We have now entered the month of June. For Steelers fans that means that the non-prorated portion of LaMarr Woodley’s salary gets credited to the Steelers books, freeing the team to sign the rest of their draft picks, think about contract renewals for players like Maurkice Pouncey, and do any free agent bargin hunting.
- Regarding the latter option, there’s one name on everyone’s mind, and that’s Brett Keisel.
When free agency started, the word to the wise via the press was that Keisel was not expected back. However, Al Woods was expected back, and he is gone. So is Ziggy Hood. The team did sign Cam Thomas in free agency, but he’s viewed primarily as a backup at nose tackle who can also play defensive end.
It would seem like the door opens for Kesiel’s return. The question remains, is the team and is Kesiel interested in walking through it?
Will Kesiel Return – Divided Opinion
Prior to the 2014 NFL Draft, Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin were asked about the team’s situation at defensive line. Both men indicated that the team’s work was not complete there.
Pittsburgh Tribune Review reporter Mark Kaboly wasted little time in offering his interpretation of that message:
Sure sounds like the Steelers have something planned at defensive end come after the draft. Don't think it is Keisel.
— Mark Kaboly (@MarkKaboly) May 5, 2014
The Steelers 2014 draft only seemed to bear that out. Not only did the team unexpectedly take Notre Dame defensive end Stephon Tuitt in the second round, they also grabbed nose tackle Daniel McCullers in the 6th.
- “Keisel’s not here right now and he was well into his 30s last year.”
Brown wasted little time in in dissecting this one observing that “’Not here right now’ implies that Keisel will be back with the Steelers at some point.” To be clear, Brown quickly qualified his conclusion, admitting that he could be reading too much into Miller’s words.
Is There Room for Kesiel, and at What Price?
Steel Curtain Rising has been on the record in support of Kesiel’s return, and remains so, but any objective analysis must concede that the situation is far from clear-cut.
- As mentioned above, the Steelers lost two players from 2013’s defensive line, Al Woods and Ziggy Hood.
They added Cam Thomas, Tuitt, and McCullers. While McCullers isn’t guaranteed a roster spot, its unlikely the Steelers would cut such a large lineman with so much potential. Nor is the team likely risk trying to sneak him on the practice squad.
In addition, the Steelers also have Brian Arnfelt, Nick Williams, and Hebron Fangupo who are return from inactive list, practice squad or injured reserve duty in 2013. That brings the Steelers current total (excluding undrafted rookie free agents and futures contract signers) to 8.
Last season the Steelers carried 7 defensive lineman on their roster for the bulk of the season, with Arnfelt getting activated late in the years.
- Adding Kesiel would give them nine.
A big motive for keeping Brett Kesiel would be his potential to mentor the younger lineman much the same way Jerome Bettis mentored Willie Parker. Arnfelt and Williams will already enter training camp as roster spots numbers 50 and above/practice squad candidates.
Nonetheless, the Steelers still appear to be committed to youth on the defense, and that would seem to leave Kesiel as the odd man out, particularly if he is serious in his stated desire not to play for the minimum salary.
Ulitmately the decision will come down to Kesiel’s willingness to play for less, and the calibration of youth and experience that Tomlin, Dick LeBeau and John Mitchell desire.