The Pittsburgh Steelers have put a bow on the 2012 NFL season, but they cannot sit back and wait for the 2013 season to begin. This team is in a bind when it comes to the salary cap and with such a huge chunk of the cap devoted to defense, it seems very likely that this defensive unit could look very different in 2013.
Along the defensive line, it’s all hands on deck at this point minus veteran defensive tackle Casey Hampton. Hampton has been an anchor on the defensive front but short of a vet minimum type of contract, I can’t see the Steelers retaining him with defensive tackles Steve McLendon and Alameda Ta’amu waiting in the wings. For 2013 I expect to see McLendon as the full time starter.
For the linebackers it’s a different story. Veteran linebacker Larry Foote is a free agent and even after what was a career year, I have questions whether or not he will be re-signed, especially if fellow linebacker Sean Spence can make a full recovery from his injury he suffered in the preseason. On the outside, both LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison had down years, and if there is to be a true cap casualty among this defense it would be Harrison. The Steelers ownership understands that while loyalty to players is important, keeping this team competitive is more important so don’t be shocked if there is a new outside linebacker like Jason Worilds lined up opposite Woodley in 2013.
In the secondary it’s an issue again of money. cornerback Keenan Lewis is a free agent, and even though he might be the best cornerback on the roster, it’s going to be a challenge to get a new deal in place for him with the salary cap situation the Steelers are in. As much as Steelers fans want to keep Lewis, don’t be shocked if he chases a big contract somewhere else, and there’s a new starter in place for 2013. The safety situation is a big more complicated. Safeties Will Allen and Ryan Mundy; the entirety of the Steelers depth at safety are free agents. I’m not sure how much Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark have left in the tank, so whomever is behind them on the depth chart could see significant time.
When you look at it, I wouldn’t be shocked if there are at least three new starters on the 2013 Steelers defense. I am always on board with getting younger and more athletic, so I welcome the changes and hope to see a great Steelers defense in 2013.