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NFL Pittsburgh Steelers

5 Pittsburgh Steelers Storylines To Follow Leading Up To Free Agency

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5 Pittsburgh Steelers Storylines Leading Up To Free Agency

Pittsburgh Steelers
Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

When an NFL team has back-to-back 8-8 seasons, they are the definition of mediocre. That is the rare position the Pittsburgh Steelers find themselves in as free agency gets ready to start in a few short days. There are a lot of questions regarding the Steelers this offseason, and a lot of questions that should be asked before free agency begins.

The Steelers are sporting an aging defense that couldn't stop the run, looked old and slow in the back end and a pass rush that was nearly nonexistent. Offensively, there is a little more promise, but the team didn't move the ball consistently until abandoning the playbook and allowing Ben Roethlisberger to run the no huddle to near perfection.

Narrowly missing the playoffs doesn't do much for the Steelers. Although fans will point to momentum and the arrow pointing "up" for this team, but holes need to be filled and tough decisions need to be made.

Fans of the Steelers are not used to these conditions. They are used to minimal moves being made in free agency, solid picks being made in drafts and players that make their home Pittsburgh until they decide to hang up the cleats. Times have changed in the Steel City, and the team now has a lot of indecision surrounding their franchise and the future of the organization.

Among all these storylines leading up to free agency, I give you the five that you should follow before the new NFL year officially begins.

Jeff Hartman covers the Pittsburgh Steelers for RantSports.com and also contributes for the Penguins and Pirates. Follow him on Twitter @BnGBlitz and add him on Google+

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5. The Jason Worilds / LaMarr Woodley Saga

Pittsburgh Steelers
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Last season, Pittsburgh Steelers fans saw their big-money OLB LaMarr Woodley get outplayed by the oft-injured Jason Worilds. He didn't just get outplayed -- he lost his job. When Woodley was healthy enough to resume his duties, he was told his job would be found on the opposite side of Worilds. Worilds is considered the top-rated OLB amongst free agents, and the Steelers will look to try and re-sign Worilds, but it won't come cheap. Worilds will expect top dollar, and the Steelers might not be able to afford him and keeping the dead weight that is LaMarr Woodley.

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4. Which Veterans Will Stay Or Go?

Pittsburgh Steelers
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Steelers have a lot of defensive veterans who will either be forced to restructure their current deals or might be searching for employment elsewhere. Ryan Clark, Ike Taylor, Brett Keisel and even Troy Polamalu will need to help the Steelers get comfortably inside the salary cap by allowing the franchise to restructure their deals. Although Clark might not be asked back anyway, Taylor might be gone if he doesn't want to re do his deal. Keisel has been injured a lot this past season, and Polamalu will certainly be back as there is no one behind him to step in and take over. After back to back 8-8 seasons, no veterans are safe.

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3. Will the Steelers Be Buyers In Free Agency?

Pittsburgh Steelers
Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

Steelers fans get mad at their lack of movement in free agency, but the Steelers are traditionally smart buyers in free agency. Some of the better deals the Steelers have made in the past are IBL James Farrior, S Ryan Clark and WR Jerricho Cotchery. Although they won't be the big spender in free agency, the Steelers will be buyers.

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2. Ben Roethlisberger's Contract Extension

Pittsburgh Steelers
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

The Steelers' franchise quarterback has only two years left on his current contract, and that is typically the magic number in terms of when the Steelers start to talk about contract extensions. Some still talk about a lack of communication between OC Todd Haley and Ben Roethlisberger as a reason why Roethlisberger might not remain in Pittsburgh, but everyone within the organization has made it clear re-signing their star quarterback is a priority this offseason. Although it might not happen before free agency, the Steelers will be extending Roethlisberger's deal to have him retire a Steeler.

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1. Is Pittsburgh Still A Desired Destination For Free Agents?

Pittsburgh Steelers
Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

There was a time when free agents would take less money to come to Pittsburgh and play. They would talk about locker room cohesion and coaches that were more than just coaches, but father figures. It was no surprise that these comments were also made as the Steelers were considered a front-runner in the AFC and winning Super Bowl championships, but that talk has dwindled since the Steelers have become a middle-of-the-pack football team. Is Pittsburgh still a desirable destination? Only time will tell if free agents choose Pittsburgh over other football clubs.