With Pittsburgh missing the Playoffs for only the second time under the direction of Mike Tomlin, it is time to look ahead to rebuilding for a run in 2013. Here are a look at some of the potential big names that might not be donning their usual Black and Yellow uniforms on Sunday.
1. James Harrison, OLB- This would obviously be one of the tougher moves for the Steelers organization to make going forward. However, for a defensive unit that molds line backing prospects into elite talent, the Steelers should be just fine. Keep in mind that the 2012 third-round pick, Sean Spence out of Miami (FL), did not take the field for a team that will finish ranked no worse than 10 by season’s end. In an effort to re-sign Mike Wallace, the Steelers will have to release the veteran Pro-Bowler.
2. Rashard Mendenhall, RB- It is not secret that Mendenhall has fallen out of favor with Head Coach Tomlin and the members of Steeler Nation. Though quietly rushing for over 1,000 in two of his five NFL seasons, Mendenhall has not been the dynamic rusher the Steelers thought he would be. Part of this is due to the unstable offensive line in front of him. It might be best for both parties to part ways, allowing Mendenhall to find success elsewhere, and give Jonathan Dwyer an opportunity moving forward.
3. Casey Hampton, DT- This may have been the weakest unit of the entire Steeler team in 2012. The once-vaunted Steeler D was unable to produce the league-leading sack numbers that fans have become accustomed to seeing. Hampton is no spring chicken, and Pittsburgh has a viable option waiting in the wings in Steve McLendon. After having a highly talked about Pre-Season, McLendon should get the chance to show he belongs in the middle of a young defensive line unit. It will be tough to see Hampton go, but Steeler fans should remember the many productive seasons Hampton provided in his NFL career.
4. Keenan Lewis, CB- After being slowly groomed into a starter opposite Ike Taylor, Keenan Lewis may have played himself into a new contract elsewhere. As the NFL continues to evolve into a pass-heavy league, elite CBs will be at a premium for every defense. Obviously the Steelers would be wise to hang onto a this talented young corner, but Lewis might attract some high contract offers from other teams. Essentially, if Lewis signs with the team, Wallace is out, and vice versa.
5. Mike Wallace, WR- The time Steeler fans dreaded has finally come to be. After a non-productive start to the season, Wallace slowly blossomed into the numbers that fans have gotten accustomed to seeing from the speedy third year pass catcher out of Ole Miss. With Wallace looking to cash in on his success, it would be a miracle if the Steelers are able to work the books in order to re-sign the elite WR. Aside from restructuring contracts and releasing several key pieces, the Steelers could opt to utilize their franchise tag, which would be worth roughly $10+ million for one season. Antonio Brown certainly benefits from having Mike Wallace stretching defenses, so this move should be a no-brainer.
Ultimately, this Steelers will have a number of tough choices to make when deciding on an opening roster for 2013. There are a number of situations in which all five of these players can be kept, but Lewis and Wallace should remain priorities this off-season. Only time will tell what the Pittsburgh Front Office has in store for this team. Keep in mind, there are a number of defensive prospects in this year’s draft, which might ease the pain of losing a Keenan Lewis to free agency. Expect the Steelers to draft well, as is usually the case, and not make any bold moves in the off-season. With a fairly healthy year from their starters, 2013 could yield a 7th Lombardi Trophy for this storied franchise.
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