For the first time in a long time, the Steelers’ offseason arrived before the current season even ended. Debate on changes needed is already underway.
Prime candidates for banishment as far as Yinzer Nation is concerned are:
*G Willie Colon – season-altering injuries in three straight seasons.
*RB Rashard Mendenhall – major knee surgery last off-season; attitude issues; free agent.
*WR Mike Wallace – no-showed OTAs, mini-camp and training camp; free agent.
*NT Casey Hampton – 12-year pro; 35 years old.
*LB James Harrison – three games missed via injury this year; five last year.
*S Troy Polamalu – 10 games missed via injury this year.
Any of these players could be reasonably discarded.
Problem is: Who replaces them?
Ramon Foster could permanently move over from right guard to take Colon’s spot at left guard. David DeCastro, this year’s first-round pick, plays right guard.
None of the Steelers’ current backs are good enough or consistent enough to replace Mendenhall. When health allowed, he should have started.
Without Wallace, the Steelers have no deep threat. Not even a decoy.
NT Steve McLendon had perhaps the best preseason among Steelers’ defensive players. But he barely got any snaps once the regular campaign started. The Steelers don’t seem to have confidence in McLendon.
LB Jason Worilds, a second-round pick in 2010, is brittle and not very good.
The Steelers have no one to replace Polamalu at safety. Ryan Mundy once looked promising, but had a brutal 2012 campaign.
Only Colon seems easily replaced. The Steelers rarely dip into free agency in meaningful fashion, and only have so many draft picks.
Mendenhall and Wallace won’t give the Steelers a choice. They’re leaving. Wallace might get franchised, but it’s a long shot.
The Steelers should keep Polamalu. He’s just 31. His upside is too high. He finally looked like his old self vs. Cincinnati. Warning: That’s just one game.
Harrison and Hampton are in a gray area. Depends on the price, and what the doctors think. Both have had physically demanding careers.
Decisions like these aren’t easy, especially when you include sentiment in the equation, which the Steelers shouldn’t, but do. The salary cap dictates, certainly, but how do you dump anyone when there’s no one competent to replace him?
Photos courtesy of Getty Images.