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After tumultuous offseason, Steelers need to recalibrate

| Sunday, April 14, 2013, 11:32 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Steelers receiver Mike Wallace is ruled out of bounds on a catch in the end zone as the Ravens' Corey Graham defends during the third quarter Sunday, Nov. 18, 2012, at Heinz Field.

The Steelers played salary-cap roulette once again, furiously spinning their financial wheels by reworking contract after contract to get into NFL compliance. They watched Mike Wallace, Keenan Lewis and Rashard Mendenhall walk away in free agency.

They don't have a certifiable go-to receiver or a feature running back. The secondary is aging. Their former ace pass rusher, James Harrison, might oppose Ben Roethlisberger twice every season. And there are so many lineup holes, they can't possibly fill them in the upcoming draft.

And Roethlisberger, in a flashback to his rookie season of nine years ago, might find himself regularly throwing to Plaxico Burress, one of the few experienced receivers still left on the roster.

Did a team that is universally considered to be one of the NFL's best-managed falter this offseason?

“They've had some difficult decisions, and people are getting caught up in all the action,” said NFL Network analyst Jamie Dukes, a longtime NFL lineman. “But they're not looking just at this year even though I know Steelers fans don't want to hear it.”

Still, multiple draft analysts give the Steelers a grade of D-minus or F in free agency, where their only pickup of note was backup quarterback Bruce Gradkowski.

With so little coming in — although running back Ahmad Bradshaw remains an option — the Steelers might need the best draft of general manager Kevin Colbert's tenure to avoid taking a huge step back.

Asked if the Steelers are a worse team than they were when the season ended, Colbert said recently: “I think only time will tell. We'll see where that goes. ... We hope that we are a better team.”

Dukes said he believes they can't be faulted for letting Wallace walk for $60 million, or not paying Harrison, which he calls “a recalibration of a bad money year on a contract.

“I wouldn't say they're blowing the offseason,” Dukes said. “There are some organizations you question, but this would not be one of those organizations. They've got to get their house in order.”

The Steelers began last year to shed older players who command higher wages — such as James Farrior and Hines Ward and, now, Harrison — in favor of younger players who are more affordable and cap friendly.

It's a trend Dukes believes will continue.

“I don't look at what they're doing as a problem so much as it's a retooling,” he said.

Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at arobinson@tribweb.com or via Twitter @arobinson_Trib.

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