The Steelers proved cash flow and the salary cap was not an obstacle this season and they managed to lock up several key components of their defense during the 2011 offseason as well as succesfully locking up their right tackle spot for several years to come. While the list of players that needed to be re-signed or extended was long and daunting this past offseason, it looks to be short and less intimidating next offseason.
I listed the Steelers 2012 free agents the other night and with Troy Polamalu now being scratched off the list today, it leaves wide receiver Mike Wallace as the highest priority free agent right now. Wallace will be a restricted free agent however and that means at worst he can be restricted tendered at the highest level and it should be enough to keep teams away as it would cost them a 1st round draft pick to sign him away. The projected amount last year on this type of tender was over $3 million a season and we will not know the true 2012 tender amounts for some time now. As long as Wallace stays healthy and keeps his head screwed on tight, I see no reason why he would not get a new contract this far out. Regardless, he will be a Steeler in 2012 baring any unforeseen circumstances. Mark it down.
The remaining restricted free agents, as I mentioned in the previous article will all likely be tendered at the lowest level. The wildcard is cornerback Keenan Lewis, but he would have to see considerable playing time and really have a big season to require anything more than a low level restricted tender. The exclusive free agents, Steve McLendon and Isaac Redman, are locks to return as long as they do not suffer a career ending injury.
As far as the unrestricted free agents go, Jerricho Cotchery might be considered a mid grade priority going forward depending on his health and quality of play this year. His status might be tied to what happens with Hines Ward as well. Ward said this past offseason that he wants to play two more seasons, but I could see him retiring, especially if the Steelers win it all this year. Regardless, Cotchery will not get crazy money if re-signed and it is not worth worrying about at this time.
A few of the other restricted free agents might be brought back for the veteran minimum, but that all depends on the level of their play. Don\’t hold your breath right now as that list will sort itself out over the coming year.
Outside of the free agents, Rashard Mendenhall, Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders and Stevenson Sylvester will be entering their final year under contract in 2012. I really doubt that Mendenhall gets an extension, but Brown, Sanders and Sylvester certainly could qualify for new deals and it shouldn\’t cost and arm or a leg to get a few of those down. Before any of that happens though, the Steelers will need to manage their pending cap hell that looks to await them next offseason. All of that should be managed by the time training camp starts however.
The Steelers of course will have the franchise tag at their disposal next offseason, but looking at the free agents right now, I just can\’t see them having to use it now that Polamalu will not require it.