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Salary cap issues have Steelers in quandary

The Steelers have serious salary cap issues, and their roster won't get any younger during an offseason that started sooner than the team expected following a 29-23 overtime playoff loss in Denver.

But sweeping changes aren't planned for an organization long synonymous with stability.

"It's not a situation where we're looking to tear things apart and start over," team president Art Rooney II said Tuesday in his first interview since the Steelers were upset in Denver on Jan. 8. "I think there are a lot of pieces in place. Getting younger on defense is a process that's already started. Obviously, we have some decisions to make with certain players and their contracts."

Rooney said the organization is in the beginning stages of prioritizing a lengthy offseason to-do list. The biggest question facing the Steelers is what the salary cap will allow them to do — and what it may force them to do.

The Steelers are approximately $25 million over the salary cap, and they aren't counting on a spike in what teams are allowed to spend in 2012.

Rooney said the team has been told the cap limit won't significantly rise; it was just over $120 million last season.

"It's probably as big an issue as we've had to face," Rooney said.

But, Rooney said, the Steelers were in a similar situation last July following the end of the NFL lockout. Salary-cap issues didn't stop the Steelers from signing several players to long-term contracts, including linebackers LaMarr Woodley and Lawrence Timmons, and strong safety Troy Polamalu.

Rooney said the Steelers will have to restructure contracts — something they did last year — to get in compliance with the cap. They also may have to release some veteran players.

Wide receiver Hines Ward is among several established Steelers who face an uncertain future in Pittsburgh.

Rooney said he has had a phone conversation with Ward, but he did not commit to bringing the Steelers' all-time leading receiver back for another season.

Ward, who has two years left on his contract and is set to make more than $4 million in 2012, said earlier this month that he has no plans to retire.

"He's one of the all-time Steelers," Rooney said. "Hopefully, he's a Hall of Famer. You want it to end the right way whenever it ends, but it's a two-party decision. We'll evaluate how we feel about it over the next few weeks."

Rooney said the youth and talent the Steelers have at wide receiver is "a particular bright spot." He also said the Steelers will try to sign Mike Wallace to a long-term contract. Wallace, who will start in the Pro Bowl at the end of the month, is a restricted free agent.

"There's no question Mike Wallace will be one of the priorities," Rooney said, "but we're at the beginning of that process."

Rooney said running back Rashard Mendenhall is a part of the Steelers' long-term plans. The team, Rooney said, will evaluate how Mendenhall progresses as he recovers from tearing his ACL in the regular-season finale in Cleveland.

Mendenhall, a 2008 first-round draft pick, is going into the final year of his contract.

"Whether we sign him in advance of this season or not; I think Rashard has demonstrated that he can be a major contributor for us," Rooney said, "so we'll more than likely be trying to sign him to a contract at the appropriate time, whenever that is."

Additional Information:

Rooney Q&A

To read excerpts from Steelers president Art Rooney II's wide-ranging interview, go to the Steel Mill blog .

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