Heartfelt decisions await Steelers

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The NFL season may be over but the season for making news just won't let up for the Steelers.

General manager Kevin Colbert said he is not counting on halfback 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 March 13.

Those revelations were among a handful Colbert delivered Monday afternoon at the team's facility on the South Side.

Among others:

• Colbert confirmed that no decision has been made on whether Hines Ward will be back with the Steelers in 2012.

"To this current point, no final decisions have been made," Colbert said of Ward and all the veteran players. "We've had several discussions internally. We're right in the midst of our free agent evaluations of other teams' free agents. We'll meet on those [on the Steelers roster] starting Thursday and carry through Monday."

• 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 calendar and the start of free agency.

"I think with the combination of terminations and restructurings that we'll be able to handle this," Colbert said, "along with doing new business with our own free agents and possibly some from outside" after March 13.

• They want to keep receiver 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 released before training camp starts, although Colbert would not speculate on who they may be.

"There are terminations in any season," Colbert said. "Term it as you like, we'll make the necessary adjustments to be in compliance with the cap and put the best team that we can on the field for 2012.

"They're all tough, really," he said regarding potential cuts. "When you've had success as we've been fortunate enough to have over the recent years, anybody who's part of your team and you have to release them, that's always tough."

• Colbert said they saw this problem with the salary cap coming since the uncapped season of 2010.

"We've seen this coming for a while and we knew we would have to make some serious adjustments after this past season, because the previous season we didn't have a salary cap and really we took some liberties that year that we would not have been able to in a capped year. Some of that carried over into this year."

Colbert did not say that Mendenhall would not play in 2012, but "it possibly could" wipe out his season. Mendenhall had surgery on his knee in January after his injury Jan. 1 in Cleveland.

"Potentially, Rashard will not be ready for camp. I never feel good about an ACL until a year. I'm not a doctor, but that's my mindset. If he gets back before that, to me it's a bonus, so is he potentially a candidate for PUP? Absolutely."

Teams place a player on the Physically Unable to Perform list to open training camp if there is a reason they cannot play. Nose tackle Casey Hampton, who also had ACL surgery after the season, could also open camp on that list, but Colbert was more optimistic that Hampton will play in 2012.

"Sometimes defensive linemen, offensive linemen recover a little quicker because they don't have to regain their speed or stop and start ability."

Even with the availability of Mendenhall in question, Colbert said they are not necessarily in the market for another running back.

"No more than we are for any other position. I think our young backup contributors did a nice job in Rashard's absence. Isaac Redman did a good job not only after Rashard was injured but leading up to it. I think he's established himself as an NFL running back.

"We'll get Jonathan Dwyer back. John Clay showed up a little bit when he was asked to play after Rashard was injured, and we have Baron Batch, who we're excited to see come back healthy after his training camp [ACL] injury.

"Could we add a back? Sure. Are we saying we have to add a back? No."

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.

With all the potential roster moves afoot along with lingering injuries, might the Steelers remain a Super Bowl contender next season?

"You never know," Colbert said. "I mean, I hope so. Every team is unique, Every team is different. What our team will be in training camp at Saint Vincent College, I don't know what it will be. Every year you don't know what your competition will be. All we try to do at this point is try to add as many good players as we can and then take our chances."

For more on the Steelers, read the blog, Ed Bouchette on the Steelers at www.post-gazette.com/plus . Ed Bouchette: ebouchette@post-gazette.com and Twitter @EdBouchette. First Published February 14, 2012 5:00 AM


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