Steelers Free Agent Focus: Need to Keep Brett Keisel if They Can

Kevin Colbert’s best draft came in 2002, not because of the superstars he brought the Steelers, but because round-for-round, he brought in better value for pick than any other Steelers draft during his tenure.

Although he was largely overlooked at the time, perhaps his most impactful pick came last, in the form of Brett Keisel.

Capsule Profile of Brett Kesiel with the Pittsburgh Steelers

Sometimes it simply takes players time to develop. That was the case with Brett Keisel, who only appeared in 5 games as a rookie, and did not start a game until after earning a ring Super Bowl XL. But Keisel was ready, having notched 3 sacks in John Mitchell’s defensive line rotation.

During the early tenure of his starting career, Keisel was overshadowed by Aaron Smith and Casey Hampton. But that certainly did not stop Keisel from being a quality runstopper and a defensive end capable of making some noise as in a 3-4 system.

Kesiel notched 5.5 sacks in his first year as a starter, and has registered 20 since then. Perhaps the greatest testament to Kesiel’s ability is that he blossomed just as age and injury started to limit Aaron Smith.

Keisel’s play can’t be measured solely by the numbers. He’s shown an ability to make plays in a timely fashion.

Brett Keisel may have begun his time as an overlooked member of a stout defensive line, but his contributions were never undervalued by those who knew.

The Case for Keeping Keisel

At age 35, “Life’s work” to use Chuck Noll’s phrase, is clearly beckoning Brett Keisel. But 2013 showed that Kesiel still has something left in the tank. While Cameron Heyward surpassed him as the unit’s top defensive lineman, it should be noted that Heyward pushed Ziggy Hood and not Keisel to the bench.

Not only did Keisel have the numbers, he still showed an ability to make a play when it counted.

The Case for Letting Keisel Walk

If Keisel still has talent and still has the ability to perform at a high level, he also has durability issues. He’s only started 1 16 game season since 2007. Last year he missed four games. And while his enduring ability to deliver is impressive, Kesiel will 36 during the 2014 regular season, and at that age players can lose it quick.

The Steelers defense needs to get younger. And getting younger usually does not involve retaining players who are closer to 40 than 30. And for all of the talk about Keisel’s ability play at a high level at an advanced age, Ziggy Hood’s sack and tackle total were close to Keisel’s, but Hood had the benefit of 5 fewer starts.

Curtain’s Call on Keisel

Deciding to keep a defensive lineman of at Brett Keisel’s age is a risk, plain and simple. The threat of injury or a drop off is real. There’s also the issue of Hood. While Hood is a disappointment as a first round pick decision to sign him can ensure experienced depth on the line for another 2-3 years, no matter who the Steeler draft. Keeping Keisel likely means closing the door to Hood.

  • But with any decision on Keisel must go beyond the numbers.

As Jerome Bettis conversation with Ron Cook of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette reveals why:

Teams always are looking to cut 8-to-10-year veterans and keep younger, cheaper guys. You see the repercussions when you do. You have to have the right older players to set the tone for the young guys and show them how to be pros. If you don’t, you have chaos.

Brett Keisel is a real leader on this Pittsburgh Steelers defense. After Charlie Batch quarterbacked the 2012 Steelers to an inspiring road win vs. Baltimore, it was Keisel who worried aloud that the younger players didn’t quite realize the need to keep the pedal to the metal. Unfortunately, results vindicated Keisel’s worries.

In the final analysis, the Steelers would do well to bring back Brett Keisel, as the potential benefits outweigh the risks. But this comes with a caveat – Keisel needs to play at or near veteran minimum.  If Keisel wants to go out and seek the best he can find on the open market, he has that right.

But hopefully the Steelers and Colbert will find a way for him to retire as a Steeler.

Thanks for visiting. Click here to see our Steelers 2014 Free Agent Focus.

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