Steelers Salary Cap Bubble: Time to Give Larry Foote the Boot?

Larry Foote is not a Steelers free agent, but at age 34 and coming off an injury he could become. Hence we take a look.

Capsule Profile of Larry Foote with the Steelers

The Pittsburgh Steelers drafted Larry Foote in the 4th round of Kevin Colbert’s best all around draft, 2002. Foote was expected to do little more than play special teams as a rookie, but injuries to Kendrell Bell forced him into the line up early in the infamous “Dread the Spread” 2002 season opener vs. New England. Foote went on to start 3 games that year.

Foote didn’t start any in 2003 but played well on special teams. Further injuries to Bell paved the way for Foote to become a full time starter in 2004, where he became a fixture, starting in both Super Bowl XL and Super Bowl XLIII.

With Lawrence Timmons pushing him out of the line up, Foote left Pittsburgh for Detroit, but was back a year later and served as a valuable back up in 2010 and 2012. James Farrior’s retirement paved the way for Foote’s return to the line up in 2012, where he played well. Unfortunately Foote was injured in the Steelers 2013 opener vs. Tennessee, and was lost for the season.

The Case for Keeping Foote

Many eyes have focused on Steve McLendon’s presence over center in their search for the cause of the rapid decline of the once indomitable Steelers run defense. McLendon isn’t Casey Hampton in his prime (who is) but there’s evidence to suggest that McLendon shouldn’t be held as a scapegoat.

When Larry Foote went down, Kion Wilson took his place. This wasn’t simply a case of switching out a 12 year veteran for a guy holding down roster spot number 45, 46 or 47, it cost the team their defensive signal caller in Dick LeBeau’s defense. Vince Williams stepped in and played like a rookie.

Foote knows the defense, is a solid player, and a quiet leader both on and off the field. The Steelers know this or else would not have resigned Foote last year to a 3 year contract.

The Case for Cutting Larry Foote

Larry Foote will be 34 when opening day arrives. He neither carries a huge contract nor a large dead-money hit if released. The Steelers defense needs to get younger, and if Seattle’s defense is the template, faster. Speed has never been Foote’s forte.

The Steelers will only gain about 1.5 million in cap space of they let Foote go. While their cap situation is not as dire as has been for the last two years, difficult choices need to be made, and Foote could be one of them.

Curtain’s Call

Under the current regime, when the Steelers have to part ways with a veteran, they normally do it immediately to give the player the best chance possible of hooking on with another team.

And that’s what makes Foote’s situation so complicated.

  • Inside linebacker is one of the areas where the Steelers have depth – at least on paper.

Vince Williams matured nicely over the course of 2013, and was making plays by the end of the season. Terence Garvin also was working his way into the line up, and as everyone in the NFL knows, the man can hit. And then there’s Sean Spence. Spence was drafted with an eye towards replacing Foote. Spence of course suffered a horrendous injury in preseason of 2012. Linebacker’s coach Keith Butler went so far as to say it will be a miracle if Spence plays again.

Yet Spence worked doggedly, and Kevin Colbert has said the team is impressed with his efforts.

  • But Spence remains an unknown and Garvin and Williams’ value is still measured more in terms of potential rather than production.

Larry Foote does not present Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin with an easy choice.

The cold hard calculating thing to do would be to let him come to camp, see how the chips fall, and then if he proves expendable, cut him lose. While its not beyond the Steelers do that, as LC Greenwood and David Little’s experience shows, in Kevin Colbert’s time that is far from standard operating procedure.

The smart money says to see if cap savings can be found elsewhere, and plan to keep Foote for the duration of 2014, even if that means keeping him as a backup.

Thanks for visiting. Click here for the rest of Steel Curtain Rising or here to see our Steelers 2014 Free Agent Focus.

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