Rosenthal has been doing team-by-team checklists for several weeks now. Almost as long as I’ve been telling him I’ll pitch in and help.
To date, I haven’t.
Today, I do.
I’ll start with a team that doesn’t need to do much more than stay the course. If “staying the course” also includes finding a way to score on the final drive of the Super Bowl.
1. Find a third-down back.
Mewelde Moore has handled the duties for the last three years, but he’ll be a free agent when the lockout ends. Though the Steelers may decide to re-sign Moore, who has been capable but not spectacular, some other team could be willing to pay Mewelde more (I really didn’t plan that one) than the Steelers have budgeted for a position that is among the more fungible in the sport.
And so the question will be whether the Steelers can find someone better than Moore for the money it may take to keep him. With Tiki Barber making a comeback and Reggie Bush possibly available, the Steelers could have some intriguing options.
2. Consider bringing back Plaxico Burress.
The Steelers acquired one that year, in 6-4 Limas Sweed. Who has done nothing in three NFL seasons. Also on the roster is 6-8 Wes Lyons, a Pittsburgh native who didn’t do enough during his time at West Virginia University to even get drafted.
Though the Steelers currently have Ward, Mike Wallace, and Antonio Brown, none of the three is listed as taller than six feet. As Roethlisberger said in 2008, “Hines is going to say he’s 6 foot, but he’s 5-11.”
Burress, whose final year in Pittsburgh coincided with Roethlisberger’s first, would give Big Ben the large target he covets. Though the move would be controversial, don’t underestimate coach Mike Tomlin’s affinity for guys from Eastern Virginia.
3. Give Daniel Sepulveda the boot.
In March, the Steelers extended a restricted free agency tender to Sepulveda, a four-year veteran who under a new labor deal very likely will be an unrestricted free agent. Though the Steelers thought enough of Sepulveda to use a fourth-round pick to acquire him in Tomlin’s first year on the job, he has torn the ACL in his right knee three times.
With plenty of punters available, taking an annual chance that he’ll rip the thing a fourth time and leave the team scrambling to replace him doesn’t make sense. Especially if he’s looking for a bigger pay day than most punters ever see.
4. Let Ike Taylor walk.
Cornerback Ike Taylor has said he wants to stay in Pittsburgh. And he has said he wants to test the market. If he wants market value, he simply won’t get it from the Steelers. As with Moore, someone will pay for the fact that Taylor brings a Super Bowl ring (in Taylor’s case, two) into the locker room — and in turn eats away at the defending AFC champion’s roster.
The Steelers need to accept the fact that, if Taylor insists on top dollar in a slim cornerback market, he won’t be back, and they need to plan accordingly to replace him. With the strength of the defense in the front seven and the secondary anchored by Troy Polamalu, they can get by with a lot less than the second coming of Rod Woodson.
5. Improve depth at safety.
Speaking of Polamalu, he has emerged as one of the most important players on any team. When he’s healthy, it becomes virtually impossible to outscore the Steelers. When he’s out due to injury — or, as he was late in 2010, playing with an injury — the team becomes vulnerable.
Though they’ll never find another Polamalu to back up Polamalu, the Steelers need to make the No. 2 position at strong safety a priority, even if it means overpaying a guy who could start elsewhere. Given Polamalu’s reckless style (which makes him so damn effective when he’s at 100 percent), more injuries are inevitable. Moving forward, the Steelers need to view Polamalu’s understudy as the equivalent to the backup quarterback.