The first thing that Mike Tomlin will do is assess his coaching staff. Coach Lebeau has already said publicly he wants to be back, and the only way I see Coach Haley leaving is if he’s offered a head coaching position (which is unlikely).
Typically there’s a small amount of turnover on the staff, but I couldn’t name anyone off the top of my head that I feel deserves to be fired.
There is a chance that Keith Butler gets tired of waiting and takes a defensive coordinator position somewhere.
That’s (most likely) the extent of the excitement on that front. The next important step will be figuring out which Steelers free agents they will keep, and which ones they will let walk (or test the market).
I’m taking a look at some of more important free agents they have, and offer my predictions…
Jason Worilds: Stays
This guy should be priority number one. Signing Worilds would allow the Steelers to cut the unproductive and oft-injured Lamarr Woodley. Worilds has looked as good as Woodley did at his peak, and would be a cheaper and younger option.
I think Worilds stays because I think that if they were able to do it over again, the Steelers would find a way to retain Keenan Lewis, even if it meant releasing Ike Taylor to do so.
There’s been some concern voiced that Worilds only showed up in a contract season, and will be content once he gets paid. There’s always that possibility but I believe Worilds’ late blooming is probably attributed more to learning the position, not being able to stay healthy, and not playing on his stronger side earlier in his career. I trust the Steelers’ front office on that front.
Brett Kiesel: Goes
I think that the beard goes the way of Hines Ward and James Farrior before him. It’s always sad to see a long time great go (especially one that worked his way up from being a 7th round pick), but it’s time.
If Ziggy Hood was to leave in free agency, I think it would be a great move to sign Kiesel for 1 or 2 years at the vet minimum, but history shows that’s not really the Steelers’ style.
Ziggy Hood: Stays
This one really depends on what Ziggy wants to do. While he gets a bad rap from a lot of Steelers fans for not living up to his first round status, he’s not a bad player. Hood is a solid veteran that knows the scheme, and is still only 26 years old. If he’s willing to take a modest contract, the Steelers will keep him around.
Ryan Clark: Goes
This is the prediction in this thread I feel most confident about. Ryan Clark spent much of last off-season on an ESPN set. I’m not going to blame the guy for getting ready for his second career, but it’s obvious that he has the end in mind.
Even if Clark had a decent season, I’m not sure you’d see him return, but Clark’s skills seemed to fall off a cliff this season.
Emmanuel Sanders: Goes
I’m wrong a lot… but I was really upset the Steelers didn’t take the 3rd round pick from the Patriots for Sanders. I think if they had, they could’ve signed a guy like Steve Breaston for the vet minimum and seen the same kind of production they got out of Sanders this season.
I think Emmanuel Sanders wants to get paid, and it’s not going to be in Pittsburgh.
Jerricho Cotchery: Stays
I expect the Steelers to find another receiver relatively early in the draft or free agency. However, the #2 WR spot is wide open. I still think that Markus Wheaton could break out next season despite limited work this season, but you have to have other plans in place.
Cotchery filled the role that Hines Ward did during the last few years of his career. Serving as a mentor to the young receivers, as well as a very dependable target especially on 3rd downs and in the red zone. He’s also already stated that at this point he just wants a ring and thinks he can win one in Pittsburgh.
Jonathan Dwyer: Goes
This one is hard for me to predict. The Steelers felt they didn’t need Dwyer when he was released last off-season. They also continued the give Felix Jones most of the snaps that didn’t go to Le’Veon Bell late in the season. I personally would take Dwyer over Jones in a heartbeat but it seems that Todd Haley prefers the shiftier back.
I think that Dwyer likes Pittsburgh, and would like to stay, but I don’t think that the Steelers bring him back. I hope I’m wrong on this one.
Al Woods: Stays
Al Woods might be one of the best backups on the team. I don’t think there’s really a big drop off at all from McLendon to Woods. While it would leave the Steelers very thin depth-wise, I wouldn’t mind seeing Woods start and McLendon next to him at DE if they were to lose Ziggy and Kiesel. If the money is right this one is a no brainer.
Fernando Velasco: Stays
If Velasco had stayed healthy the entire year I think he’d be gone for sure. He played well enough to get a solid contract offer from a team seeking a starting center. Ramon Foster played well enough this year to stop any talk of Pouncey moving over (in my opinion).
Velasco’s injury changes things though. I think he likely comes back on a 1 year deal to see if he can recover fully.
Cody Wallace: Stays
This one seems like another no brainer. Wallace had his struggles but definitely answered the bell for the Steelers. With Kelvin Beachum likely finding a home at Left Tackle, the Steelers really need to bolster their depth on the interior of the line. Having a guy that’s started is great.
Now I realize that I have more “stays” than “goes.” I realize that we can’t keep everyone. I think that some tough decisions are going to be made this off-season. I’m predicting that Ike Taylor and Lamarr Woodley do not return, and Troy Polamalu takes a pay cut. I also think that Big Ben gets a new contract that provides some cap relief in 2014.