View Full Version : Answering the biggest offseason question for every AFC team

02-11-2011, 04:39 PM
Friday February 11, 2011


Answering the biggest offseason question for every team in the AFC

Story Highlights

After years of bad drafts, Bills need to nail 2011 class, starting with No. 3 pick
Franchise tags key for Ravens (Haloti Ngata) and Steelers (LaMarr Woodley)
Colts need to lock up Peyton Manning and get younger on the offensive line


The Braylon Edwards-Jets marriage likely will end after less than two seasons.
Damian Strohmeyer/SI

In and around updates on the labor front, the business of preparing for the NFL's 2011 season has already begun. Free agency and the league's trading period are on hold, subject to the CBA talks and a potential lockout by the owners. But the league never completely rests. With the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis just two weeks away, here's a team-by-team look at key questions facing the AFC's 16 teams this offseason. We previewed the topics of NFC clubs on Thursday.

AFC East

New England Patriots

Are Logan Mankins and the Patriots headed for a nasty divorce?

Stop me if you've heard this one before, but Mankins, New England's All-Pro guard, is starting a second consecutive offseason in a grumpy mood because he might not be entering unrestricted free agency as he originally thought. Last year, in the NFL's uncapped season, the threshold for unrestricted free agency was lifted from four to six seasons, leaving Mankins in the restricted free agent class. That didn't sit well with him. He held out until the eighth game of the year, and wound up playing for only a slice of his reduced $1.54 million restricted tender.

Come this year, the Patriots are expected to franchise Mankins any day now, an outcome he said he would not welcome in the least. The league says teams have the right to franchise players even if there's no new CBA, but the union disagrees and says the tag will be meaningless if owners lock out players. A guy as unhappy as Mankins might just try to challenge the franchise tag in court, and could have a decent shot at earning his free agency that way. Stay tuned. My sense is this can't possibly end well.

New York Jets

Are the Jets in for another offseason of high-profile moves like last year?

Obviously not if there's no free agency and trading period to speak of. But let's assume both avenues of personnel acquisition will be open to them. In terms of keeping their own house in order, the Jets clearly are making the retention of inside linebacker David Harris a top priority. He'll be franchised if that tag winds up being available. New York also wants to re-sign receivers Santonio Holmes, Braylon Edwards and Brad Smith, but getting something done with Holmes and Smith likely ranks ahead of Edwards returning.

If there is no Edwards, couldn't you just see New York taking a one-year flier on either Randy Moss or Terrell Owens? And here's one more juicy supposition: How about the Jets being the landing spot for Redskins defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth? New York can't count on Kris Jenkins any more, and if anyone can get Haynesworth to buck up and play nose tackle in the 3-4 defense, it's Rex Ryan. Half the league claims to want to play for Sexy Rexy, and Big Albert might be among that number.

Miami Dolphins

With head coach Tony Sparano and general manager Jeff Ireland both in win-now mode, can the Dolphins afford to draft a first-round quarterback?

The ink may not be dry on the two-year extensions they both received in January, but Sparano and Ireland clearly understand they lack a surplus of job security as 2011 dawns. So does that sense of urgency rule out taking a first-round quarterback and upgrading Miami at the game's most pivotal position? It shouldn't.

Dolphins starter Chad Henne obviously regressed last season, and even if the addition of new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll manages to breathe life into his development, Miami should be looking for a quarterback who can help close the gap on New England and the Jets in the AFC East. If they get the right guy, and he shows some rookie promise, it might even serve to buy time for the embattled Dolphins management tandem.

Blaine Gabbert and Cam Newton figure to be gone at Miami's No. 15 slot, but the Dolphins best do their homework and make sure Ryan Mallett, Jake Locker, or Colin Kaepernick aren't the missing piece.

Buffalo Bills

What has to change for the Bills to break their streak of non-playoff finishes, which is now at 11 years?

Phil Simms examines what the Patriots and Jets will need to do to make a Super Bowl run next season.

The Bills have to stop messing around and finally hit a home run with their 2011 draft class, like the turnaround Kansas City Chiefs did a year ago. There have been far too many swings and misses by Buffalo in recent years, and that's how you get to the basement of the NFL and stay there season after season.

Bills fans will flinch at the following list of draft busts, underachievers, and players who never completely lived up to the big billing: Aaron Maybin, John McCargo, Trent Edwards, Marshawn Lynch, James Hardy, Donte Whitner, Leodis McKelvin and Chris Ellis. Even last year's first-rounder, running back C.J. Spiller, didn't add the impact expected of him.

That trend has to end, and it starts with nailing Buffalo's No. 3 pick in this year's first round -- the franchise's highest selection since taking Hall of Fame defensive end Bruce Smith first overall in 1985. Whether it's a franchise quarterback like Missouri's Blaine Gabbert or not, Buffalo has to find a rookie of the year candidate in the first round, then keep a hot hand going all the way through the seventh round. It's time. Way past time.

AFC North


Pittsburgh Steelers

In the case of LaMarr Woodley, will the Steelers follow their pattern of letting star linebackers go in free agency?

More than almost any other team in the league, the Steelers are hoping the NFL is in the right about being able to apply those franchise tags in this season of labor uncertainty. Because Pittsburgh will definitely use its tag on Woodley, their sack-happy outside linebacker, if that's the only way to keep him off the open market.

This isn't Joey Porter, Chad Brown, Hardy Nickerson or Larry Foote we're talking about. Woodley is only 26 and he's an ultra-productive player whose 12 sacks, three forced fumbles and two interceptions in 2010 would make him an extremely rich man if he were to become a free agent and open up the bidding. But during Super Bowl week, Woodley made it sound like he knows the grass isn't greener elsewhere, even saying he wouldn't mind having the franchise label applied (horrors!) and earning the median salary of the top five linebackers in the league (about $10 million in 2011). The security of a long-term deal, he reasoned, would come soon enough.

That's the kind of player the Steelers aren't about to let get away.

Baltimore Ravens

Which Ravens player is in line for a fat raise, no matter what results from the ongoing CBA negotiations?

OK, here's one team that needs the franchise tag as much as the Steelers (LaMarr Woodley). Because the Ravens could say the very same thing, and then some, about defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, who is recognized within the organization as the engine that makes the Baltimore defense go. Ngata is going to hit the jackpot one way or another, either via the franchise tag or by virtue of the long-term deal the Ravens would bestow upon him to keep him from free agency.

Last year, the franchise number for defensive tackles was $7 million, but that shot way up thanks to folks like Vince Wilfork, Casey Hampton, Ryan Pickett and Albert Haynesworth getting paid. If there are franchise tags this season, a defensive tackle's will be a one-year deal worth an estimated $12.5 million. Not bad considering Ngata made $1.7 million in 2010, earning the second Pro Bowl berth of his five-year NFL career.

Cleveland Browns

After six years in a 3-4 defense, do the Browns have the personnel on hand to make the switch to a 4-3 scheme under new coordinator D!ck Jauron?

At the moment, no. Especially after Cleveland began its defensive transformation this week by purging its roster of veterans like defensive tackle Shaun Rogers, defensive end Kenyon Coleman, and linebackers David Bowens and Eric Barton. While none of those moves were really a surprise, it leaves the Browns a little short of bodies in spots, especially along the defensive line, where more linemen are now required.

Promising nose tackle Ahtyba Rubin will slide to defensive tackle and man one inside spot, and Browns 2010 sack leader Marcus Bernard might be moving from outside linebacker to defensive end. But after that, there's a lot of projection involved in piecing together a front seven, including the hope that D'Qwell Jackson can handle the key middle linebacker role after losing almost all of the past two seasons to pectoral injuries.

The draft figures to be crucial in Cleveland's ability to acquire 4-3 personnel, with defensive ends and outside linebackers the greatest need positions. That's one reason the Browns, as much as they might like him, could be hard-pressed to take Georgia receiver A.J. Green with their No. 6 pick. Defense is too much of a priority.

Cincinnati Bengals

Should the Bengals take Carson Palmer's trade-me-or-I-retire threats seriously and draft a quarterback in the top two rounds?

Palmer doesn't strike me as a guy who's playing unnecessary head games with the Bengals, and I think there's a decent chance he means it when he says he's done playing for Cincinnati.

Bengals owner Mike Brown says he has no intention of dealing Palmer, but Brown had better at least have a backup plan in place, and by that we don't mean Jordan Palmer. (Come to think of it, Carson Palmer can pretty much end the Bengals quarterbacking career of both Palmer brothers in one fell swoop). Palmer has put his house up for sale in Cincinnati, and that should at least get the Bengals management studying the tape of all the draft eligible college quarterbacks.

Sure, Cincinnati has plenty of other needs to address, but given that it's sitting at No. 4 in the first round, it may be the logical year to land a franchise quarterback and then trade Palmer for the best deal to be had. Missouri's Blaine Gabbert and Auburn's Cam Newton would likely be the two QBs the Bengals would consider, and if nothing else, landing Newton would give Cincy some star power and perhaps help turn the page on the franchise's Palmer era.

AFC South


Mario Williams and the Texans defense will be converting to a 3-4 scheme next season.
John Biever/SI

Indianapolis Colts

With Peyton Manning in line to be franchised if he's not re-signed, what's at the top of the Colts' to-do list?

The Colts' have gotten by for years on their offensive line with something less than blue-chip talent, counting on Manning's short drops, quick release and instincts for sensing pressure to make up for some deficiencies in pass blocking. Indy's run blocking has always been streaky, but this season it was most sub-par and the ground game proved non-existent for a good part of the season. That has to change if the Colts hope to maximize the last few years of their Super Bowl window of opportunity. Indianapolis has been looking for a left tackle forever, and still regrets passing on Indiana's Rodger Saffold at the bottom of last year's first round. If there's a left tackle prospect the Colts believe in when their No. 22 pick comes up this April, they'd do well to grab him. But that's not the whole story. Center Jeff Saturday will be 36 this summer and right tackle Ryan Diem is turning 32 in July. The Colts need to get younger up front, especially since they rarely turn to free agency to fill their needs. An improved offensive line will help the running game and the passing game, and avoid a repeat of 2010, when Manning tried to carry the entire offense on his shoulders.

Jacksonville Jaguars

What can the Jaguars do to break out of the status-quo vibe that surrounds the franchise?
With head coach Jack Del Rio back for a ninth season, and starting quarterback David Garrard returning for a 10th year in Jacksonville, the Jaguars' offseason started with a running-in-place feel to it. Which I suppose is par for the course after last season's 8-8, so-so finish. Owner Wayne Weaver has issued a playoff-or-else edict for 2011, but what else could he have said after making the decision to retain Del Rio for one more year?

Jacksonville's most glaring needs are on the defensive side of the ball, but nothing would change the stale dynamic in northeast Florida more so than drafting a quarterback of the future in the first round. The Jaguars own the No. 16 pick, and that's a slot where they likely could choose between Arkansas's Ryan Mallett and Washington's Jake Locker, or perhaps even a wild-card passing prospect like Nevada's Colin Kaepernick. Time to shake it up, Jaguars. Garrard is probably still the guy this season, but Jacksonville could use a bold step or two into the future.

Houston Texans

Can new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips make a 3-4 end out of Mario Williams and take his game to the next level?

The Texans are counting on it, and Phillips has had success everywhere he's been as a defensive coordinator. But Houston head coach Gary Kubiak is working on borrowed time already and doesn't have the luxury of Williams struggling with the transition. He needs his sack specialist to be a dominating presence week in and week out, rather than the player who can flash for one or two games and disappear the next. Phillips says Williams will assimilate quickly because in his 3-4 scheme, he won't have two-gap (or three technique) responsibility. He'll still be asked to use his speed and athleticism to penetrate and rush the passer from the outside, the same way Bruce Smith did for years in Buffalo's 3-4. Williams might even be moved around some in order to get his best possible matchup, rather than seeing the majority of his snaps at left end and occasionally moving to the right side on passing downs. But a lot depends upon Phillips getting more out Williams' talents. If he can turn Williams into the next Bruce Smith, Houston's woeful pass defense should improve by default.

Tennessee Titans

What was the first casualty of the team's new Mike Munchak coaching era?

That would be the notion that the Titans were first and foremost interested in continuity in elevating their respected offensive line coach to his first NFL head coaching gig.

Munchak's first coaching staff will have at least eight new members, including two new coordinators. Any thought that Munchak was merely the safe and easy choice for Tennessee owner Bud Adams kind of went out the window when Munchak fired veteran Titans offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger, who's in the midst of a battle against a rare form of cancer. From that we can deduce that Munchak is anything but risk averse and afraid of change. That kind of approach could be a positive development in a franchise that has done things the Jeff Fisher way for the past 16 years, with mixed results. Munchak's off to a surprising start in Nashville, and change could serve to revitalize a Titans team that had the talent to compete in the AFC South last season (see its 5-2 start) but not the resiliency to overcome adversity (collapsing to lose eight of its last nine).

AFC West

Kansas City Chiefs

What's the upshot of the Chiefs having a third different offensive coordinator in the past three years?

Todd Haley's decision to elevate offensive line coach Bill Muir wasn't expected, but it does provide the Chiefs with a sense of continuity coming off their AFC West-winning turnaround season. Muir replaces the departed Charlie Weis, who moved on to the University of Florida after just one season in Kansas City. Muir is no novice, having served as Jon Gruden's offensive coordinator and offensive line coach for seven seasons in Tampa Bay, a dual role he'll recreate with the Chiefs. But the more important question is: Who will call the plays in K.C.? Muir didn't handle that part of the job with the Bucs, deferring to Gruden, and my guess is he and Haley will wind up having a similar arrangement. Haley has been here before, of course, having taken over the offense in his debut season of 2009 after firing coordinator Chan Gailey late in the preseason. One of things that seemed to work better for the Chiefs last year was having Haley get to stand back and perform the duties of head coach, rather than focus intently on offense. It's year three now and Haley might be able to handle the dual role more easily this time. But if K.C.'s offense struggles, you can guess where blame will be assigned.

San Diego Chargers

Which popular Charger has likely played his last game in a Bolts uniform?

The Chargers stretched last year to keep running back/return man Darren Sproles off the open market, tendering him at the highest possible level as a restricted free agent. But it's not likely San Diego will be willing to do whatever it takes to keep him around this time. With the Chargers having drafted running back Ryan Mathews in the first round last season, and facing a high tender for potential restricted free agent Mike Tolbert, Sproles is viewed as only the third most valuable commodity in the San Diego backfield. Though he'll only be 28 this June, Sproles won't command a $7.2 million base salary like he did last season, and San Diego will trust that its No. 1-ranked offense can compensate for his departure. The Chargers have 28 potential free agents, and probably will franchise No. 1 receiver Vincent Jackson. With Mathews and Tolbert representing the future, Sproles' run in San Diego appears to be nearing its end.

Oakland Raiders

Which player holds the key to the success of new head coach Hue Jackson?

That would be starting quarterback Jason Campbell, to no great surprise. Campbell enters the final year of his contract and his future in Oakland is anything but secure. He had his highlights last season with the Raiders, going 7-5 in his 12 starts. But he was also benched and struggled with the same wildly inconsistent play that plagued him at times in Washington. Owner Al Davis remains staunchly in Campbell's corner, but Jackson actually lobbied ex-Raiders head coach Tom Cable to play backup Bruce Gradkowski last season, so the relationship between Jackson and Campbell bears scrutiny. The hope is that Campbell's comfort level and familiarity with Oakland receivers produces significant improvement in year two of his Raiders tenure. Jackson said he intends to call the plays, but he hired Al Saunders -- who knows Campbell from their days together in Washington -- as his offensive coordinator. After last season's 8-8 record, Davis's expectation level is clear. It's a return to the playoffs this year in Oakland, or Campbell will likely be moving on once again. If history holds, his departure will be followed shortly thereafter by Jackson's.

Denver Broncos

Though both John Elway and John Fox are being evasive on the topic, does second-year quarterback Tim Tebow have to win the starting job from Kyle Orton this offseason?
Think of it this way: Tebow just has to avoid losing it. The Broncos new brain trust can't come out in February and say Tebow is their opening-day starter in 2011, for all the obvious reasons. First off, there goes any real leverage you might have in Orton trade talks if you signal that he's definitely not in your plans this season. Secondly, it does Tebow no good to be elevated without having to work for it and earn it. Though a lack of motivation is hardly his character flaw, why not make Tebow prove himself and improve his game over the course of the entire offseason? After all, he showed flashes of potential in his three-game late-season starting stint, but he hardly removed all doubt regarding the worthiness of his first-round draft status. Fox and Elway have time to fully evaluate Tebow's progress, and they'd be wise to take it. The reality is, he was picked in the first round and that means he's going to get his starting shot in Denver at some point. And it's likely going to be this year. The Broncos know where Orton can take them, and they have loftier aspirations than that. But Tebow's time has not yet fully arrived.

Read more: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2011/w ... z1DgDStlhe (http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2011/writers/don_banks/02/11/afc-offseason-questions/index.html#ixzz1DgDStlhe)

02-11-2011, 04:45 PM
In the case of LaMarr Woodley, will the Steelers follow their pattern of letting star linebackers go in free agency?

That's not a pattern at all.

THE pattern, minus Kevin Greene and Chad Brown, is to sign their LBs to a second contract. Then maybe, he'll go after THAT one.

So if the Steelers follow their "pattern" Woodley isn't going anywhere.

02-11-2011, 05:17 PM
Pittsburgh Steelers Should Focus on Upgrading Offensive Line and Secondary

By mad chad (Correspondent) on February 10, 2011

In the aftermath of the Pittsburgh Steelers losing Super Bowl XLV, most fans and critics are going to call for some drastic changes. Some changes are already underway as Steelers defensive backs coach Ray Horton has been named defensive coordinator of the Arizona Cardinals.

Technically the Steelers will still be very serious Super Bowl contenders next year. They still have one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL in his prime and have a lot of other players in key positions in their prime as well.

However, the Steelers have glaring weaknesses and have had those weaknesses exposed in every single one of their losses.


The Steelers cornerbacks were exposed big time against the Green Bay Packers and have been one of the weak links of this team for a while now. Ike Taylor is the Steelers' best cornerback, and is one of the best cover guys in the league. However, his contract is up and the Steelers might not re-sign him.

That would be a big mistake. The Steelers would be left with William Gay, who is a nickelback at best in the NFL. Gay is not a great player and I don't ever feel that he'll get much better. He struggles one-on-one very badly and gets picked on by opposing quarterbacks.


Bryant McFadden is under contract till 2012 but has looked old and slow. McFadden was one of the most thrown at corners in the league this year.

Even if the Steelers bring Taylor they'll still need to upgrade the position. Anthony Madison is a decent player and might compete for the nickel position but talent/depth is the issue at hand for the position. Gay, Taylor and Madison are all free agents to be so it'll be interesting to see who they keep.

If it were up to me I would re-sign both Taylor and Madison and cut ties with Gay. Gay failed miserably as a starter and isn't' getting any better.

The Steelers could look to sign a big free agent like Nnamdi Asomugha and/or Brent Grimes. Or they could look to fix the position in the draft, which they haven't done since in over a decade. Chad Scott, drafted in 1997, was the last cornerback taken by the Steelers in the first round. The Steelers could look at Brandon Harris (Miami) too.

Now some would like you to believe that the position isn't as important as you would think, but if you watched the Super Bowl and all of the games in which the Steelers lost, you would know that the position needs to be upgraded. Especially in the pass-heavy NFL.

Safety Troy Polamalu didn't have a great Super Bowl or playoffs for that matter. However, he was the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year and is one of the premier players in the NFL. As long as Polamalu is healthy the Steelers have a chance to win.

Ryan Clark had a good season and is currently under contract, but I still think the Steelers could bring in some more depth and talent at the safety position.

Offensive Line

Like you didn't know this was coming. It seems like every year the offensive line needs upgrading. The Steelers offensive line just isn't as talented as a lot of the other teams in the NFL. Yeah, they're getting better but I still think a decent free agent and/or first-round pick is needed.


The offensive line was almost immediately upgraded by drafting Pro Bowl rookie center Maurkice Pouncey; the Steelers never saw their offensive line's full potential this year. It was unfortunate to see Pouncey's great rookie season go down the drain as he was injured in the AFC Championship Game, disallowing him to play in Super Bowl XLV. The Steelers are in good hands with Pouncey, as he looks to be the next great Steelers center for years to come.

Starting right tackle Willie Colon was lost before the season ever started due to an Achilles injury. Colon's contract is now up and the Steelers should look to re-sign him. Colon played much better in 2009 than he did in 2008, and was expected to be even better this year.

Flozell Adams did a very good job filling in for Colon but probably at the end of his career.

The Steelers also lost Max Starks for the season. Starks will be back next year and is a very solid left tackle. I still think if a good offensive tackle falls in the draft for any reason the Steelers should take him.

Jonathan Scott filled in for Starks this year and wasn't very good. He had a few good games but he's not a starting left tackle by any means. Scott's contract is up and I'd be surprised if the Steelers re-sign him.

Just like Scott, I expect backup Trai Essex to also be gone from the team next year. Essex found himself on the bench after Doug Legursky and then Ramon Foster outperformed him at the right guard spot. Essex has been with the team for a while now and is nothing but a career backup. Time to upgrade the talent.

Unfortunately, left guard Chris Kemoeatu will be back with the team next year. I'm one of the few that actually thinks and knows how vastly overrated Kemoeatu really is. He whiffs on blocks and is always good for a penalty a game.

The Steelers have a few decent backups now with Adams, Ramon Foster and versatile lineman Doug Legursky. Legursky was huge for the Steelers this year filling in at multiple positions.

Now, I don't expect the Steelers to sign any big free agents but here's some wishful thinking. How about signing Logan Mankins and/or Tyson Clabo?

Perhaps the coolest thing that could happen would be if the Steelers end up drafting Maurkice's bother, Mike Pouncey in the first round of the draft. Mike's natural position is guard and he would probably end up being an upgrade over what they have at guard now.

By default the Steelers offensive line should be better next year. However, if the line can improve drastically, the Steelers offense has huge potential. Ben Roethlisberger and Rashard Mendenhall are both in their prime. This offense should be able to have a 4,000-yard passer, and at least 1,200-yard rusher next year and score around 20 points per game.

Of course the Steelers have other areas in which they need to be upgraded. They need more depth and youth on the defensive line, and at linebacker. I'll also be very interested in seeing if they decide to bring Bruce Arians back as the offensive coordinator.

Only time will tell but if the Steelers upgrade these two areas and manage to stay healthy, there's no reason not to believe that they won't be right back in the Super Bowl next year.


02-11-2011, 05:18 PM
I would be shocked if Ike didn't re-up.

02-11-2011, 05:31 PM
I know this post will be met with a lot of....they were in the SB, we have 2 rings in the last 6 years so they know what they are doing...ect. However, we have those two rings due to one big factor, Ben. He makes his line better than they really are. Period.

The Steelers are, traditionally, not big players in the FA market and we all know that. But if Mankins hits the market and they don't make a serious play for him, they are idiots. It's time to get Ben a real line. You sign him, look for a DB in the FA market of the draft, and you get much better.

I don't want to hear the crap about money. This team could sign both Mankins and Asomugha. They can manage the cap just like other teams with huge pay checks going out to several players. They make the cake, that is unquestioned.

I am not saying the Steelers do not spend money...they do in huge amounts and have been one of the teams spending the most since Heinz was built. I am just saying that there are two FA's out there that can greatly improve this team and they need to make a serious run at at least one of them.

02-12-2011, 12:46 AM
In the case of LaMarr Woodley, will the Steelers follow their pattern of letting star linebackers go in free agency?

That's not a pattern at all.

THE pattern, minus Kevin Greene and Chad Brown, is to sign their LBs to a second contract. Then maybe, he'll go after THAT one.

So if the Steelers follow their "pattern" Woodley isn't going anywhere.

That's typical 21st century reporting and that is write the words that someone tells you to write without actually looking into it. If the statement read ...the Steelers follow their pattern of letting aging star linebackers go in free agency..then I'd be fine with it.

Woodley stays, makes less than the open market, but the Steelers give him stability and a very, very good contract. If Woodley wants to be a Steeler, he'll be a very wealthy and secure Steeler. if he wants to be the highest paid 3-4 OLB then he won't be a Steeler, its up to Woodley, just the way it was with Harrison and Ben too.


02-12-2011, 01:38 AM
Yeah but they did break the bank for Ben. He got top market value in guaranteed money. I was shocked they went as high as they did with him.

02-12-2011, 02:35 AM
In the case of LaMarr Woodley, will the Steelers follow their pattern of letting star linebackers go in free agency?

That's not a pattern at all.

THE pattern, minus Kevin Greene and Chad Brown, is to sign their LBs to a second contract. Then maybe, he'll go after THAT one.

So if the Steelers follow their "pattern" Woodley isn't going anywhere.

I wouldn't even count Greene. He had already played 8 years for the Rams before coming to Pittsburgh at 30 for 3 years. He still played well after leaving the Steelers but who was to know that the guy would have a 15 year career?

02-12-2011, 11:02 PM
Father Time Steelers' biggest hurdle to return to Super Bowl

By Elliot Harrison Special to NFL.com
Published: Feb. 8, 2011

Steeler fans, I feel your pain. After closing the gap to 21-17 in Super Bowl XLV, it looked as though the game was playing into Pittsburgh's hands. Even on the final drive, it was almost as if it was a foregone conclusion that Ben Roethlisberger would make plays out of the pocket, hit some of those annoying dinks and dunks that drive guys like Dom Capers crazy, and ultimately lead the Steelers to the winning touchdown.

Didn't happen. And thus begins the 2011 offseason for Steel City. As we continue our series of exit interviews, we take a look at some issues confronting the defending AFC champs.

Age of defensive starters at beginning of next year

James Farrior, ILB 36
Aaron Smith, DE 35
Casey Hampton, NT 34
James Harrison, OLB 33
Brett Keisel, DE 32
Ryan Clark, FS 31
Ike Taylor, CB 31
Troy Polamalu, SS 30
Bryant McFadden, CB 29
LaMarr Woodley, OLB 26
Lawrence Timmons, ILB 25

Average age of starting defense will be 31.1 in Week 1

1. Age becoming a concern?
One issue that could become huge is age. Having a veteran team is good, but much of the core is either rapidly approaching 30, or well past it. Pittsburgh has 23 guys on its roster that will either turn 30 in 2011, or are already past it. The majority of them are on defense.

Coach Mike Tomlin and his staff must find ways to take some of the toll off players in minicamps, training camp and preseason to save some legs, while also getting younger players first team reps as much as possible. One draft will not completely fix this concern.

2.Tread left on tires?
When a defense runs a 3-4 scheme, it must have a big-time player at nose tackle to be truly successful. Look at the 3-4 teams that won the Super Bowl recently: Green Bay (B.J. Raji), Pittsburgh (Casey Hampton), New England (Vince Wilfork.) These are all damn good football players.

Problem is, Hampton will be entering his 11 season and is due $4 million. His backup, Chris Hoke, will be 35. Wear and tear is a concern across the line. Defensive end Brett Keisel, who, like Hampton, is a very good player, will be in his 10th season. Fellow defensive end Aaron Smith is going into his 13th year, is coming off an injury and has $4.5 million coming to him. While Ziggy Hood played well in Smith's place, depth at defensive line is key in the NFL. These guys chase, occupy blockers, and chase some more. The Steelers need to think of the future and get some fresh legs on their front line.

3. Time to go to corner market?
The toughest thing to obtain in the NFL is a shutdown corner, be it through the draft, free agency or trade. Think about it: How many franchise quarterbacks can you think of off the top of your head? Eight? Ten? Now, how many corners come to mind? Three?

If Pittsburgh doesn't need a shutdown guy, it could definitely use an upgrade at the position. Ike Taylor, Bryant McFadden and William Gay were the weak links of the defense. The three corners totaled four interceptions all season, and it wasn't because quarterbacks were avoiding them. Are they bad? No. Yet, the Packers' wide receivers exposed their lack of make-up speed in the Super Bowl.

McFadden got picked on all season. Taylor, who will be an unrestricted free agent, has always been a blue-collar player. However, neither corner is of the same ilk as the Steelers' safeties, linebackers or front line.

4. Where's the continuity up front?
Offensive line is only really an issue because too many guys ended up in the training room. The two tackles, Max Starks and Willie Colon, have taken some criticism but are decent players. Problem is, both were lost early in the season. Colon is coming off an Achilles' tendon injury and is a free agent. Starks dealt with a neck injury. Starks' backup, Jonathan Scott, is a free agent. Thirteen-year veteran Flozell Adams stepped in and did a better job than most expected, but he could retire.

Another injury problem was stud center Maurkice Pouncey, who missed the Super Bowl. While Doug Legursky filled in admirably, it was just another obstacle for a depleted line that hasn't gotten much continuity. The same holds true at guard, where Ramon Foster became a starter after Trai Essex's play became about as popular as Creed's last album. The other guard, Chris Kemoeatu, was one of the most penalized guards in the league, despite being a steady player.

This unit could become a strong point next season, but for now, the health and free-agent questions need to be answered.

5. What does draft hold?
Pittsburgh hasn't drafted a corner in either of the first two rounds since 2005 -- that could change in April. Offensive line is a possibility. How about wide receiver? Hines Ward is on his last legs, despite the fact he miraculously gets open. But what you saw against the Packers was the Steelers trying to use speedster Mike Wallace as a possession guy.

It wouldn't hurt Pittsburgh to consider drafting a big wide receiver similar to what San Diego has in spades. The Steelers' primary options at wideout are all under 6 feet, and tight end Heath Miller wasn't a factor most of the Super Bowl or in the AFC title game.

With a team this good, taking the best player on the board is always a possibility. But as stated earlier, defensive line could be a need with the age of the group.

Elliot Harrison is the research analyst for NFL RedZone on NFL Network.

http://www.nfl.com/news/story/09000d5d8 ... ule=HP_cp2 (http://www.nfl.com/news/story/09000d5d81e36d93/article/father-time-steelers-biggest-hurdle-to-return-to-super-bowl?module=HP_cp2)