Steelers set for likely exodus of Mendenhall, Wallace, other starters
By Alan Robinson
Published: Monday, March 11, 2013, 8:27 p.m.
The Steelers will change forever — at least this generation will — at 4:01 p.m. Tuesday.
Mike Wallace, one of the best big-play receivers they have ever had, might be gone by then — most likely to looking-to-make-a-splash Miami. He's likely to get more money than any player in this year's NFL free-agent pool and the only one to make more than $10 million a year.
Rashard Mendenhall is all but certain to be gone, a former first-round draft pick and 1,000-yard rusher who will seek a team that won't deactivate him on a late-season Sunday.
Keenan Lewis is likely out, too, not because the Steelers don't want to retain the cornerback who led the NFL in passes defended, but because they can't pay him on the open market the way another team can.
There could be more, too. James Harrison is gone, up for the highest bidder after being released Saturday. Max Starks might leave. So might Casey Hampton.
That's a ton of starters for any team to lose at once, and if it all occurs without the salary cap-throttled Steelers bringing a starter back in return, Tuesday might represent the greatest one-day talent departure they have had in their 80 years.
When general manager Kevin Colbert talked of inevitable change two months ago, this probably wasn't what Steelers fans envisioned.
“We'll evaluate the team, look at what we might look like under different scenarios,” Colbert said then.
One thing is for certain: the Steelers won't look anything like they did when they ended a disappointing 8-8 season Dec. 30.
What they'll look like when training camp begins in late July is to be determined and will be based on whether they can create enough cap space to sign some second-tier free agents and how well they draft in April.
Still, this could be an enormous loss of talent for a franchise that, in the past, has always — in Colbert's words — “had a replacement in place” when a key player departed.
When wide receiver Plaxico Burress left in 2005, it didn't hurt the Steelers; they won the Super Bowl that season. When guard Alan Faneca left following a messy contract dispute in 2008, they won the Super Bowl that season.
When safety Chris Hope left, Ryan Clark was brought in to replace him. When Earl Holmes left, James Farrior stepped in. When Kendrell Bell left, Larry Foote replaced him. When Carlos Emmons left, Joey Porter replaced him.
This time, the replacements still haven't been fully determined by a franchise that insists it's not in transition but, by Tuesday night, most certainly could be in exactly that.
“We've signed significant players in free agency, but they've been few and far between,” Colbert said. “We have to be open to that, but at what cost?”
Right now, it's one the Steelers probably can't afford to pay. Even if they designate guard Willie Colon as a June cut, a move that seems likely now that guard Ramon Foster has re-signed, the $5 million in salary-cap space created won't be enough to add multiple impact players.
And if the Browns jump in and sign Lewis, who had a strong first season as a starter in 2012, it will be a move that weakens the Steelers and strengthens a division rival.
And could Harrison be Cleveland-bound, too? His agent, Bill Parise, said the five-time Pro Bowl linebacker might not know his next destination for another week. Parise was starting to get multiple calls from teams Monday, and he said the process still must play out.
“Teams are only beginning to discuss, ‘Is he a fit? Is he someone we're interested in?' ” Parise said. “We're not even close (to making a decision). We're way, way behind (the other free agents).”
What the Steelers won't know until this fall is whether shedding so many starters, so much talent in one offseason — possibly one day in March — will put them way behind, too.
Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @arobinson_Trib.
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.
- Analysis: Steelers could fill needs with free agents while not spending big bucks
- Steelers to release LaMarr Woodley; Taylor restructures contract
- Kovacevic: Big Ben’s contract clock ticking
- With so many needs, Steelers can ill afford to miss in draft
- Steelers defense doesn’t make the grade in 2013 review
- Keisel might be at end of Steelers career
- Steelers use transition tag on LB Worilds
- Steelers restructure Brown’s contract to become salary cap compliant
- 6 players the Steelers will be watching at NFL Combine
- Steelers’ Worilds signs transition tag
- Steelers create cap space by re-signing Polamalu, Miller