Steelers club president Art Rooney recognizes this will be a challenging offseason.
The team has salary cap issues and a number of veterans that cost more than they are worth. Their aging defense needs to be re-tooled.
Rooney told Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh-Post Gazette the Steelers will not “tear things apart” and start over from scratch.
“Obviously, we have some decisions to make with certain players and their contracts,” Rooney said.
Let’s run through a few of them.
Hines Ward: Rooney has already spoken with Ward about his future. Ward will likely have to take a pay cut just for a chance to stay.
Chris Hoke and Aaron Smith, defensive linemen: Local reports indicate Hoke will retire. Smith also seems likely to retire if the Steelers don’t bring him back. Both players are free agents. Smith has meant so much to the team, the Steelers could offer him a low-cost one-year deal to see how he looks in camp.
Casey Hampton, nose tackle: He’s due almost $5 million and is coming off an ACL injury at age 35. Hampton is a candidate to get released if he won’t take a pay cut.
Ryan Clark, safety: The 32-year-old is still playing at a high level and relatively affordable at $3 million. We’d expect him to be back.
James Farrior, linebacker: Farrior is due a reasonable sum of $2.825 million. Still, Farrior is 37 years old. If the Steelers want to get younger and faster, moving on from Farrior wouldn’t be a surprise.
Larry Foote, linebacker: He’s due $3 million, which may be too much for the role he plays on the team. Perhaps the Steelers could keep Farrior and dump Foote.
Brett Keisel, defensive end: He played far too well in 2011 to consider cutting him at a salary under $3 million, even if he’s coming off a serious groin injury. His beard also provides far-reaching intangible benefits.
Chris Kemoeatu and Johnathan Scott, offensive line: Here are some relatively easy cuts. We’d be shocked if the Steelers kept Kemoeatu at $2.4 million or Scott at $2.2 million.
Bryant McFadden, cornerback: He’s no longer a starter, so he’s probably no longer worth keeping at $2.5 million.
We don’t think the Steelers will consider cutting a bigger name like James Harrison. The rest of their salary numbers are manageable.
Pittsburgh needs to trim the fat, though, so they can start to re-sign players like Mike Wallace. Rooney called Wallace’s next contract a priority.