While the fact that the Pittsburgh Steelers elected to released veteran defensive end Brett Keisel was not a surprise, perhaps the timing was, at least on the public face of it.
Keisel himself expressed publically that he was interested in continuing to play, but perhaps that’s why the Steelers released him on the eve of free agency after determining that he no longer fit into their plans.
Many felt, however, that the team might be interested to see where he is from a health standpoint as he recovers from a triceps tear that he suffered three quarters of the way through the 2014 season. That was evidently not the case.
Either the team had flashbacks to the repeated injuries that ended Aaron Smith’s career, or they simply decided that he was no longer as valuable or necessary to the defense as he was a year ago when they brought him back in August. He was, after all, nearly out of football a year ago already.
The specifics and the reality of the situation surrounding his release, including the implications of Cam Thomas still being on the roster, however, are best reserved for another time, as it’s clear that yet another Steeler great has played his last down of football for the team, and perhaps for good.
Keisel came to the Steelers as a seventh-round draft pick in 2002, beginning as a longshot and cutting his teeth on special teams. Keisel emerged as a rotational player on defense in 2005, helping the organization win its first championship since its glory years, and entered the starting lineup the following season with the departure of Kimo Von Oelhoffen.
He posted a career-high 5.5 sacks the following year, but his game continued to improve in other areas as the years progressed. In 2007, he batted seven balls down at the line of scrimmage, a feat he duplicated in 2010.
2010 was a big year for Keisel, as it was the first and only time in his career that he was named a Pro Bowler. He also recorded his first interception, which he returned 79 yards for a touchdown, adding two forced fumbles. This, all in 11 games.
The following year was another strong season, as he was named an alternate for the Pro Bowl. It was a less glamorous year on the stats sheet, but it was consistent, and he stayed healthy.
But that was a growing problem in his career. From 2008 to 2014, he only stayed healthy once, in 2012, missing 22 games due to injury in that span, not including the postseason.
He missed four games in 2013, which is likely partly why the Steelers already hesitated to re-sign him this past offseason. But when he did return to the team, he showed that he can still be productive on the field as a rotational piece, back where he began. On the year, he only produced one sack, but had many other pressures. He also contributed five batted passes and the second interception of his career.
There may not be a more likable player in the history of the Steelers’ franchise than Brett Keisel. He is a favorite of everybody from the top down, most especially the fans, and he will always be regarded as a Steeler for life, a sentiment echoed in the team’s statement yesterday announcing his release.