The Confounding Case of Willie Colon

Pittsburgh Steelers starting left guard Willie Colon is not a free agent. In fact Colon has three more years left on the 29 million dollar contract he signed in 2011. And that’s a problem.

When healthy, Willie Colon is one of the Steelers best offensive lineman. The operative words in the preceding sentence are “when healthy.”

Back of the envelop calculations show the Steelers paying Colon an average of 1 million dollars per game over the last three years.

Willie Colon is slated to earn salaries in excess of 7 million per year for the next three years, can the salary cap strapped Steelers afford to pay that kind of money to a part-time player?

The Case for Willie Colon

There’s one undeniable fact in Willie Colon’s favor.

Much has been made of the Steelers disappointing running game, and rightly so. But all criticisms of the running game are tempered by the caveat, “with the exception of the three game stretch in the middle of the season.”

That three game stretch occurred after Willie Colon got comfortable at guard and before he injured his knee. In fact, you can pinpoint the precise moment it began (available as of 2/19/12):

From that moment on, and for the next several games onward, the Steelers flashed the beginnings of a dominant offensive line.

The absence of veteran depth and leadership was an issue in 2012 and if the Steelers lose Colon, they also will be losing their only tenured veteran on the line, if Ramon Foster and Max Starks can be assumed to sign elsewhere.

  • Simple math also works in Colon’s favor. 

As Steel City Roller from Behind the Steel Curtain points out, with the way Colon’s deal is structured, cutting him this year only saves the team 1.2 million dollars against the 2013 salary cap because the team would have to eat the dead money from his contract now. (Full disclosure, I also write for BTSC.)

Why the Toalla Terrible’s Might Soon Look Prophetic

Shortly after Willie Colon signed his contract, this site’s alter ego La Toalla Terrible fired off one of his missives predicting that the Steelers would cut Colon in two years.

The piece was more of a commentary on the Steelers recent penchant for signing offensive lineman to long term deals, only to cut them in mid-contract. (Yes, folks, it happened with Max Starks, Chris Kemoeatu, Sean Mahan, Jeff Hartwig, and Kendall Simmonsclick here to read La Toalla’s full rant.)

Now it is looking like the La Toalla Terrible might be on the money.

  • Lot’s of rumors indicate that Colon is likely to be cut, but let’s start something that came out of a computer on the South Side. 

After praising Colon for his switch to guard, Steelers Digest editor Bob Labriola had this to say:

…But Colon is too heavy. Torn tendons and knee problems can be a result of too much weight on a body, and Colon has landed on injured reserve three straight years with those kinds of issues. He is listed at 315 on the roster, and if Colon played at that weight he might end up in the Pro Bowl

Labriola is frequently criticized for shying away from uttering nary an ill word about the Steelers, but he is clearly pulling no punches here.

The addition of new offensive line coach Jack Bicknell Jr. also may not bode well for Colon’s future with the team, as Gerry Dulac explained recently in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Bicknell, who worked with Todd Haley in Kansas City, is interested in installing a zone blocking technique in Pittsburgh and as such wishes to build his line with smaller, more athletic offensive lineman. Clearly, Colon does not fit this mold.

And then there are injury issues. Even if the salary cap savings are minimal for the Steelers, is it wise for them to project a roster spot for someone who cannot stay healthy?

Decision on Colon Expected Soon

The Steelers need to be under the salary cap by mid-March, and when they need to let someone go, they generally do it in advance, to give the player time to find another opportunity.

Clearly, Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin have some difficult choices to make. Its possible their decision on Willie Colon could come in a few days….

Thanks for visiting. Click here for the rest of Steel Curtain Rising or here to see our Steelers 2013 Free Agent Focus.

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