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 pessimistic side of the coin.
Question: Should the Steelers and Brett Keisel honor the second year of his contract?
For a very long stretch of the offseason, it certainly appeared as though the front office had indeed already moved on from Brett Keisel. It’s likely, in fact, that they would have, if they were more comfortable with what they had in camp.
But as the calendar turned to August and Keisel flirted with the desert, Da Beard got a call with a 412 area code and was soon back in Pittsburgh. He signed a two-year contract in order to provide depth along the defensive line, rather than returning as a starter.
And he played well, overall, in that role as a rotational player, most frequently featured in the nickel defense as a pass rusher. Yet despite the fact that he was technically a reserve, he still played more than the player who essentially replaced him in the starting lineup, free agent signing Cam Thomas.
Keisel managed just a lone sack during the previous season, but he also deflected five passes, and even recorded the second interception of his career. But three quarters of the way through the year, he suffered a freak arm injury, from which he will have to recover if he hopes to play again.
Such an injury, unfortunately, reminds me of Aaron Smith’s later years, which featured recurring injuries and a shell of the player that he once was. It’s uncertain as of now whether or not Keisel has another season in him of even the 2014 level.
Also of concern about a potential return is his $1.5 million base salary. For a player who is likely to play an even more reduced role than the one he saw a year ago, that is a bit pricy. And if I recall correctly, a year ago, he said he would rather retire than play for veteran minimum, so I wonder if a salary reduction would even be an option.
Still, the Steelers will need depth options along the defensive line, particularly at defensive end. And right now, outside of Keisel and Thomas, there are only a couple of second choice options on the practice squad.