The 2014 season saw the Pittsburgh Steelers on the rise, finishing with an 11-5 record and a division title following two straight seasons of missing the playoffs with 8-8 records. They finished off the regular season with four straight victories, but suffered a disappointing Wildcard round loss against the Ravens without their star running back.
Nobody is saying that the Steelers, however, are a finished product. Not even the Super Bowl champion is a finished product after a season concludes, because every team undergoes a series of changes throughout the offseason via free agency, retirement, and the draft, in addition to a myriad of other factors.
Pittsburgh is certainly no different, of course, and they are expected to see a number of new faces in the starting lineup for the third straight season. One of the questions that the Steelers face is taking the pulse of their defensive line, where they only seem to have four players that they are sure of at the moment.
At the heart of this question is, of course, Cam Thomas, who was one of the team’s bigger financial free agent commitments a year ago. The defensive lineman signed a two-year, $4 million deal, and is owed a base salary of $2 million in 2015.
It’s nearly unanimous among the fan base that the Steelers must cut him. And it’s quite possible, if not likely, that he will be cut. But what is often overlooked is that it doesn’t need to happen right now. In fact, there’s simply no good reason for it to happen now.
I cautioned earlier in the offseason that Thomas may still be on the roster in 2015, and that still holds. Right now, the only linemen the team can count on are Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, Steve McLendon, and arguably Daniel McCullers. Thomas and Brett Keisel remain under contract, but neither are guaranteed to return.
Thomas’ play in 2014 was wanting more often than not, to be generous, but he had his moments. Keisel, on the other hand, is in his year 37 season, and is rehabilitating an injury. He is undecided himself whether or not he will continue to try to play, and that says nothing about the team’s interest in retaining him.
If the Steelers part with Keisel, they will save only a bit less in salary cap space than they would cutting Thomas. In his favor is his youth, his health, and his experience playing both defensive end and nose tackle. If he returns this season, it will be in the role he should have been in a year ago, which is rotational.
But that will not prevent the Steelers from looking to replace him. No doubt they will show interest in the free agent market among defensive ends, particularly ends who can also log time inside.
But here’s the thing. The Steelers have cap space right now to maneuver. There’s no need to cut Thomas right now just because it makes you feel sick to your stomach that he’s still on the roster.
If they find somebody to replace him with, cut him then. If they have a free agent signing that they need the cap relief for, cut him then. Until then, he’s not hurting anybody, as much as some might want to insist otherwise. Remember, the people in the front office aren’t just fans; they’re actually held accountable for the decisions that they make.