Pittsburgh Steelers: Tough Decisions Await

By Jeff Hartman
Ryan Clark
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers are currently sitting at the bottom of the AFC North standings (2-6) wondering what went wrong. At the midway point of their NFL season, the Steelers are left with an uncertainty not only regarding the rest of the 2013-14 season, but also about the organization moving forward. Some tough personnel decisions lie ahead for the Steelers.

The Steelers’ fan base has already seemingly thrown in the towel on this season, and many are asking what the future holds for the black and gold. Some are clamoring for change, but change is something that is easier said than done. Looking ahead, there are several difficult decisions the Steelers organization will have to make to see where this team is headed in the immediate future.

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is due $12.1 million next season, and that is a cap hit the Steelers cannot afford. Will the Steelers try and trade their franchise QB? That is highly doubtful. Look for the organization to do the same “restructuring” song and dance and give Roethlisberger his money in a signing bonus to alleviate salary cap issues. Whether or not the Steelers try to extend Roethlisberger’s contract will say a lot in regards to their future plans for No. 7.

Safety Troy Polamalu is due $8.5 million next season, and the 2014 season is the final year of his current contract. Polamalu is an interesting case with his injury history, as well as his lack of productivity in recent years. Do the Steelers cut ties with the safety, or do they restructure his contract to keep him on the roster for another year before he hits free agency? Don’t be surprised to see the Steelers trying to give Troy a contract extension that will alleviate cap issues, as well as keep Polamalu in the secondary for a few more years.

Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders signed a one-year, $2.5 million contract this offseason, and is playing himself out of a lot of money. Sanders’ play has been subpar, which could be a good thing for the Steelers. Sanders’ speed and versatility makes him an attractive addition to any team, but don’t expect the Steelers to overpay for him, as they didn’t for Mike Wallace last year. The Steelers have depth at the wide receiver positions, but they would love to keep Sanders if the price is right.

Defensive tackle Brett Keisel will be a free agent next season, and all signs point to the Steelers parting ways with “Da Beard.” Keisel has been a mainstay with the Steelers dating back to their Super Bowl 40 championship, but don’t expect to see him donning a Steelers jersey after this season. Keisel returning next season just doesn’t make much sense from a football aspect, as well as a personnel standpoint.

With the expected departure of Keisel, Evander “Ziggy” Hood makes for another difficult decision for the Steelers organization. Hood was a first-round pick for the Steelers, who was recently demoted to second string in place of Cameron Heyward. Hood is a free agent next year, and if Keisel is done with the Steelers, look for the organization to try and retain the first-round pick to solidify their defensive line.

Safety Ryan Clark is another arduous decision for an organization that is teetering on mediocrity. Do you keep the aging safety because of his relationship and cohesion with Polamalu? Clark’s play has been underwhelming this season, and his off-the-field outbursts might just be enough to have the Steelers organization looking at younger players to step in and produce in Clark’s spot. The Steelers drafted Shamarko Thomas this year, and don’t be surprised if he is lined up next to Polamlu in the defensive backfield on opening day of 2014.

From a player standpoint, the Steelers have a make-or-break offseason ahead of them. The way these players finish out this 2013 NFL schedule will determine a lot of their futures with the Steelers.

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