Now that the Steelers and outside linebacker James Harrison agreed on a long-term contract, the team's work is hardly finished. The Steelers have a number of key players going into the final year of their contract, and the team has a longstanding policy of not engaging in contract negotiations once the season starts.
With that in mind here is a list of projected starters going into the final year of their contracts and a take on how things will shake out for each.
Ryan Clark, FS
Clark has been a surprise for the Steelers thus far. When signed, the expectation was for him to start for a year or two then head way to Anthony Smith as the stater. Well "Mr. Guarantee" is now a Packer and we all know how he worked out. The problem is that Clark has become a very important part to the Steelers defense and compliments Troys style well also the Steelers have very little depth behind him to groom for the future at this time.
I look for the Steelers to get a deal done with Clark that locks him up 4-5 years. He has earned that much from the team and the difference of him in the line up and out of it is night and day as we saw when he was lost for the 2007 season to a spleen injury. Getting Clark resigned is a very important key to keeping the Steelers defense on top of the league.
Willie Colon, RT
Colon getting resigned is about 50/50. The biggest factor will have to do with how the draft shakes out this year. If the Steelers can find a solid tackle that can start by season two, I don't see them resigning Colon, unless he signs for a reasonable amount and is willing to play a back up role.
Larry Foote, ILB
Bye, Bye Larry. It was apparent by seasons end that Foote was no longer going to be able to hold off L. Timmons from taking over his position. Once training camp opens up we should see the shift to Timmons as the starter and Foote playing the relief pitcher role so to say. With that in mind and the fact Foote still is a solid ILB and could start on several other teams, I can't see him wanting to resign to be a back up. I see Foote leaving via free agency to get a chance at another starting gig and this being his last season wearing the Black and Gold.
Casey Hampton, NT
Big Snack is a my wild card of this group. I can both see the Steelers resigning him and let him go at the same time. He is not getting any younger and his level of play is not what it once was. Hampton getting resigned will 100% depend on the draft and if the Steelers find a solid DT to groom to take his spot in a year or two. Having Hoke on the roster to file to the gap between Hampton and a rookie transition will make it easier to allow Big Snack to eat his way out of Pittsburgh.
Justin Hartwig, C
Though Hartwig has filled in nicely for the Steelers at center, he is not the long term answer at the position. His resigning also will depend on the draft, but not the way many think. The logical thinking is if the Steelers draft a center then its see ya later alligator. Remember though, D. Stapleton is a true center playing guard and the Steelers brass seem very high on him. So if the Steelers can find a solid guard prospect in the draft I can see them looking to Darnell to move back to his natural center position and allowing Hartwig to leave via free agency.
Brett Keisel, DE
Keisel has also played very well for the Steelers but unlike when A. Smith his out of the line up, the Steelers defense did not miss a beat when he was out 4-5 games last season, thus making him expendable. I realize the staff loves his versatility but he could easily price himself right out of Pittsburgh. He is another player that his job hinges on the draft. With his age and the fact the Steelers are looking to get younger on the DL, my gut tells me the team will find his replacement in this years draft and he is in his last season as a Steeler.
Heath Miller, TE
The best TE in the league period. Get r done. This is a MUST signing for the Steelers and I have full faith that the Steelers and Miller have a vast future ahead. No way the team lets Miller leave, expect him to be one of the next players on the clock to get his contract signed.
Willie Parker, RB
Before I say anything let it be known I am a very big Parker fan. I saw his potential from day one and have been rooting for his success since. With that said "Fast" Willy might be in his final days as a Steeler. The brass did not draft Mendenhall for nothing. Also with Moore emerging last season as a solid #2 and third down back I can see this being Parker's final season as a Steeler. The draft will be the tell tail of the tape. If we grab a HB that is more then just a short yardage type, I think that will write Parker's ticket out of Pittsburgh.
Jeff Reed, K
What would the team do without their resident troll doll? This is a no brain-er, Reed is the only kicker that can boot the ball inside "Hines" Field, I see a deal getting done to make Reed our kicker for many years to come.
Max Starks, OT
Max is an enigma! He seems to play like **** until he gets benched then steps up his game once someone gets hurt and he is forced to play again. Strange but true. His service to the team is very important though as he is able to play both the RT and LT spot. The problem with getting Starks signed though is what motivation does he have? Would you give up almost $9 million bucks as the franchise guy, I don't think so and will be very surprised if he does too. A long term deal might be in max's future I just don't see it anytime soon.
Hines Ward, WR
This deal has to get done at all cost. Hines is the heart and soul of the Steelers and embodies everything they stand for. I realize he is getting long in the tooth, but he must retire a Steeler. He has earned that right. I think the Steelers front office have learned from their mistake with Rod Woodson and feel a deal will get done. I just hope Ward is willing to give back something to stay as I can't see the team paying him top WR money and his willingness to take a paycut with be crutial to the deal getting done.
I would love to see the Steelers keep all of these guys but the the nature of the game won't allow it. With that said, I have full faith the team will do what is right for all involved and no matter who they resign or allow to leave via free agency they will be ready to compete each and every year.
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