I was very surprised the Steelers kept their starting offensive line together. A couple months back, I figured Chris Kemoeatu was surely gone and Max Starks would likely be switching teams. They've secured both those players with Kemoeatu likely taking slightly less to return to the Steelers than he could have secured somewhere else. I wasn't a big fan of placing the franchise on Starks, but it certainly does buy the team some time to develop some other options. Willie Colon will also return because nobody is going to give up a first round pick to sign him.
I expected the Steelers would let Marvel Smith go because of this back issues but was a bit suprised they released Kendall Simmons. That shows that they had lost faith he could return to form following a series of health issues and injuries.
Considering how often I was frustrated by the O-line this past season, I'm a little surprised to be somewhat relieved that last year's group is coming back together. So, the Steelers will return almost all their key players from this year's Super Bowl run minus Bryant McFadden and Nate Washington. That's pretty good. I really like McFadden and will hate to see him go, but I think Washington is very replacable.
The O-line at the beginning of last year bordered on terrible. Their performance in the Eagles game is one of the worst I've ever seen out of a Steelers' line. But, they definitely improved by the end of the season. They weren't a great offensive line....they still didn't get enough surge in the run game, were prone to too many mistakes, and allowed speed rushers to beat them. But, they were far better by the end of the season than in the season's first half. They played three solid games in the playoffs, including holding up against one of the league's best pass rushing teams in the Ravens.
It is likely this group will continue to improve next year while becoming more in synch with one another. And these players will likely improve. Darnell Stapleton played admirably in his first year starting and will likely continue to improve as will the other players on the line.
I still think the Steelers would like to upgrade the offensive line and look for them to draft offensive linemen in the first two rounds. But, they no longer have a compelling need to do that. If a much higher rated defensive linemen or cornerback falls to them, they may move in that direction, especially if B-Mac leaves town.
It will be interesting to watch free agency to see which players might still be available after the initial spending spree by teams like the Redskins and Cowboys. Who will be this year's Ryan Clark, an undervalued player who fits the Steelers' mold? It will be fun to find out.