the answers we got as the season progressed were not the answers we were hoping for. There were many times when it appeared we could have used the sure hands of Ward, the leadership of Farrior and outstanding play of Smith. It never seemed anyone stepped up to fill those voids. Of course, we are not in the locker room with them, but leadership was apparently missing from the field. This season was marked with more injuries than normal and more mistakes than usual. Sometimes it seemed these men hadn’t prepared at all for that week’s game. With early losses to subpar teams like Tennessee and Oakland, the team was playing from behind the black ball all year and usually without star players like Polamalu, who missed nine games this season, and James Harrison, who even when playing, was not at 100 percent. In the two games that Polamalu and Harrison did get to play together and mostly healthy, Polamalu had 11 tackles, a sack and an interception. Harrison had 13 tackles and 2 sacks. It goes to show how much injuries can change a team and their chances and that’s just 2 of the injuries occurred this season.
We were surprised with some bright spots this year. When Ike Taylor, who started 135 straight games, went out, the team had to rely on young backups to fill that void. Keenan Lewis and Cortez Allen established themselves as reliable replacements. Lewis proved he could be the starter opposite Taylor as he is second in the league in passes defended and Allen came into his own later in the season, finishing with 5 forced turnovers in the final 2 games. The continuing emergence of Lawrence Timmons has been exciting to watch. He finished the season at the tops of the defense with 6 sacks, 3 interceptions and 2 forced fumbles.
So here we are, earlier than usual, filled with questions that won’t get answered for quite some time. The Steelers have 24 free agents this year and are already roughly 16 million over the salary cap. Where will their priorities be? How many of our favorites will be gone to other teams?
Here is a complete list of the Unrestricted and Restricted Free agents for the Steelers this offseason:
Restricted- Jonathan Dwyer, Jeremy Kapinos, Steve McLendon, Isaac Redman, Stevenson Sylvester and Emmanuel Sanders.
Unrestricted- Will Allen, Charlie Batch, Plaxico Burress, Larry Foote, Ramon Foster, Casey Hampton, Brandon Johnson, David Johnson, Byron Leftwich, Doug Legursky, Justin King, Keenan Lewis, Rashard Mendenhall, Ryan Mundy, Leonard Pope, Max Starks, Mike Wallace and Greg Warren.
So now we wait and listen for the news of who goes, who stays and who will be joining the team. The Steelers are not known for making splashes in free agency by going out to get any big names, so between the free agency period and the draft, we in Steeler Nation will have plenty to debate about our team.
Check back often for news and updates through the off season.