The Steelers are not counting on Rashard Mendenhall being able to play in 2012 because of his ACL surgery, and it appears they will not sign any of their own pending free agents before they hit the open market on March 13.
Those were two revelations general manager Kevin Colbert offered during an interview today at the Steelers facility on the South Side.
• He confirmed that no decision has been made on whether Hines Ward will be back with the Steelers in 2012.
• The Steelers "have work to do" to get under the mandatory NFL salary cap by March 13, which is the beginning of the new league calender and the start of free agency.
• They want to try to keep Mike Wallace "here for the long run." Wallace, their leading receiver last season, will become a restricted free agent March 13.
• Some big names could be out before training camp starts. "When you've had success . . . anybody who has been part of our team and you have to release them, it's always difficult."
• The Steelers saw this problem with the salary cap coming for awhile and "knew we'd have to make adjustments," Colbert said. He called them "serious issues."
"What our team will be at training camp? I don't know what it will be."
Colbert did not say that Mendenhall would not play in 2012, but "I never feel good about an ACL for a year." Mendenhall had surgery on his knee in January after it was injured in Cleveland Jan. 1.
Even with the availability of Mendenhall in question, Colbert said they do not necessarily have to bring in another running back.
"No more than we are for any other position. Our young backup contributors did a nice job" in 2011.
He mentioned Isaac Redman as a back who has "established himself as an NFL running back." He also noted rookies John Clay and Baron Batch and second-year back Jonathan Dwyer.
Colbert said they likely cannot sign any of their own free agents before March 13 because of their position in the salary cap. It does not mean, however, they will not sign any of them after March 13.
That potentially means that Wallace will become a restricted free agent and another team could sign him. The Steelers, though, will almost surely offer him the high tender that would bring them a first-round draft pick if another team signed him and they did not match it and keep him.