Found March 01, 2012 on isportsweb.com:
Pittsburgh_steelers_v_4485

Super Bowl XLV MVP Hines Ward. (Photo from Sports Illustrated)

When the Pittsburgh Steelers walked off the field in Denver after losing to the Broncos in the AFC Wild Card round, it was well known that the team was heading into an offseason unlike any other in club history.  The Steelers stood more than $22 million over the 2012 salary cap while needing to sign WR Mike Wallace, other free agents, and an entire draft class, as well as needing to get younger on defense. 

The Steelers started the process with a couple of obvious moves, cutting WR Arnaz Battle and CB Bryant McFadden, and then proceeded to clear up around $20 million in cap space by restructuring the contracts of QB Ben Roethlisberger, CB Ike Taylor, LB Lawrence Timmons, LB LaMarr Woodley, and OT Willie Colon.  While these moves cost ownership around $35 million in signing bonuses and pushed some future cap space, there was no on-field impact from the initial salary cap work.  Then came this week.

Over the past two days, word has spread that the Steelers are releasing several big-name, big-contract veterans who were key parts of teams that played in 3 Super Bowls and won 2 but who have fallen victim to Father Time and Father Salary Cap.  Those who will not be back in 2012 include:

WR Hines Ward – Ward, the holder of every meaningful receiving record in Steelers history, was set to make $4 million in 2012.  The Steelers, however, did not even approach him about a pay cut, believing that he is simply finished as a productive NFL player.  Ward’s production fell of a cliff over the past two seasons, bottoming out at 46-381-2 in 2011, and even those numbers were largely created by the organization forcing him balls in an effort to get him to 1,000 catches.  Ward’s 8.3 ypc figure in 2011 ranked 124th of 137 players who had over 30 receptions in 2011 and was dead last among NFL WR’s.  Hines Ward will be remembered as one of the greatest Steelers, one who not only won 2 Super Bowls and holds every team receiving record, but also who personified the organization by playing the game in a physical, tenacious manner.  Ward stated that he wants to play in 2012, but it’s very hard to imagine #86 wearing any other NFL uniform.

Farewell to Aaron Smith.

DE Aaron Smith – The most underrated member of a dozen years of elite defenses, Smith has played in only 15 games in the 3 seasons since the Steelers won Super Bowl XLV at the end of the 2008 season.  Smith was largely supplanted as a starter by Ziggy Hood even before he suffered a season-ending triceps’ injury during Week 4.  During the nine years that Smith started 10 or more games from 2000-2008, the Steelers ranked in the top 10 in the NFL in defense all nine seasons, including seven top-five finishes and four #1 finishes.  Smith, who was due to make $2.1 million in 2012, is likely to retire, but has not yet announced his intention to do so.

G Chris Kemoeatu – Far less heralded than Ward or Smith, Kemoeatu was jettisoned because, very simply, his salary was far greater than his production.  Drafted by the Steelers in 2005, Kemoeatu became a starter in 2008, replacing Alan Faneca when he signed with Jets.  Kemeoatu had two solid years in 2008 and 2009 and was rewarded with a 5-year contract after the 2009 season.  From that point forward, due in part to a series of knee injuries, Kemoeatu became a turnstile in pass protection and a holding penalty waiting to happen, ultimately losing his starting job for much of the 2011 season.  Kemoeatu was scheduled to count over $5.2 million against the cap in 2012 and 2013, and his release will save roughly $2.4 million against the cap in 2012.

LB James Farrior – As of this moment, there has been no announcement that Farrior will be released.  It is, however, probably just a matter of time.  Farrior’s agent, Ralph Cindrich, stated today that “it doesn’t look good” for Farrior to remain a Steeler in 2012, as Farrior’s release would save the Steelers $2.85 million against the salary cap.  Farrior, who at 37 was one of the oldest starters in the NFL last season, has started at ILB the past nine seasons for the Steelers and was defensive captain for the last eight.  It is expected that either Larry Foote or Sylvester Stevenson would assume Farrior’s starting role.

So now what?  The Steelers currently have only 2 WR’s under contract for 2012 – Emmanual Sanders and Antonio Brown.  Jerricho Cotchery is a UFA, but the Steelers are hoping to bring him back.  The 900-pound gorilla at the position is, of course, Mike Wallace, who is a RFA after averaging over 1200 yards and 9 TD’s the past two seasons and has emerged as one of the top deep threats in the NFL.  The Steelers have stated that they will not franchise Wallace but will place a first-round tender on him, meaning they will get the #1 pick from any team that signs him.  I still think they will lock him up to a long term deal before any team has a crack at him, something that the purging of veterans will help facilitate.

While the purging of contracts is likely over, there are three other Steelers who are signed for 2012 that should still feel a little nervous:

Camera phone, hello.

(1) NT Casey Hampton – Hampton tore his ACL during the playoff loss to Denver and has a cap hit of a staggering $8.05 million for 2012.  By cutting Hampton, the Steelers would reduce his cap hit to around $2.2 million, a saving of over $5.8 million.  The drawback to what seems like an easy call is that the Steelers are very thin at the position with the retirement of Hampton’s long-time back-up, Chris Hoke.  Steve McLendon showed some promise last year and the Steelers could move Ziggy Hood to NT and replace Hood outside with Cam Heyward, but neither presents an ideal scenario. 

(2) LB Larry Foote – Foote’s cap figure for for 2012 is over $3 million, but the expected release of James Farrior could thrust Foote into a starting role and save his job.  Whether Foote is a Steeler in 2012 could depend on whether the Steelers believe Stevenson Sylvester is ready to start inside.  Foote is an average-at-best player with a cap figure in excess of his value, but the Steelers’ depth at ILB may not permit the team to move on, at least not yet.

(3) OT Jonathan Scott – With Willie Colon and Marcus Gilbert slated to start at the tackle position, Scott’s $2.7 million cap figure for 2012 isn’t viable as a backup.  Cutting Scott would save the Steelers over $2.2 million.  The fact that the Steelers have no other backup tackles that have played significant minutes in the NFL on the roster (given that Max Starks is a UFA) makes cutting Scott somewhat problematic…but then you remember that Scott is terrible and stop worrying about it.

A busy offseason for the Steelers is heating up, and this week’s carnage may only be the start of a reshaping of the organization.  It’s going to be a bumpy ride but, at the end of the day, the Steelers have yet to lose anyone that they’ll regret.

THE BACKYARD
BEST OF MAXIM
RELATED ARTICLES

No Surprise Mike Wallace Will Get 1st Round Tender If Not Signed By March 5th

Adam Schefter of ESPN reported Thursday morning that the Pittsburgh Steelers will not use the franchise tag on restricted free agent Mike Wallace should they not get him signed to a new contract in the next few days. The news comes as no surprise as the Steelers do not have the cap room to accommodate a projected $9.4 plus million franchise tag amount. The Steelers have been in...

2012 NFL draft: Possible selections for the Pittsburgh Steelers

Fresh off their second AFC Championship in three years the Pittsburgh Steelers were a strong favorite to repeat once again, but no one expected a first round loss. Expectations for Ben Roethlisberger and company were much higher than getting knocked out of the playoffs by a miraculous touchdown pass by Tim Tebow. The Steelers continuously have one of the leagues best defenses and...

Steelers Face Critical Decision on Mike Wallace.

  The Pittsburgh Steelers first priority of the 2012 NFL offseason was to get under the salary cap, which they've now done after trimming$25 million from their cap according to Jamison Hensley of ESPN.com' AFC North Blog, by restructuring the contracts of players such as Ben Roethlisberger, Lawrence Timmons and Lamar Woodley among others recently. Yet, the salary...

Report: Steelers will not use Franchise Tag on Mike Wallace

EPSN’s Adam Schefter is reporting that the Steelers will not use the franchise tag on Mike Wallace.  Wallace will be given the first round tender offer as a restricted free agent.  If any team were to sign him away we would receive their original first round pick in return. The Steelers had to make this move.  The tender for Wallace looks to be around $2.75 million for the...

Steelers Will Not Franchise Tag Mike Wallace

Per a report from ESPN’s Adam Schefter,  the Pittsburgh Steelers will tender coveted receiver Mike Wallace in preparation for the upcoming free agency period rather than placing a $9.4 million franchise tag on him. With yesterday’s news that they intend to release Hines Ward and Ben Roethlisberger’s contract restructuring, the Steelers now find themselves close to $3 million...

Pittsburgh Won't Franchise Tag Wallace?

Adam Schefter of ESPN noted that the Steelers won't place the franchise tag on restricted free agent receiver Mike Wallace. Fantasy Spin: So Pittsburgh will instead tender Wallace, hence leaving the risk of losing him to a receiver-needy team willing to pay a hefty price (namely a first-round Draft pick as compensation) for the ulta-talented speed demon.

Even with Ward gone, no reason to franchise Wallace

Adam Schefter at ESPN reported this morning that according to a source, the Steelers are not going to use their franchise tag on restricted free agent Mike Wallace.  The Steelers plan to place a first-round tender — and not the franchise tag — on restricted free agent Mike Wallace, a source close to the wide receiver told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter. Even with Hines Ward...

Steelers Lack the Cap Room to Franchise Wallace. Risk Losing him.

  Steelers fans everywhere just started chewing their fingernails a little more frantically, as ESPN's Adam Schefter reported earlier today that the Steelers will not be placing the franchise tag on star wide receiver Mike Wallace. Instead the team will tender him as a restricted free agent, which makes his return to Pittsburgh less than a sure thing. According to Schefter...

Steelers Might Lose Mike Wallace, Hines Ward, James Farrior

Out with the old and in with the new, we presume.  The Pittsburgh Steelers are not only releasing the franchise’s all-time leading receiver Hines Ward, but also look to cut veteran linebacker James Farrior and aren’t expected to franchise tag star receiver Mike Wallace, either. “It’s not a done deal, but the percentages just aren’t there,” Ralph Cindrich tells Scott...

Don’t get mad now that the Pittsburgh Steelers are doing what you what you told them to do.

You don’t have to be a Steelers fan to get a bit nostalgic as you watch what’s going down with their roster purging over the past few days. If you are a hardcore football fan even if you hate the Steelers you most likely respect what this group has done together and you were not prepared for such a deep cut. Please click the link to read the rest of this story.
Steelers News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

Today's Best Stuff
For Bloggers

Join the Yardbarker Network for more promotion, traffic, and money.

Company Info
Help
What is Yardbarker?

Yardbarker is the largest network of sports blogs and pro athlete blogs on the web. This site is the hub of the Yardbarker Network, where our editors and algorithms curate the best sports content from our network and beyond.