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Shutdown Corner

‘Shutdown Corner’ offseason TPS report: Pittsburgh Steelers

Shutdown Corner

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Ben Roethlisberger was one of many injured Steelers in 2013 (USA Today Sports Images)

Over the next few weeks, "Shutdown Corner" will pay homage to "Office Space" (TPS reports) as we take a quick look back at each team's 2012 season and a look at what lies ahead for the 2013 offseason. We continue with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

2012 record: 8-8

What went wrong: The Steelers overcame early-season injuries involving linebacker James Harrison, safety Troy Polamalu, running back Rashard Mendenhall and first-round guard David DeCastro to start the season 6-3, a mark that had them in contention for the AFC North title. The Steelers then lost Ben Roethisberger to a right shoulder injury and his backup, Byron Leftwich, to a rib injury. Pittsburgh would lose two of the three games in Roethlisberger's absence and, even after No. 7 returned to the lineup, would finish the season with five losses in seven games to miss the playoffs. Three of those losses were by three points –in total, five of the Steelers' eight losses were by a field goal margin – and two other losses came against inferior opponents that Pittsburgh easily should have handled: A 20-14 defeat at the hands of the Cleveland Browns and a 34-24 loss at home to the San Diego Chargers.

Only one team – the Houston Texans – had a higher time of possession than the Steelers did in 2012, but under first-year coordinator Todd Haley, who stepped in after Bruce Arians was shown the door, ranked 21st in total offense was 26th against the run. When you adjust for opponents, as Football Outsiders' advanced metrics do, the Steelers declined from sixth in 2011 to 19th in 2012 and were 31st in the league when running the ball.

What went right: Pittsburgh's defense remains formidable, ranking first in the NFL in total defense, first against the pass and were second against the run. It is worth noting, however, that the Steelers did not rank as highly in FO's metrics, ranking 13th in defensive DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) and outside of the Top 5 against both the run and pass. Individually, inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons had a Pro Bowl-caliber season, finishing the year with over 100 tackles, including six sacks and 10 tackles for loss, both of which tied for the team lead. Timmons also led the Steelers with three interceptions.

On offense, tight end Heath Miller returned to the Pro Bowl after catching 71 passes and establishing career-highs with 816 yards and eight touchdowns, ranking third in Football Outsiders' DYAR (Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement) metric.

Coaching/front office changes: Mike Tomlin fired special teams coordinator Al Everest last summer and his replacement, assistant Amos Jones, left the team to take the same position with the Arizona Cardinals. Danny Smith is now the team's special teams coach. The Steelers lost offensive line coach Sean Kugler (UTEP) and receivers coach Scottie Montgomery (Duke) to the college ranks.

Estimated 2013 cap space: $12.63 over their estimated adjusted cap number.

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Mike Wallace should hit free agency (USA Today Sports Images)

Possible cap casualties: The Steelers "adjusted cap number" - their 2013 league-wide cap number (~$121 million) plus any carryover and adjustments from 2012 - is expected to be $122.5 million, the tenth-lowest figure in the NFL, according to "Shutdown Corner" projections. Occupying much of that space are the Top 5 cap numbers on the Steelers' roster, who comprise $64.2 million, or 52.4 percent, of the adjusted cap number.

Among those five are several restructure candidates – Ben Roethlisberger (due $11.6 million in cash, $19.595 million cap number), LaMarr Woodley ($9 million in cash, $13.24 million cap number), Lawrence Timmons ($7.875 million in cash, including a $2.5 million roster bonus on March 16, $11.16 million cap number) and safety Troy Polamalu ($7.5 million cash, $10.1375 million cap). Tight end Heath Miller and cornerback Ike Taylore are other restructure candidates and the club may look to convert Antonio Brown's $2.5 million roster bonus (due 3/16) into a signing bonus to gain some additional cap relief.

There are also some players who may be released.

Outside linebacker James Harrison, one of the Top 5, turns 35 this offseason and is coming off a season where he posted the lowest sack total (six) since becoming a full-time starter in 2007. Harrison is due $6.57 million in cash and has a cap number of $10.035 million. Releasing the five-time Pro Bowler and 2008 NFL Defensive Player of the Year would save $5.105 million in cap space. Guard Willie Colon has played 12 games over the last three seasons, each finished on the injured reserve list, and is due $5.5 million in base salary next season. Releasing Colon would clear between $5.15 million in cap space in 2013, if the team pushed the remaining $4.3 million in signing bonus proration into 2014. Otherwise, Colon would save the Steelers $1.2 million in cap space. Defensive end Brett Keisel turns 35 in September and is entering the final season of his contract. Keisel's release would clear $3.225 million in cap space. Safety Ryan Clark, who'll turn 34 next season, is due $3.5 million in the final year of his contract and that cash and cap amount would be saved if he were released.

Unrestricted free agents

Will Allen, S
Charlie Batch, QB
Plaxico Burress, WR
Larry Foote, LB
Ramon Foster, G
Casey Hampton, NT
Brandon Johnson, LB
David Johnson, FB
Byron Leftwich, QB
Doug Legursky, C/G
Keenan Lewis, CB
Rashard Mendenhall, RB
Ryan Mundy, S
Leonard Pope, TE
Max Starks, OT
Mike Wallace, WR
Greg Warren, LS

Restricted free agents

Jonathan Dwyer, RB
Jeremy Kapinos, P
Steve McLendon, NT
Isaac Redman, RB
Emmanuel Sanders, WR
Stevenson Sylvester, LB

RFA tender amounts in 2013 are:

• $1.323 million for right of first refusal and/or original draft round compensation
• $2.023 for right of first refusal and second round draft selection
• $2.879 for right of first refusal and first round draft selection

Franchise Tag candidates: If the Steelers did not use the franchise tag on Wallace last offseason, they're unlikely to use the lucrative tender on the 26-year-old receiver this offseason. Wallace played the 2012 season under a one-year, $2.742 million restricted free agent tender and, in 15 games, caught 64 passes for 836 yards and eight touchdowns. That production does not warrant a franchise tag that is projected to be worth $10.373 million in fully guaranteed money. If the Steelers weren't willing to pay Wallace $9.515 million in 2012, after he made the Pro Bowl and ranked fifth in Football Outsiders' DYAR (Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement) metric, why would they spend $10.373 million in 2013 on a receiver who ranked 80th in the same metric in 2012?

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