While the Pittsburgh Steelers may have gained some tangible evidence of improvement, improving their win total by three games and hosting a playoff game as a division champion for the first time in four seasons, there is no doubt that the team is far from a finished product.
No team, of course, is a finished product in the offseason. Every team loses players to free agency and retirement, and replaces them through the same free agency process, as well as the draft.
With all of the change that occurs during the offseason, it’s often difficult to predict how a particular team might fare. They may wind up holding the Lombardi trophy or the first overall draft pick when all is said and done.
In order to gain a better feel for not only the issues facing the team this year, but how those issues might play out, it’s useful to take the devil’s advocate approach. This is the optimistic side of the coin.
Question: Should the Steelers and Brett Keisel honor the second year of his contract?
The Steelers did not get around to re-signing Brett Keisel until August, when it seemed like he was nearly prepared to take his services to the desert, which is a path that many a former Steelers has taken over the course of the past eight years.
But he wasn’t brought back to be a starter, even with the Steelers losing two of their top four defensive ends from the year before in free agency. Instead, they turned to Cam Thomas, a free agent signing of their own, who wound up starting most of the season at left defensive end, with Cameron Heyward taking over Keisel’s right defensive end spot.
While he logged a healthy number of snaps—often more than Thomas himself, as Keisel played in the nickel, which the Steelers ran frequently—the Steelers seemingly actively kept the veteran out of the starting lineup in order to keep him fresh.
It was a plan that seemed to be working out pretty well until he suffered a bit of a freak arm injury late in the season that landed him on injured reserve with a quarter of the season still remaining.
Assuming he can recover from that injury—which isn’t necessarily a guarantee—one can argue that he showed in 2014 that he can still be an effective contributor and offer a bit of pass rushing prowess in sub-packages, which is, perhaps, something that presumptive starter Stephon Tuitt could still stand to work on.
While Keisel’s base salary of $1.5 million due is a bit much, the Steelers could release Thomas, who is due a base salary of $2 million. That is a decision that could be made irrespective of what happens with Keisel, but if Thomas is let go, then there will certainly be dire need of depth at the defensive end position anyway, and a healthy Keisel would seem to be a solid option at this point.