Heading into the season, it was wide receiver Mike Wallace and running back Rashard Mendenhall who garnered the most ink, but those two big names may not be the team’s biggest priority this off-season.
Ramon Foster, OG: Foster is consistent, durable and position-flexible, three things any team looks for in an offensive lineman. His future in Pittsburgh likely depends on what the team does with veteran Willie Colon.
Keenan Lewis, CB: Lewis had a breakout season and established himself as a quality NFL starter. He’s likely to attract some legitimate offers if the Steelers don’t lock him up before he hits the open market.
At The Right Price
Will Allen, S: Allen surpassed Ryan Mundy as the team’s third safety. He’s not likely to get offers to start elsewhere, so his return is likely.
Charlie Batch, QB: Unless he decides to retire—and he’s said that he has no plans to—Batch could be back as the team’s third QB for another season.
Larry Foote, LB: While the demand for an undersized, aging linebacker is not high, the Steelers do not have many options at inside linebacker, so Foote does has some leverage. Foote still has a value to the team, in the locker room and on the field. The health of Sean Spence, last year’s third-round pick who missed the season with an injury, will have a lot to do with Foote’s potential return.
Casey Hampton, NT: If Hampton returns, it will be as a back-up to Steve McClendon and at the veteran minimum. While he has stated that he is prepared to play elsewhere, his age and weight issues don’t make him a very attractive free agent, so the door is open for his return.
Doug Legursky, OG: Legursky probably won’t receive much free agent interest, so the team can wait to see whether or not they are able to re-sign Ramon Foster. If not, expect Legursky back. If Foster returns, though, Legursky becomes very expendable.
Max Starks, OT: The development of Marcus Gilbert, Mike Adams and Kelvin Beachum means Starks will not be offered starter’s money in Pittsburgh. His consistency could earn him a one-year starter’s deal for a team looking to fill a hole short-term. If he can’t start elsewhere, then he could be considered as a veteran back-up if he’s willing to take a minimum contract.
Greg Warren, LS: The team will likely bring him back to compete with rookie for the job.
Plaxico Burress, WR: Mike Wallace’s probable departure means the veteran’s return is possible, but still not likely. It’s more probable that the team drafts a receiver early than brings Burress back.
Brandon Johnson, LB: Despite the team’s depth issues at the position, it’s doubtful Johnson showed enough to warrant a return.
Byron Leftwich, QB: While his skills are solid for a back-up in the league, Leftwich can’t seem to stay healthy. He won’t be back, but could be an option if an emergency situation should arise.
Ryan Mundy, S: Mundy’s skills have diminished to the point that he lost his back-up job last season, and unless Will Allen signs with another team, he won’t be brought back.
Leonard Pope, TE: It’s somewhat surprising Pope made the team to being with. His cap hit, even at the veteran minimum, is too high.
Rashard Mendenhall, RB: Things between the Steelers and their former No. 1 pick were never great, and they went south in 2012 after his suspension for conduct detrimental to the team. Despite his relative youth and the team’s nearly non-existent rushing attack, there’s a very good chance Mendenhall will play elsewhere in 2013.
Mike Wallace, WR: Wallace wants a contract that the Steelers likely cannot offer, and his inconsistency last season did not exactly provide the team a reason to reconsider. His speed, skill and production will be hard to replace, but it appears as though the Steelers will be content to let quarterback Ben Roethlisberger lose yet another 1,000-yard wide receiver.
All of the team’s restricted free agents will likely be tendered offers, but the exceptions could be Dwyer and/or Redman – but only in the unlikely event that Rashard Mendenhall is re-signed. Sylvester’s future could depend on Sean Spence’s health and Foote’s situation as well.
Jonathan Dwyer, RB
Steve McLendon, NT
Isaac Redman, RB
Stevenson Sylvester, LB
Emmanuel Sanders, WR
Josh Victorian, CB
These players must accept the one-year minimum salary offer if they want to return in 2013. Expect both to do so.
Baron Batch, RB
DeMarcus Van Dyke, CB