Over the past two days the Steelers have restructured two contracts and they are planning on doing two more. This is all part of the plan to get the cap number where they need it to be so that they can do what they want in the draft and free agency. Restructuring contracts, likely, won’t be enough on it’s own, however, and the Steelers are expected to make some cuts over the next two weeks.
So far during the off-season many, including myself, have included Willie Colon in the discussion when talking about players most likely to be cut. Colon moved from right tackle to left guard last season and played well despite some penalty issues. However, it was Colon’s third straight season that ended on injured reserve. In 2009 Colon played in all 16 games for the Steelers, but since that point he has only played in 14 total games over a three year span.
That injury history, along with a large cap number, makes Colon an easy target to cut. There are a few problems with cutting Colon, though. Currently the Steelers don’t have a sure fire replacement for him at left guard on the roster. Ramon Foster, the best potential replacement, is a free agent and Kelvin Beachum is a natural tackle that would be switching positions to play guard. Not to mention the fact that Beachum was a seventh round pick last year and the Steelers may not be ready to trust him as a starting guard in the NFL.
Keeping Colon would mean having a veteran presence on the line and he may be the best option of those three listed. The problem is that the Steelers new offensive line coach, Jack Bicknell Jr., has said he wants lineman that are athletic and can move in space. Colon is more of a mauling offensive lineman and doesn’t have the athleticism and agility to excel in a zone blocking scheme, which is what Bicknell primarily used in Kansas City.
So again it comes down to looking like Colon is expendable, but then you have to look at the Steelers running back situation and figure out who will start in 2013. The Steelers will most likely be drafting a running back in April, but will they start a rookie running back in 2013? It’s hard to say; if they choose not to they will be starting either Isaac Redman or Jonathan Dwyer, who are both restricted free agents.
If Redman or Dwyer get the nod as the starting back for 2013 it may make sense to keep Colon around. Dwyer and Redman are bigger backs that can be used between the tackles and some believe they won’t excel in a zone blocking scheme because they lack top-tier speed. Dwyer can be a speedy back if he trims down, but his conditioning has been in question since he was drafted so it would be risky for the Steelers to expect him to show up in elite shape.
Therefore, if Dwyer is determined to be the starter, or Redman for that matter, the Steelers might as well keep Colon because they will probably be running more between the tackle runs than outside runs. Those between the tackle runs are most effective with big strong lineman that can move defenders out of the way one-on-one. During the Steelers best three running games of the season they ran primarily between the tackles behind Colon, Maurkice Pouncey, and Ramon Foster.
In 2013 that line-up could be Colon, Pouncey, and David DeCastro which could be an upgrade as DeCastro was a first round pick in 2012. DeCastro would have been part of that group if not for a knee injury suffered during the pre-season, but the Steelers have high hopes for his future and he should be considered an instant upgrade over Ramon Foster, who played right guard in 2012.
The main reason the Steelers may be better off keeping Colon around is the money that they owe him. If the Steelers cut Colon outright they will save $1.2 million against the cap in 2013. However, they can also cut him with a June 2nd designation which would then free up $5.5 million against the cap in 2013. That sounds pretty good right? Well, that would also mean a dead money hit of $4.3 million in 2014. So basically the Steelers couldn’t spend that extra $4.3 million in savings on contracts longer than one year because it will be taken as a cap hit next off-season.
Colon may have injury concerns and yes he struggled with penalties in 2012, but he continued to improve at guard as the season went on and he is probably the best current option for the Steelers. Cutting him only saves $1.2 million in the long run and they will most likely get more than $1.2 million worth of play out of him during next season. Keeping him around for another year would also mean not having to worry about losing Foster in free agency and would allow them to wait until the later rounds to draft a lineman.
I have been saying for weeks that the Steelers are going to have to make a lot of tough decision this off-season. As we get closer to March 13th, the day when all 32 teams have to be compliant with the cap, we will see just what the Steelers plans are based on who they cut and who they keep around. Right now it wouldn’t surprise me either way to see Colon and multiple other veterans cut or retained in the coming weeks.
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