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Friday, February 27, 2015

Second wave of free agency is heating up

The second - or actually first - wave of free agency is heating up as teams rid themselves of veterans players with big contracts in order to get themselves in line with what the projected salary cap will be.

Because of that, in the past week, we've seen guys such as A.J. Hawk, Harry Douglas, Steven Jackson, Jacoby Jones and Mathias Kiwanuka cut loose in the past few days.

And the cuts will continue to come.

The good thing about these cuts is that other teams are able to sign these guys immediately instead of waiting until the start of the March 10 free agency period.

They also do not affect compensatory picks the following year since they aren't true free agents.

The bad thing? Often times the players being released are aging veterans who only have a year or two of football left in their bodies.

Still, the Steelers delved into this market last year and came away with Brice McCain and Lance Moore.

There could be an edge rusher or corner who just might interest the team this time around.

I continue to hear that Kansas City might have to part ways with Tamba Hali if the Chiefs have to come through with a big contract for Justin Houston - which they will.

If so, the Steelers would be very, very interested in Hali, even though, at 31, he doesn't fit their typical MO in free agency.

They could plug Hali, into their lineup opposite Jarvis Jones while also grooming his potential replacement, who will come in the draft.

A recent cut who might interest the Steelers is Jacoby Jones.

Mike Tomlin has always liked Jones as a return man and the Steelers, with their top three receiver set, wouldn't be forced to play Jones at a receiver position. He'd be No. 4.

He might also like a shot at playing the Ravens a couple of times per season after being released by the team.

The Steelers have a need for a return man and Jones remains one of the best in the business, even though he had some fumble issues last season. He hasn't been a fumbler throughout the course of his career, so last year could have been an anomaly.

@ Greg Bedard wrote on how it's amazing that the Steelers are tight against the cap each season.

He then pointed to the recent restructuring of deals of Marcus Gilbert, Maurkice Pouncey and Mike Mitchell as bad business.

Not really. The Steelers cleared $9.5 million with those moves and it's actually beneficial to both parties to do so.

In all three cases, the Steelers aren't moving a ton of money into the future. And they're just converting some salary into signing bonus. It's not that big of a deal.

For the players, they get a lump sum of money now instead of having to wait for it.

Bedard points to the team allowing Emmanuel Sanders to leave last year and possibly doing the same with Jason Worilds this year.

But the Steelers weren't going to pay Sanders big money last year - he got $15 million over three years - when they already had big money tied up in Antonio Brown.

Sanders went to Denver and had a good season. Good for him. But he wouldn't have had the same kind of year in Pittsburgh, not with Brown firmly established. The Steelers just don't throw the ball as much as the Broncos.

And despite Brown and Sanders being good friends, there's still a bit of a competition there between the two, who were selected in the same draft. Always has been, always will be.

As for Worilds, I think he's a good player. I think he wants to return to Pittsburgh and they want him to return. And I believe even if he does become a free agent in a couple of weeks, there's still a good shot he'll return to Pittsburgh.

That's what that $9.5 million in cap space that was just cleared up is for, re-signing Worilds or his replacement.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Steelers restructure deals, other tidbits

The Steelers opened up $9.5 million in cap space by restructuring the contracts of Marcus Gilbert, Mike Mitchell and Maurkice Pouncey.

It's interesting timing since they have until Monday to make a decision on whether or not to tag outside linebacker Jason Worilds once again.

It would cost the Steelers around $11 million to tag Worilds for the second consecutive year.

And GM Kevin Colbert sounded as if the Steelers were leaning toward not tagging Worilds again this year.

But Worilds is considered one of the top free agents available this year when the market opens March 10 and the Steelers might want to cover their behinds. They also have only Jarvis Jones under contract of their top four outside linebackers from 2014.

While $11 million is a big chunk of change, it would also again only be a one-year deal. The Steelers seem intent on drafting a young outside linebacker as well, so they could move forward after this year by resigning Worilds to a long-term deal - if Jones doesn't work out - or allow Worilds to leave after 2015 and go with Jones and the other young guy - if Jones is what they think he can be.

@ Another move that would create cap space would be the retirement of Troy Polamalu.

But I heard last week at the NFL combine that Polamalu isn't ready to retire and then this week, Ike Taylor told Joe Starkey Polamalu is training for 2015.

That's bad news for the Steelers, who don't want Polamalu, the player, back. Polamalu, the person, is beyond reproach.

This puts the Steelers in a difficult position.

Polamalu is clearly not what he once was, but if he adjusts his game to play more of a traditional safety, a player with his experience and instincts could be of value.

It just likely won't be in Pittsburgh, where the Steelers are ready to turn things over to Shamarko Thomas.

@ The post-combine release of players has started around the league as big-name players such as Mathias Kiwanuka and Tedd Ginn Jr.

Some of these type of players can be valuable but not too costly.

First, they don't count as true free agents, since they were released by their current team. Therefore they don't count against you when the NFL starts figuring out compensatory picks.

Second, you can sign them now instead of waiting for free agency to begin.

Brice McCain and Lance Moore were among the early cuts last year.

The Steelers, however, prefer to sign free agents coming off their first contract - veterans who are still young enough to have some upside - or younger free agents such as McCain.

@ The Steelers expect, by the way, to get a sixth or seventh round compensatory pick this year.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Harrison wants to play

Linebacker James Harrison tweeted Sunday that he's packed and ready to fly to Arizona to begin workouts in preparation for the 2015 season - not that he ever takes any time off.

Harrison would like that to be with the Steelers. But that will be entirely up to the Steelers and if they want him back.

Outside of that, it's likely the only other team Harrison would consider would be Tennessee, where he could again work with Dick LeBeau.

The Steelers likely won't know if they want Harrison to return until they see what happens in free agency.

If they lose Jason Worilds and are unable to acquire a suitable replacement, Harrison could be back. If not, they won't bring Harrison back simply to be a backup.

They need to allow Jarvis Jones to play the spot without Harrison breathing over his shoulder.

@ After the workouts of Vic Beasley and Dante Fowler Sunday, there's no chance the Steelers get a crack at either in the draft.

They'll both be top-10 picks.

Randy Gregory likely also will be gone, but he's too light in the pants for the Steelers, anyway.

The Steelers did meet with Bud Dupree of Kentucky at the combine, and he wasn't able to do a lot of the workout stuff because of an injury. But he did run a 4.56 40 at 269 pounds.

Dupree's production didn't always match that kind of athleticism, but he'll be intriguing.

So too will Eli Harold of Virginia, who worked out Sunday with the defensive linemen, then stayed on for some linebacker drills. He played some linebacker, and it showed Sunday. He was fluid in his drops and change of direction.

He also ran a 4,6 40 at 6-3, 247 pounds.

@ Local product Mike Hull had a solid weekend. He led all linebackers with 31 reps on the bench and looked fluid in the linebacker drills.

Hull's 40 time of 4.68 wasn't as fast as I'm sure he would have liked, but it was better than most and plenty fast enough to play in the NFL.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

More thoughts from the combine

We bugged out of Indianapolis late Friday afternoon to head home and beat the snow back to Pittsburgh. I was going to blog my final thoughts from Indianapolis last night, but pretty much crashed as soon as I got home.

Here are some thoughts I had Friday:

@ Nebraska's Randy Gregory didn't help himself by coming in at 235 pounds. That's especially true when you consider that he's 6-5.

Remember, Plalxico Burress was 6-5, 229 - as a wide receiver.

Gregory almost certainly will have to be a weak side backer, which likely takes him off the Steelers' board. They will be looking for a larger linebacker to possibly replace Jason Worilds since Jarvis Jones has to play the weak side.

@ Vic Beasley, on the other hand, showed up at 246, about 10 pounds heavier than his playing weight last year at Clemson.

Beasley was also a weakside guy in college - like Jones - but unlike Jones, who has struggled to put on any weight since joining the Steelers and is still in that 235-240 range, Beasley showed he can easily bulk up.

And he carried that weight well.

@ My good friend Jim Wexell of SteelCityInsider noted that Washington linebacker Hau'oli Kikaha looks a lot like Steelers safety Troy Polamalu, right down to some of the mannerisms while talking.

Kikaha, at 6-2, 253, is a strong-side guy who could be had in the second or third round - depending on his workouts this weekend.

He was a big sack guy for the Huskies, putting up 19 in 14 games last season and is on the Steelers' radar.

@ Another bigger linebacker on the team's radar is Kentucky's Bud Dupree, who weighed in at an almost-too-heavy 269 pounds. He's 6-3, so he can afford to carry a little extra weight, but the Steelers, who met with Dupree, would likely ask him to scale it back - at least a little.

@ I heard some rumblings that there are some who think Trae Waynes of Michigan State, who weighed in at 6-0, 186 on Saturday, will run in the 4.3 to 4.4 range. If that happens, he'll go before the Steelers pick at 22.

That would leave the Steelers looking at a guy such as Marcus Peters, who was thrown off the team at Washington for arguing with his coaches. Peters will very much be under the microscope this weekend.

He can play, but if he's such a pain in the behind that his college coaches didn't want to deal with him, he must really be a MAJOR problem.

@ Beyond those two guys, there might not be a corner worthy of being the 22nd pick.

The real value at cornerback this year is in the second and third rounds.

I like Stanford's Alex Carter, who fits the Steelers' MO as a true junior who happened to play at a major college, but if he tests well this weekend, he might not slip to their spot in the second round.

But there are a number of other guys who will be available in that range.

@ Forget about speed being an issue for West Virginia receiver Kevin White. At 6-3, 215 pounds, he ran a 4.35 40.

That's lighting fast for a guy of that size.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

As a member of the Pro Football Writers of America, part of my duties this week included signing up to transcribe an interview or two of some of the players who are available to the media at the NFL Draft Combine.

Knowing that the Steelers will be in the market for a running back to serve as a backup to Le'Veon Bell, I chose Northern Iowa's David Johnson, who was one of the stars of Senior Bowl week.

It was a good choice on my part. Johnson just might be the closest thing to Bell in this draft.

He measured in at 6-0, 224 pounds on Friday and said he hopes to run in the 4.4 range in the 40.

We'll see about that, but like Bell, Johnson went under-recruited coming out of high school. Also, like Bell, Johnson also thrives as a receiver out of the backfield.

There's a reason for that. Coming out of high school, most colleges viewed Johnson, who said he was 190 pounds with his clothes on, as a wide receiver. He had split time at wide receiver and running back in high school.

Because of that, like Bell, Johnson understands route trees, runs crisp routes and also has very good hands.

Johnson said he was scheduled to meet with a number of teams, including the Steelers, tonight, so they are interested in him. But so are a lot of teams. Johnson isn't a first-rounder, but if he does go out and run a sub 4.5 40, he'll go as high as the second round. If, as expected, he runs in the 4.6 range, he could be available to the Steelers in the third or fourth round.

And he would be an ideal backup to Bell.

@ Bruce Arians was making the rounds today and said that former Steelers linebacker Larry Foote will join his coaching staff this offseason - though Foote isn't officially retiring.

Arians said Foote will work with the Cardinals, for whom he played last season, throughout the offseason and make a final decision about whether he'll continue as a player once the team gets closer to training camp.

@ Duke star receiver Jamison Crowder, who is 5-8, was asked if there are any smaller NFL receivers he looks up to or patterns his game after.

He immediately mentioned the Steelers' Antonio Brown as being that guy.

Crowder said his coach at Duke, former Steelers assistant Scottie Montgomery, began showing him tape of Brown when he joined the staff there a couple of years ago.

While some of the media guys there were looking to pin Crowder down as strictly being a slot guy, Crowder wasn't having any of that.

"Antonio Brown can play all over the field," Crowder said. "I just don't want to single my game to the slot. I want to be versatile, show that I do play outside and inside."

@ Pitt offensive tackle T.J. Clemmings was originally scheduled to meet with the media Wednesday along with the rest of the offensive line group. But that didn't happen.

Then, he was expected to be out early Thursday. But he didn't come out all day.

He's now expected to speak on Friday.

Taking that much time with the teams usually indicates there is a medical issue with a prospect, but I haven't heard anything concrete as of yet.

@ The Steelers and Bills will not have their joint practices this summer as they did last year in the week before their annual preseason game.

Those practices were done as an agreement between Mike Tomlin and Doug Marrone and Marrone is no longer with the Bills.

And with the Steelers now having five preseason games, they weren't too inclined to want to add to their training camp schedule, anyway.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Day 1 of the combine

Steelers General Manager Kevin Colbert made his rounds today and really didn't have much more to add to what he said last week when he met with the media in Pittsburgh.

But Colbert did say the Steelers felt cornerback Cortez Allen's struggles last season were, at least in part, due to the NFL's focus on defensive holding and pass interference in the secondary.

I felt that was the case as well, and Colbert confirmed it.

Allen was hit with a number of penalties throughout the preseason and early into the regular season that caused him to begin to doubt himself.

Then, when there was a possibility of his return late in the year, he suffered a broken thumb that completely derailed his season.

The Steelers feel Allen can bounce back and will give him every opportunity to do so.

@ That said, Pittsburgh will still likely be in the market for a cornerback early in this draft. Ike Taylor and Brice McCain are impending free agents and Antwon Blake will be a restricted free agent, though the Steelers are expected to tender him an offer.

The Steelers haven't taken a cornerback in the first round since Chad Scott in 1997 and have taken two in the second round - Ricardo Colclough in 2004 and Bryant McFadden in 2005 - since Colbert joined the team in 2000.

They might not take a corner in the first round this year but almost certainly will take at least one and possibly two in the first four rounds.

"It looks like it's going to be good," Colbert said of this year's cornerback group. "There's NFL-caliber players that are going to be available, probably at least through five rounds."

@ From the sound of things, it appears the Steelers will allow linebacker Jason Worilds to test the free agent market.

It's a gamble, but Colbert said the Steelers have spoken with Worilds and aren't likely to tag him, though they haven't ruled that out just yet.

@ One thing Colbert said the Steelers wouldn't do is go into the draft targeting any one position.

"We won't go into a draft thinking we need a specific position, because when you do that, you tend to overevaluate a specific position, and that's where mistakes are made," Colbert said. "We have to evaluate the whole field and draft accordingly. If there's a great offensive player who can help us average 27 points instead of 24 points - whatever our average was last year - maybe we won't need to be as good on defense. We're always going to be open to taking good players."

@ Tennessee Titans head coach Ken Whisenhunt joined Gerry Dulac and me on ESPN 970-AM and said that the decision to add Dick LeBeau to his staff was an easy one.

He did say that LeBeau was concerned with how defensive coordinator Ray Horton would handle not being in charge of calling the defenses for the Titans, but that Horton had no problem with it given his longtime relationship with LeBeau.

Whisenhunt also said that he had seen the stories and quotes from several of the Steelers veterans who are heading into free agency and/or might become free agents if released - Ike Taylor, James Harrison, Brett Keisel and Troy Polamalu - saying they would like to follow LeBeau to Tennessee and that he would be open to adding those players.

@ Colbert was asked if the Steelers regretted releasing LeGarrette Blount.

He simply said no.

@ I just sat in on the interview with top tight end prospect Maxx Williams of Minnesota. I was kind of surprised at how small he is.

At the table not far away was Penn State tight end Jesse James and he was much bigger than Williams, though Williams is more of a complete tight end.

Williams is listed at 6-4, 250, while James is listed at 6-7, 254. But Williams looked like the more skinny guy.

But, Williams noted he's still just 20 years old and he looks forward to improving his strength over the next couple of years.

James said he met with the Steelers today.

The Steelers also met with Florida State tight end Nick O'Leary, the grandson of Jack Nicklaus, Tuesdsay night.

Yes, the team is definitely in the market for a young tight end.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Heading to the combine

I'll be heading to the NFL Combine on Tuesday through Friday to speak with as many of this year's draft class as possible.

A few guys I want to talk to include Penn State's Mike Hull, who is a Canonsburg guy, Pitt's T.J. Clemmings and West Virginia wide receiver Kevin White.

But I'll also keep a close eye on the edge rushers, regardless of whether I think they can make the transition to linebacker or not.

 Kevin Colbert last week didn't dismiss the idea that the Steelers could sign a player in free agency or sign one who is strictly a 4-3 rush end.

Why not? The Steelers play a nickel defense with four "linemen" about 60 percent of the time. Even if a defensive lineman doesn't appear to have the ability to drop into coverage, he can line up at end and get after the passer.

And this team needs to improve its pass rush.

Adding a bigger body at rush end in the nickel might also help the Steelers with their run defense in that package as well.

@ I just saw a story that said Green Bay's Randall Cobb will be looking for a deal on the free agent market that will pay him $9 million per season.

That certainly makes you realize what a bargain the Steelers got when they signed Antonio Brown to a five-year, $42.5 million extension a couple of years ago.

It didn't seem so at the time, as the Steelers were more or less projecting what Brown's worth would be. But his current deal, via which he'll count $9.8 million in 2015, runs through 2017.

Brown also will count $12 million against the cap in 2016 and $10 million in 2017. But imagine what he'd get right now if he were hitting the open market.

@ I continue to hear that Ben Roethlisberger "should give the Steelers a hometown discount" on his new contract.


Roethlisberger has made a nice chunk of change from the Steelers over the past decade. But he's also earned it.

Last season, he had one fewer touchdown pass than Tom Brady and the same number of passing yards as Drew Brees, which tied for the NFL lead.

Again, why should he offer the Steelers a "hometown discount."

His job is to play football and win as many games as possible. It's up to the front office to surround him with players capable of making that possible.

And before you bring the whole Brady hometown discount into the discussion, realize that Brady is married to a supermodel who makes a lot more money than he does on his football contract. Brady is the secondary wage earner in that family.

@ The date that NFL teams could place the transition or franchise tag on players came on Monday. But there wasn't a rush by teams to do so.

Don't expect the Steelers to do so with Jason Worilds this year, even though they are painfully thin at outside linebacker if he leaves. Tagging Worilds this season would cost the team around $11 million for the transition and $13 million for the franchise.

That's just not in the cards.

If Worilds leaves, I would kick the tires on former Cleveland outside linebacker Jabaal Sheard. The former Pitt star has fallen out of favor in Cleveland. But he had 8.5 sacks as a rookie in 2011 and seven in 2012.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Steelers have toughest schedule? Who cares?

It was such big news that it was featured on at least one of the local TV station's 6 p.m. sports broadcast tonight.

This just in, the Steelers have the toughest 2015 schedule based on last year's records.

The key part of that, of course, is "based on last year's records."

As we all know, last year won't mean diddly once the 2015 season begins.

The San Francisco 49ers were chic pick to win the Super Bowl this season in many circles. They struggled to an 8-8 record that saw them fire head coach Jim Harbaugh.

The Houston Texans went from being 2-14 and having the first pick in the draft to being a very competitive 9-7.

The NFC South went from being a division that included a 12-win Carolina team and an 11-win Saints club to a division in which none of the teams finished over .500.

The point being, nobody knows what's going to happen this offseason. Some teams will get better. Some will get worse. And the Browns will continue to be the Browns.

But I digress.

Certainly, the Steelers 2015 schedule does look daunting. But it's not all that different from the one the rest of the division will be saddled with as well.

Here's Pittsburgh's schedule:
HomeBaltimore, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Denver, Oakland, Arizona, San Francisco, Indianapolis
AwayBaltimore, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Kansas City, San Diego, St. Louis, Seattle, New England
Here's Baltimore's schedule:
HomeCincinnati, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Kansas City, San Diego, St. Louis, Seattle, Jacksonville
AwayCincinnati, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Denver, Oakland, Arizona, San Francisco, Miami
Here's Cincinnati's schedule:
HomeBaltimore, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Kansas City, San Diego, St. Louis, Seattle, Houston
AwayBaltimore, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Denver, Oakland, Arizona, San Francisco, Buffalo
None of them look particularly easy.

Perhaps 2015 will be a season in which everyone will be talking about the AFC North like they did the NFC South last season.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Colbert speaks

Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said today that the team has opened contract negotiations with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and he expects the deal to be relatively easy to finalize.

Colbert said with both sides wanting to get the deal completed, it should be relatively painless.

Colbert also said he feels Roethlisberger is getting better with age and has a number of good years remaining ahead of him, using Tom Brady and Peyton Manning as examples of quarterbacks who have continued to play at a high level into their late 30s.

@ Colbert wouldn't rule out using a tag on linebacker Jason Worilds for the second consecutive season but said the team doesn't like to have to use the franchise or transition designations on players.

Colbert said he felt Worilds had a good year and is still a player who is getting better.

That said, Colbert listed outside linebacker and cornerback as two positions of need. He also pointed out tight end as a position of need - at least right now with Matt Spaeth and Michael Palmer both potentially heading into free agency.

@ Colbert said that the NFL policy regarding a possible suspension of running back Le'Veon Bell is spelled out but there is no timetable the league is under as to when a possible suspension might take place or how his guilty plea to a DUI would be interpreted.

@ Colbert said the team really isn't all that interested in the new veteran combine the NFL will hold this season.

According to Colbert, the Steelers feel like they already have a pretty good idea about the guys who will be invited to the veteran combine, having seen them in training camps and games.

As Colbert said, those guys will not have gotten any faster, etc.

@ Colbert doesn't feel this draft is as deep as last year's but still has quality depth at both edge rushers and cornerbacks.

There are a number of first-round edge rushers available. Colbert did say, however, that while there aren't a lot of high-end corners, the position has quality depth.

@ Colbert said there wasn't one position - real positions, not punter, kicker or long snapper - that the Steelers would currently not consider in the first round of the draft.

That, of course, could change with free agent signings and such.

Friday, February 06, 2015

Steelers news, notes

The Steelers, as expected, promoted Jerry Olsavsky and Joey Porter to the positions of inside linebackers and outside linebackers coach, respectively.

Both men, while serving as defensive assistants, had already worked extensively with those positions already.

The move was made to replace Keith Butler, who was promoted to defensive coordinator last month after serving as the team's linebackers coach since 2003.

I still look for another former Steelers player - with Deshea Townsend being at the top of the list - to be added as a defensive assistant, who in addition to working with specific positions, also do advance scouting and tape work.

@ LeVeon Bell was admitted into the ARD program for first-time offenders on Friday and can have his DUI/marijuana possession charges expunged from his record if he completes the program successfully.

But that will not preclude the NFL from also disciplining the All-Pro running back.

I still expect the NFL to levy a one-game suspension on Bell, which will likely come in Week 1 next season.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

With the Super Bowl now completed, teams will begin to turn their attention to the NFL draft and free agency, which begins in five weeks.

Up first will be the NFL combine in Indianapolis in a couple of weeks.

But teams also will begin attempting to work out deals with players before they hit the free agent market.

Here's a look at where the Steelers stand in free agency and some odds on who will be back and who will not.

Jason Worilds: For all of the complaints about Worilds' play, he matched Cameron Heyward for the team lead in sacks with 7.5. And Worilds had one taken away from him in Atlanta that shouldn't have been - as the NFL basically agreed when it did not fine him for his hit on Matt Ryan. The big question for the Steelers is do they give Worilds a second contract or attempt to tag him again as they did in 2014? He cost them $9.5 million last season playing under the transition tag, which is too much money. The Steelers likely can't afford that. But they also can't afford to lose one of their proven pass rushers. Perhaps a five-year deal worth $30 million that includes a $12-$15 million signing bonus would get it done. Worilds is still just 26 - he turns 27 in March - and his best football is still in front of him. But he might want to test the free agent waters. Chances of re-signing 50-50

James Harrison: Harrison was one of the better stories for the Steelers this season, recording 5.5 sacks after signing following the team's third game. But he'll turn 37 in May. Harrison is a workout fanatic and after initially saying there was no way he'd return, I think he'd like to come back. But 37-year-old players have a tendency to break down and the Steelers didn't want Harrison to be a full-time player last season - even though he certainly was at times. Harrison would serve as a fallback option if Worilds doesn't re-sign, but it would also force the team to once again draft an edge rusher high - either in the first or second round and hope he can catch on sooner than Jarvis Jones has. I don't think he's back if Worilds re-signs, however, since the pull of Keisel, Polamalu and Taylor, along with Dick LeBeau, won't be there any longer. Chances of re-signing 30-70

Arthur Moats: An all-around nice guy and a good locker room presence, Moats filled in admirably at times last season at outside linebacker. But he's more of a depth guy and special teams player. The Steelers want him back. Chances of re-signing 80-20

Brice McCain: A revelation at cornerback last season. McCain was better than advertised. But he still has his limitations. Ideally, he's a third or fourth corner. But the Steelers were so thin at the position last year he was forced to start. Chances of re-signing 80-20

Ike Taylor: Ike, it's been fun. But it's over. The talk of moving to safety is silly. The Steelers want guys in their secondary moving forward that can force turnovers. Taylor has never been that guy. Chances of re-signing 0-100

Will Allen: All he does is what's asked of him. The Steelers liked Allen's ability to be in the right spot so much that they kept on playing him over Shamarko Thomas when Troy Polamalu was out. But Allen is getting up in age. Chances of re-signing 60-40

Darrius Heyward-Bey: Yes, he didn't offer much in the passing game. But he wasn't asked to do much there. What he was asked to do was be a core special teams player. And Heyward-Bey did that quite well. He fits in well in the locker room as well. Chances of re-signing 75-25

Matt Spaeth: Spaeth has turned into one of the best blocking tight ends in the league, which is what the Steelers drafted him for in the first place. But he's also 31, so age could be a factor. Spaeth doesn't give much in the passing game, but like DHB, he wasn't asked to do much there, either. Chances of resigning 75-25

Ben Tate: Tate basically got a one-game tryout in the playoffs and was OK, though he did fumble. He was cut twice last season, so his price tag shouldn't be too great. But does he envision himself as a starter? Or would he buy getting Le'Veon Bell's scraps? It's possible, but he didn't like not being the guy in Cleveland. A younger player who can also play special teams might be a better choice to back up Bell. Chances of re-signing 30-70

Michael Palmer: Palmer's one of those guys who you look to cut every year in training camp and then you look up seven or eight years later and he's still on the team. He's a decent special teams player and OK as a receiver. But a younger TE might push him off the roster. Should be an easy re-signing, however, to a cheap one or two-year deal. Chances of re-signing 70-30

Greg Warren: The Steelers really, really, like Warren as their long snapper. They feel he's one of the best in the business. I don't study the position to know whether that's true or not, but they seldom have snapping issues. Chances of re-signing 100-0 (Editor's note" Re-signed Feb. 4 to a one-year deal)

Restricted Free Agents
The restricted free agents are Antwon Blake, Will Johnson and Robert Golden. All three are valuable members of the team and will likely be tendered offers.