Every year, the salary cap purge takes it’s toll prior to the start of free agency. The NFL is a “what have you done for me” league. It’s a business, and oftentimes, can be an emotional one, as fan favorites and beloved teammates are kicked to the curb, with the excitement and play making ability they brought to the team simply forgotten. The past few years in Pittsburgh have been a prime example, as the writing was on the wall for veterans James Farrior, Aaron Smith, Casey Hampton, and even last year, James Harrison and Brett Keisel. Although Harrison and Keisel were brought back, this year could be no different, with Ike Taylor, Keisel, Harrison and iconic Troy Polamalu the next in-line to be gone for good. With Polamalu’s high 2015 cap figure, coupled with his decline in play, a paycut might be demanded or a cut outright will be likely. Teams league wide will be trimming the fat to comply with the cap, and after their yearly maneuvering with cuts, extensions, etc. the Steelers should have some wiggle room with it comes to spending flexibility. Here are a few names of veterans across the league who may be cut, and find themselves targets of the black and gold.
Tamba Hali – Kansas City Chiefs
The team might as well back the Brinks truck up to pass rush extraordinaire Justin Houston‘s driveway, because if they don’t, someone else will. In a pass happy league, the superstar outside linebacker recorded a league-leading 22 sacks, proving to be the most feared defender this side of J.J. Watt. After recording only 6 sacks, his lowest output since ’08, the 31-year old would save the team $9 million, a hefty sum, considering the team also spent it’s first-rounder on Dee Ford in the ’14 draft. At only 31, it’s fair to argue he could have more left in the tank than a 37-year old Harrison might. Also, he played his college ball right here in the Keystone State. If the price is right, I could see the front office kicking the tires on Hali.
Trent Cole – Philadelphia Eagles
Having extensive experience in a 3-4 already, and showing success at it with 8 sacks in ’13 and 6 and-a-half more in ’14, Cole has shown, even at 32 he can still get after the quarterback. But with a $10 million base in 2015, plus impending free agent Brandon Graham, another possible Steelers’ target, the writing could be on the wall for Cole. A side note, the team also drafted Louisville’s Marcus Smith in the first round last year, and although he didn’t really show much, that could’ve spoke more to the team’s deep rotation at outside linebacker than anything else. Instead of overpaying a player in decline, the Eagles will likely ask him for a paycut. If let go, he would be a nice stop-gap player until the Steelers resolve their issues at outside linebacker, most likely through the draft.
Phil Taylor – Cleveland Browns
Taylor struggled to stay healthy last season, and it could be a major reason why teams ran roughshod over the Browns’ defense all year. Armed with two top-20 first round picks this year, the Browns may look to bolster their defensive line, and an obvious choice will be Danny Shelton, whom some call the next Haloti Ngata. With a $5.5 million cap-hit, the team could let the 6-foot-3, 335-pound mammoth walk, and at only 27 years of age next season, he would add some major versatility to the Steelers’ defensive line. Like Hali, Taylor also played his college ball at nearby Penn State, before transferring to Baylor. He could be the long-term answer at nose tackle, with Steve McLendon entering his final contract year.
Reggie Bush – Detroit Lions
Although absolutely electrifying at times, Bush hasn’t been able to remain entirely healthy, as evidenced last season. If the team waits until after June 1, it can save $3.5 million by dumping him, and he would make an ideal tandem pairing as the lightning component to Le’Veon Bell‘s thunder. His superb hands make him attractive as well to a Pittsburgh offense ready to explode. He has also proved before his capability of being a bell-cow, but that wouldn’t be necessary except for Bell’s forthcoming suspension, whether it be one or two games.
Ahmad Brooks – San Francisco 49ers
The former All-Pro lashed out at former defensive line coach and now head coach Jim Tomsula last season, and was benched. Could this come back to haunt him? With stud rusher Aldon Smith due back for his first full season since 2013, coupled with the promising play of outside linebacker Aaron Lynch, Brooks could become expendable. At 6-foot-3 and 259 pounds, he is big enough to hold his own defending the run but has proved time and time again he can get to the passer too. At only 30 years of age, he would be a nice stopgap if the team opts to prioritize secondary high in the draft, and settle for raw but gifted pass rushers later.