While Pittsburgh Steelers fans anxiously await the 2014 preseason kickoff Saturday night in New Jersey, management is looking ahead to their 2015 roster.
The Steelers entered this year’s training camp with approximately 6.5 million dollars left to lock up a few of their future 2015 free agents including: Shaun Suisham, Jason Worilds, Marcus Gilbert, and Cortez Allen. That’s the kicker and three young starters the Steelers would like to keep in Pittsburgh beyond this season.
First up, the Steelers addressed their special teams by signing nine-year NFL veteran Suisham. The Canadian kicker from Bowling Green University has shown consistent success kicking in the always unpredictable Heinz Field.
Suisham was rewarded on his 30-of-32 field goal attempts in 2013 with a five-year contract extension and $2.85 million signing bonus. His cap hit will be just over $1,700,000 for 2014, giving the Steelers plenty of cash to work up a few more contracts.
The question is who will general manager Kevin Colbert and director of football administration Omar Khan settle up with next? Will it be the enigmatic right tackle Gilbert or his former 2011 draft classmate, cornerback Allen? Or will the Steelers instead push to sign their top sack artist of 2013, Worilds?
Gilbert originally was drafted to be the future at left tackle but he couldn’t beat out veteran Max Starks. He settled for right tackle and started in 13 games as a rookie. He even earned rookie of the year honors from his teammates.
A series of false start penalties and injuries opened the door for another young tackle, Mike Adams, to supplant him in 2012. Gilbert regained his spot in 2013 but the enormous tackle failed to dominate.
For his part, Gilbert has done his best to show management he is committed to becoming a great tackle in 2014. He came to camp a leaner player after spending the off-season maintaining his workouts along with improved nutritional habits.
Both defensive starters, Allen and Worilds, have had careers delayed by injuries. They have been good when healthy, yet have the Steelers seen enough to throw money their way?
Worilds is a player many teams will be watching this season. He is an obvious top free agent at outside linebacker after successfully outplaying last year’s top rookie pick, Jarvis Jones and expensive veteran LaMarr Woodley.
When he is in his top form, Worilds is explosive. He had eight sacks and two forced fumbles last year. He has the speed to harass quarterbacks and chase down running backs. What he doesn’t have is a lot of experience. He has started just 21 games through four seasons.
Still the Steelers considered him to be worth a $9.754 million transition tag to keep him in Pittsburgh at least one more year. The Steelers rarely pay that kind of money to a player they don’t mind to lose in a year. And the word in training camp is a healthy Worilds may be worth the money.
Allen has had to fight through many injuries to finally be the starter opposite Ike Taylor. Allen’s career had an optimistic outlook heading into 2013 until a preseason injury counteracted his promising 2012 campaign. Unlike Taylor, Allen has ball skills. He has four interceptions and three forced fumbles in only 11 starts.
His 2012 season was one of the reasons the Steelers let cornerback Keenan Lewis leave in free agency. With Taylor approaching the end of his career, it’s hard to envision Khan and Colbert getting outbid on another promising corner in Allen.
Allen is probably the least expensive future free agent out of the three. And if he is healthy, he could be the most needed – given the lack of experience behind him. We all thought the Steelers would draft a corner early, but when they didn’t, Allen’s chances of landing a contract to stay in Pittsburgh increased.
Which of the three would you next pursue?