Steeler roster shake-up coming

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More veterans will be released, free agents will leave without offers from the Steelers and more changes are in order for a team its general manager described as disappointing this past season.

The Steelers were one interception too many from making the playoffs in 2012, but as thin a line as that may be, Kevin Colbert said the decisions to make changes will come easier because of it.

"When you're 12-4 and a playoff team, sometimes you get mesmerized by your success and you get a little reluctant to change," Colbert said, referring to the Steelers record in 2010 and 2011.

"If we don't change a roster that produced 8-8, we'd be silly to expect a better result because it's the same group of guys. ... I guess it's easier to make decisions to change when you're 8-8 than when you're 12-4."

Take a good look at that 2012 team photo of the Steelers because many won't be back.

The Steelers are still evaluating players and planning how to get into salary-cap compliance by the March 12 deadline. The cap is expected to be similar to a year ago, around $121 million per team. The Steelers are projected to be at least $10 million over that right now.

They will get under it, Colbert said, through contract terminations and likely extensions and reconstructed contracts.

He sounded as if none of their impending free agents will get contract offers before they can hit the open market March 12.

"We won't know what an individual player will cost until he gets out there," Colbert said. "Going into this thing, we're not married to anybody."

The Steelers have a gaggle of starters who will become unrestricted free agents, including wide receiver Mike Wallace, cornerback Keenan Lewis, offensive tackle Max Starks, running back Rashard Mendenhall, nose tackle Casey Hampton, inside linebacker Larry Foote and offensive lineman Ramon Foster.

Colbert said using the franchise (or transition) tag to prevent any of them from signing elsewhere, is "very doubtful.

"In my mind, when you're 8-8, I don't think you had too many franchise players."

Despite that record and possible loss of good players in free agency, Colbert implied his team will compete for a championship in 2013, even though he called it a "significant" difference between the Steelers and the four teams still in the playoffs.

"Can that change? Yes, that can change very quickly, and it has to change for our sake. I don't want to say we're close. Art [Rooney II] used the term 'frustrated,' I'm more disappointed, disappointed in myself again ... I'm at the head of the class."

Colbert met Wednesday with a handful of writers who regularly cover the Steelers. Among his other points:

• On the running game, which produced its fewest yards in nine seasons: "Where we were in the running game last year was indicative of the talent at the position. ... That group of players didn't produce the way we anticipated they would."

• The decision to cut running back/return man Chris Rainey will not be reversed (it can't be done officially until Feb. 4), no matter what the legal outcome of his battery arrest in Florida: "We felt it was time to do it ... we felt the need to make the move when we did. The decision has been made."

• On Steelers executive Omar Khan being a finalist to become the New York Jets general manager: "We're extremely excited for his opportunity. He's earned it, he's very knowledgeable about how this business works -- I mean the football business, not just the business side of it. He's been very strong in salary-cap administration, but he's also observed and learned a lot about how the player-personnel side of things works. We think he's ready, and, if he gets the opportunity, good for him. If he does, we'll have to act accordingly."

• For the first time since they drafted Ben Roethlisberger in 2004, Colbert would not rule out drafting a quarterback in the first round. "We won't close the door on any position in any round. We can't ... Once we get into free agency and the draft, I don't see any position that's off limits."

• Colbert noted that the Steelers had fewer injuries than some playoff teams. "We were not the only team that had injuries. Teams that had more had better results." He said the amount of injuries "really wasn't unique to us."

• The Steelers, once dead-set against restructuring contracts that pushed cap hits into the future, have made it a routine part of doing business for five years or so. They will continue to do it, but Colbert said it carries a danger. "You have to be careful. Sooner or later, you have to pay the debt. You never want to get to a point where you have to gut your team and start over. We want to compete for a championship every year."

• The Steelers signed one of their free agents. Cornerback Justin King of Monroeville, Gateway High School and Penn State, signed a one-year contract for his veteran minimum.



The Post-Gazette kicks off Steelers Sunday Spotlight -- a position-by-position look at the team as it navigates the offseason.

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For more on the Steelers, read the blog, Ed Bouchette on the Steelers at Ed Bouchette: and Twitter: @EdBouchette.


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