Rooney II: 'I think there are a lot of pieces in place'
Art Rooney II likes the Steelers' blend of youth and experience, and the team president said he doesn't anticipate making sweeping changes after the team's 29-23 loss to Denver in the AFC playoffs.
"It's not a situation where we're looking to tear things apart and start over," Rooney said today in a wide-ranging interview. "I think there are a lot of pieces in place."
The biggest question facing the Steelers this offseason is keeping the core of their team together. The Steelers are around $25 million over the salary cap, which means the team has to make some tough decisions before March 13, the start of the new NFL year.
"There's no question salary cap's an issue," Rooney said. "It's probably as big an issue as we've had to face."
Rooney said restructuring contracts and shedding salary are ways that the Steelers will get in compliance with the cap. The Steelers, he added, faced significant cap issues before the beginning of last season and were able to work through them. When asked his overall thoughts on the 2011 season, Rooney said, "We didn't reach out ultimate goal but there are positives we can take out of it and things we can build on. That's the process we're starting now, is to figure out how we get better in 2012."
Here are some other highlights from Rooney's first interview since the season ended:
• He praised Hines Ward but did not commit to bringing the Steelers all-time leading receiver back in 2012.
"He's one of the all-time Steelers," Rooney said, "Hopefully he'll be a Hall of Famer. You want it end the right way when it ends."
• He said signing wide receiver Mike Wallace to a long-term contract will be one of the Steelers' top priorities this offseason.
Wallace, who is starting in the Pro Bowl at the end of the month, will be a restricted free agent in March.
Rooney also said the youth and depth the Steelers have at wide receiver is a "particularly bright" spot.
• Rooney said the Steelers need to become more consistent on offense and that they need to take less sacks.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was sacked 42 times during the regular season. His sack totals are always high, in part because of Roethlisberger's tendency to hold onto the ball and try to extend plays.
When asked if Roethlisberger has to change his style of play, Rooney said, He may need to tweak it a little bit but Ben is Ben and you wouldn't want to convince him that he's got to completely change his game because a lot of what we does is the reasons he's successful. The other side of the coin is he is turning 30 and we do need him to stay healthy."
• Rooney said the Steelers will add 3,000 seats to Heinz Field following the 2012 season. Plans to expand the stadium were put on hold by the NFL lockout that wiped out the 2011 offseason.
• He said he expects his father, Dan, to step down after serving one term as U.S. Ambassador to Ireland.