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Robinson: Second half could settle Steelers' contract issues

| Saturday, Nov. 10, 2012, 10:46 p.m.
Steelers receiver Mike Wallace beats the Giants' Jayron Hosley en route to a fourth-quarter touchdown on Sunday, Nov. 4, 2012, at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review

Think it's difficult balancing the family checkbook? Try balancing Omar Khan's.

Khan, the director of business and football administration for the Steelers, is responsible for making sure the team stays under the salary cap, which is $121 million this season. He is so skilled at a job whose duties include negotiating contracts, he has been contacted about multiple NFL general managers' jobs.

Just like an overly expensive trip to Costco can ruin a monthly budget, so can a poorly done contract, and thanks to Khan and GM Kevin Colbert, the Steelers haven't had nearly as many of those as some franchises.

The Steelers are projected to be about $12 million to $15 million over the cap once the 2012 season ends, and it will take some mathematical manipulations by Khan to balance it all out. Until then, current-roster performances will be evaluated, the free-agent market assessed, the college talent pool scouted.

And don't think those players whose contracts are ending aren't thinking about the next one — or if there will be a next one.

“(The contract issue) is never going to go away,” wide receiver Mike Wallace said. “Good or bad, it's always going to be out there.”

With Wallace due to become a free agent, the Steelers' options are to try to sign him to a long-term deal (which they will do) or make him their franchise player (which they almost certainly won't do).

Here's who will be thinking contract during the second half of the season, which begins Monday night against Kansas City:

Wallace: Ben Roethlisberger will be lobbying hard to bring him back. But can the Steelers afford him after giving a $42.5 million deal to Antonio Brown?

Rashard Mendenhall: Free agent; virtually no chance of him returning, especially if Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer keep producing.

Redman, Dwyer, Steve McLendon, Emmanuel Sanders, Stevenson Sylvester: Can become restricted free agents; the Steelers can retain them by making tender offers. Sylvester is the least likely to return.

Larry Foote: Free agent; has handled the post-James Farrior leadership role well, but he grades fourth from the bottom among NFL 3-4 inside linebackers by profootballfocus.com. He'll be 33 next season, and the Steelers will probably let him walk.

Ramon Foster: One of the NFL's best bargains; has made 34 career starts but is earning only $1.26 million. He'll make more elsewhere in 2013, when David DeCastro starts at right guard.

Casey Hampton: Free agent; accepted restructured $2.8 million deal to play this season. McLendon probably takes his job next season.

James Harrison: Due $6.57 million in 2013, with a cap value of $10 million.

“That ain't happening. That ain't happening. That ain't happening,” NFL Network analyst Jamie Dukes said. “I can promise you that. One way or another — if they part ways or if they restructure — they're not paying him $10 million.”

Brett Keisel: Due $2.85 million; Steelers must decide if he's worth bringing back for much less money.

Keenan Lewis: Free agent; played this season for $1.26 million tender. Do the Steelers give him a multiyear deal or look for an affordable replacement in free agency or the draft?

Ryan Mundy: Free agent; unlikely to return.

Troy Polamalu: Due $7.5 million in 2013 and $8.25 million in 2014. Steelers must refinance this mortgage.

Max Starks: Free agent. Steelers keep bringing him back and bringing him back. The way he's playing this season, it might cost some money to do it again.

Ben Roethlisberger: Will make $11.6 million in 2013; Steelers could rework to transform most of the money into a signing bonus that can be spread out over multiple seasons.

Ike Taylor: Due $6 million in 2013. Steelers must decide if he's worth it.

Lawrence Timmons: Owed $7.875 million. Candidate for restructuring.

LaMarr Woodley: Owed $9 million. Candidate for restructuring.

Greg Warren: Free agent. Steelers must decide if one of the NFL's most dependable long snappers fits their budget.

Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at arobinson@tribweb.com.

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