Kovacevic: Hard calls for Steelers? No, not one
TribLIVE Sports Videos
Next week marks the one-year anniversary of the Steelers' cutdown beyond compare, the cumulative release of James Farrior, Aaron Smith and Hines Ward over three days. Just like that, three players who helped forge two Super Bowl titles, three powerful presences … all gone.
One can only imagine how hard — no, excruciating — those calls must have been for Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin to make.
So one can further imagine their relief at having nothing of the kind this time around.
For all the fuss in these parts that more big names might soon be booted, that James Harrison and Casey Hampton could be next, here's what seems to be escaping notice: The Steelers won't really have much to do with any of these calls.
Bearing in mind the deadline for Colbert and Omar Khan to slash roughly $14 million and meet the NFL's salary cap for free agency is March 12, and that contract restructuring already in motion will mostly take care of that, let's take a personnel inventory:
• If one assumes, as I do, that Mike Wallace will take his talent — that's singular — to South Beach, then Keenan Lewis will be the biggest ticket at hand.
I got the sense from Lewis near season's end he genuinely wants to stay, but he just as genuinely wants to be paid. Thus, he, like the rest of the Steelers' pending free agents, should be expected to test the open market.
This is about as close as the Steelers will come to a hard call. Lewis had a strong first season as a starter, and he'll deserve what he gets. But the top 10 corners in the league made $8 million or more. If Lewis is offered anything in that stratosphere, I'm backing off. The Steelers need to pick a number, then hold to it.
That's no dig at Lewis. Rather, it's a two-pronged consideration that Cortez Allen showed late in the season he can handle corner, too, and that Allen — unlike everyone else on this defense — could take the ball away more than once per lunar cycle.
It would be wonderful to have Lewis back, but the Steelers can't — and don't need to — overpay.
• Rashard Mendenhall, Max Starks, Ramon Foster, Larry Foote, Wallace and the rest of the pending free agents will test the market, too. Mendenhall won't be — and shouldn't be — welcomed back, but the Steelers surely would retain Starks, Foster and Foote at the right price.
Trouble is, that's realistic only with Foote. Teams need offensive linemen. Starks will get paid, and Foster will get his wish for a starting role. If Foote returns, it will be at a far lower rate than his 2012 cap hit of $3.6 million. Maybe even the NFL's minimum of $940,000.
The market will dictate all this far more than the Steelers.
• Hampton played better than most seem to realize this past season, but he'll turn 36 in December. Just as significant, Steve McLendon made enough splash plays at nose tackle that he eminently deserves to start. If Hampton gets a two-year offer somewhere or is promised a starting role, he should grab it and run. But if all he hears is one year, he'll likely stay.
With all respect to Hampton's achievements, the Steelers would be crazy to offer more.
• Harrison's play steadily improved right through season's end, but he'll be 35. If the Steelers were to cut him and the two years left on his contract — that's $6.57 million in 2013, $7.58 million in 2014 — they'd save $5.1 million in a cap hit for 2013.
That's attractive, sure, but is it worth it?
No way. Not with a wobbly, brittle Jason Worilds next in line. And most especially not with a glaring need for someone, anyone, to rush the passer until the real LaMarr Woodley rematerializes.
Harrison's agent, Bill Parise, has squawked about how his client shouldn't take a pay cut. The Steelers, naturally, would prefer a pay cut to a restructuring. But they're also smart enough to realize another team will pay Harrison at his existing terms.
Here's betting all concerned will wait for other matters to be settled, then work out a deal that helps the team manage the cap and protect itself against injury. This might linger until Latrobe.
Even here, the Steelers really don't have much of a call to make.
If Harrison wants to stay with the team that gave him a chance as an undrafted free agent out of Kent State, the one with which he was the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year, the one with which he pounded out 100 yards for the greatest defensive play in Super Bowl history, it'll get worked out.
If he wants to be stubborn, well, then we will see another big cutdown.
Dejan Kovacevic is a sports columnist for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @Dejan_Kovacevic.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Steelers notebook: Tomlin bringing officials to practice
- Steelers film session: Harrison on the field often
- Steelers are vowing to fix the costly penalties, lack of self-discipline
- Jaguars’ Bortles is mirror image of Steelers’ Roethlisberger
- Infractions, lack of discipline cost Steelers in loss to Buccaneers
- Starkey: Slapstick Steelers deserved to lose
- Steelers notebook: Harrison feeling down after loss in return
- NFL record little solace for Steelers WR Brown
- Steelers secondary aims to improve execution in order to prevent future mistakes
- Bucs’ Murphy turns back the clock to burn Steelers again
- Steelers’ Taylor recovering from forearm surgery