The Pittsburgh Steelers, coming off an impressive 11-5 season in a highly competitive AFC North will have some tough decisions to make going into the 2015 season. Le’Veon Bell accounted for 2,215 yards and 11 TDs over 373 touches, and Antonio Brown’s league leading 129 receptions will be go to players, but with news of the quarterback’s happiness being called into question, and an aging secondary, as well as an uncomfortable salary cap number, the Steelers return to dominance might just be in rebuild mode.
Much was made of the departure of the 77-year old DC Dick Lebeau, when the real focus should be the average age of the starting secondary (31 in 2014). Although new DC Keith Butler has been with the team coaching the linebackers since 2003, he will have to work with some new blood if the Steelers are to compete AND stay under the cap in 2015. Pittsburgh is a mere 720,000 under the cap currently.
QB Ben Roethlisberger is set to make 18.39 million in 2015, with 11.6 of that being his base salary. If Big Ben truly wants to retire in the black and yellow, he will have to push some of that base to a bonus. If a deal is not met, it could spell the end of his career in Pittsburgh.
SS Troy Polamalu has a similar situation with his number accounting for 8.25 against the cap, 6 million of that being his base salary. Unlikely for the 34-year old to restructure, so if he wants to retire a Steeler he and the organization have some difficult decisions to make.
Departed LB Lamarr Woodley’s 8.58 million dollar dead money bomb certainly isn’t helping matters either.
LB Jason Worilds was transitioned tagged in 2014 and it tops on the list of players for the Steelers to sign, if they can find a way to get under the cap. No telling what the transition tag did to the relationship that he and the organization have, but unless the Steelers want to have 36-year old James Harrison back, they better restructure.
CB Ike Taylor will not be back, although he won’t carry a hefty price tag, the Steelers are looking to rebuild through the draft.
The Steelers find themselves in a precarious position picking 22nd in this year’s draft: one spot behind division rival Cincinnati. Butler being a linebackers coach for the past 12 years might want to build his defense at that position and the two names on their radar are Alvin Dupree (Kentucky) and Vic Beasley (Clemson). Dupree being 6’4” 264 certainly fits the mold of being a ‘Steeler’ linebacker, but is said to be a project, and one that is too high to take in the first round.
Everyone by now has seen the onslaught that Beasley showed at the combine, and might have proven to be too late for the Steelers to pick him up, unless they trade up. Unlikely, but stranger things have happened at the draft.
If the Steelers decide to go with the secondary with their 1st pick, look for them to target 3: CB Kevin Johnson (Wake Forest), CB P.J. Williams (FSU) and CB Trae Waynes (Michigan State). It is pretty much a wash for Johnson and Williams as they are parallel talents, but Waynes showed a mix of speed and explosiveness at the combine that might tilt the scales in his direction.
Depending on what happens with Polamalu, S Landon Collins (Alabama) could be the pick if he falls to them. Collins is a hard-hitting safety that would work well within the 3-4 scheme, provided he can correct some of his weaknesses in the passing game.
As mentioned previously, the Steelers are barely under the cap, and would need to be approximately 4-6 million under the cap when April 30th rolls around to sign their draft picks. They have no room for error here, and the number crunchers have to be working overtime for Pittsburgh to be competitive in 2015.
Quick Guide to the Rookie Wage Scale (First Round Breakdown)