Extension tension

Nobody is threatening holdouts, but there's definitely uncertainty surrounding the Steelers and their nine starters who will be free agents at the end of the 2009 season.

News that the NFL was adjusting the salary cap upwards nearly $1 million late last week had to be very good news for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Prior to the increase, the Steelers barely had enough money to sign their draft picks. The Steelers were slotted in at $4.28 million by the league to sign their draft class. Currently, they have $5.7 million in cap space, enough to sign their draft picks and extend at least a couple of their nine starters who will be free agents at the conclusion of the 2009 season.

But who to extend?

Here's a look at the impending free agents and their odds of being with the Steelers in 2010:

Jeff Reed, PK, 5-2: Reed's arrest for a an after midnight rant was embarrassing, but he's got ice running through his veins and has mastered the tricky conditions at Heinz Field. He has a base salary of $1.375 million in 2009 with a cap value of $1.95 million. A five-year deal that averages $2 to $2.25 million per season would probably get it done.

Heath Miller, TE, 2-1: This is an interesting one. If a deal isn't reached on a new collective bargaining agreement, instead of reaching unrestricted free agency after five seasons, players would need six years to reach that point. Miller would fall into that category and would be a restricted rather than unrestricted free agent. The Steelers want to keep him, but could hold off until they see what happens with the CBA. His current deal averages $2.4 million per season, but his base salary in 2009 is just $800,000.

Ryan Clark, FS, 4-1: After missing a large portion of the 2007 season, Clark proved his value in 2008. His base salary is $1.7 million in 2009 with a cap hit of $2.413 million. Clark turns 30 in October, but a four-year deal with a modest salary increase could get the deal done. His game is about smarts and bringing big hits, not speed, so he could play into his mid-30s.

Willie Colon, RT, 10-1: Colon signed his restricted free agent tender offer of $2.2 million, a significant raise from what he earned before. A long-term deal would have to take this into account, probably putting him in the four-year, $12- to $15-million rage. Like Miller, however, if there's no new CBA and the league goes uncapped in 2010, Colon would be a restricted free agent for a second time. The Steelers may wait and see with Colon as well.

Max Starks, LT, 10-1: Given the franchise tag the past two seasons, Starks will make over $16 million in 2008 and 2009. Though both he and the Steelers would like to come to a long-term deal, his $8.45 million base salary makes that difficult. But starting left tackles make big bucks. The Steelers, however, can't pay him more per season than Ben Roethlisberger or James Harrison. It upsets the apple cart. They could continue to slap the franchise tag on him.

Brett Keisel, DE, 15-1: Many assume that with the selection of Ziggy Hood in the draft, Keisel's days are numbered with the Steelers. That very well may be the case, particularly considering he will make a base salary of $3.25 million and count nearly $5 million against the salary cap this season. That cap figure makes it very difficult for the team to sign him to a long-term extension before the season unless he's willing to take a slight pay cut to be this team's Travis Kirschke, a well-paid spot starter.

Casey Hampton, NT, 20-1: This one will be difficult. Hampton has a base salary of $3.1 million and counts $6.65 million against the cap in 2009. That's a lot of cash wrapped up in a two-down player. The nose tackle position is a difficult one to fill, but the team does have Chris Hoke and he's proven to be solid when called upon. Given how quickly nose tackles can decline, it's probably not a good idea to give Hampton a third contract.

Justin Hartwig, C, 25-1: Hartwig is certainly better than his predecessor, Sean Mahan, but really, he's just another guy. Maybe he'll prove to be better than that in 2009, but the Steelers won't sign him to a long-term deal until he proves it.

Willie Parker, RB, 100-1: With Rashard Mendenhall waiting in the wings and Mewelde Moore also under contract, the Steelers aren't going to sign Parker to a long-term deal unless Mendenhall proves he can't handle the load. Parker's been a valuable member of two Super Bowl teams, but the shelf life on running backs - particularly those whose game is built on speed – isn't great.

Dale Lolley appears courtesy of the Observer-Reporter.


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