It's safe to assume most, if not all, Steelers fans are happy to see 2012 come to a close. In a span of 12 months the Steelers lost to Tim Tebow in the wild card round of the playoffs, then went 8-8 missing the playoffs altogether the following season.
Unfortunately, 2013 doesn't look promising either.
For starters, the offense is going to take a step back. Mike Wallace, despite is inconsistencies, is a deep threat because of his speed. The Steelers will certainly miss that aspect, especially since Emmanuel Sanders proved he's nothing more than a fringe slot receiver. Meanwhile, Heath Miller will miss a significant amount of time due to his knee injury and the fact that he's not Adrian Peterson.
Rashard Mendenhall will be gone, forcing the Steelers to use Ike Redman and Jonathan Dwyer. How'd that work out this season? The Steelers could draft a running back but, the draft is very shallow at that position. Without a feature back in the game plan, it really wont matter who is healthy on the offensive line.
Todd Haley might be gone to fill a head coaching position and while many Steelers fans would be happy to see him leave, the offense would have to learn a completely new system under a new offensive coordinator, the third in three years.
With no running game, no Pro-Bowl tight ends, a wide receiving core that features a 36 year old, and a new offensive coordinator, how in the world is Ben Roethlisberger going to 1) stay upright and 2) lead his team to the playoffs?
Then there's the defense.
Casey Hampton will be an unrestricted free agent as soon as the season concludes. If he re-signs, he'll be 36 years old by the first week of the 2013 season. If he leaves, that would leave Steve McLendon as the starting nose tackle. Unfortunately, McLendon is too tall (6'4) and too "thin" (280 pounds) to be a run-stuffing nose tackle. And Alameda Ta'amu clearly isn't ready to take over that position. With an aging Brett Keisel and a doormat nicknamed "Ziggy", the defensive line might be in serious trouble come September.
As for the linebackers, Lawrence Timmons had a solid season after getting off to a slow start. It looks like he is starting to become one of the best inside linebackers in the game. Larry Foote will be 33 in June although that really doesn't matter at this point. Foote was excellent for most of the season and he should be just as good next season, assuming he re-signs.
After Timmons and Foote, the linebacker situation is a train wreck.
James Harrison will either re-sign for less money or he'll be gone. Either way, the Steelers aren't getting the same player they had four years ago. Harrison has chronic back and knee problems which affected his ability to rush the passer this year. He'll be 35 in May so it might be time to move on. Unfortunately, none of the second string players (Jason Worilds, Chris Carter) are any good, so the Steelers might be forced to bring back Harrison assuming he wants to take less money and fit under the cap.
LaMarr Woodley went from Gregg Lloyd to Kendrell Bell in the span of two seasons. Woodley was given $60 million to rush the passer and be a game-changer. Instead, he's constantly hurt and completely ineffective. There have been a lot of warranted questions raised about his conditioning since he seems to have hamstring problems all the time. Of all the defensive players, Woodley is the biggest key towards pushing this defense in the right direction.
The secondary is going to take a hit as well. The Trib's Alan Robinson tweeted earlier today that Keenan Lewis will test free agency, citing that the Steelers took too long to negotiate with him. I guess Lewis didn't get the memo that multi-year deals are handed out AFTER a team sees you play well, not before. At any rate, Cortez Allen could fill that starting role and probably do an OK job as a cover corner. But the secondary just got a little thinner with Lewis's departure.
It's interesting to hear so many people talk about how "old" Troy Polamalu is when he's only 31. Ironically, fans expect Ryan Clark and Ike Taylor to return without any issues despite being two years older than Polamalu. The bottom line is, both safeties are past their prime and the Steelers top cornerback is entering his 11th season coming off of an ankle injury.
Obviously this is all speculation and there's nine months between now and opening kickoff of the 2013 NFL season. The Steelers still need to go through free agency and the draft before molding their best squad of 53 players. My take may be viewed as pessimistic but it's more realistic than expecting this team to go out and win 11-12 games next season.
Happy New Year.