Thursday, February 6, 2014

Brett Keisel Cuts Beard For Charity, Will Steelers Cut Him?

Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel has been cut.

Sort of.

In what has become an annual thing, teammates, coaches and local celebrities took part Wednesday night in shaving Keisel in the “Shear Da Beard” event. -

What has also now become an annual event is the Steelers having to cut aging players, especially from the defensive side of the ball where several starters qualify for the NFL's version of the AARP card - four starters on defense were over the age of 30, including three in the secondary.

That age, though, finally took its heaviest toll during the 2013 season. The Steelers saw their worst defensive performance (14th in points allowed, 13th in yards allowed and 27th in turnovers forced) in over a decade.

The Steelers are moving in the right direction regarding this, however, having shaved two years off the average age of the defense over the last two seasons.

That's where Keisel comes in. Cutting ties with him, as well as at least a couple of others this offseason, would move the team further in that direction. But that's something for which Keisel isn't quite ready.

“I feel like I can still play," Kesiel said back on December 25 just before the end of the season. "We will see what happens. I try not to think about it too much because I am still here and still part of the team and still fighting with these guys. When the time comes, I will sit down with my family and decide what is best.” - 

That time is coming rapidly now. Keisel's contract will expire at 4 p.m. on March 12 and, if he is asked to come back for a 13th season, he'll be 36 years old in September. He holds out hope in his heart, but his head is tells him something else.

“I know it's a business,” Keisel said. .... "(But) I bleed black and gold. Everybody knows that. I am a Yinzer, and I love this city and plan on raising my family here.”

“I think I’ve got a couple [years] left in me,” Keisel recently told Scott Van Pelt and Ryan Russillo. “I feel great and still feel like I can play. We’ll see what happens.”

That's all well and good, but the Steelers made a similar mistake when holding on to Aaron Smith too long a few years ago. Injuries took over and ended his career before he actually hung up his cleats. Keeping him on the roster, partially due to sentimentally and partially due to a lack of a viable replacement behind him, hamstrung the team.

Keisel has seen his playing time diminish because of injuries lately as well. It may not be as bad of a situation as it was with Smith, but a similar such move can't be repeated.

If he does return, though, he’ll certainly make far less than the $2.825 million he earned in 2013. Also, though he has been big for the Steelers in the past, sentiment can't be allowed to sway thinking again.

While If It Ain't Steel leans toward bringing him back for the veteran minimum, $940,000 for someone of his tenure, and to have him play Mentor to the team's version of Telemachus, we realize that the timing for both parties is an issue.

Is an old dog ready, willing and/or able to be taught a new trick in another team's system? Juxtapose the Steelers in that question regarding being able to move on with the lot they have.

The Steelers are in a slightly better situation this time around on the defensive line in that both Steve McLendon and Cameron Heyward are playing better or are simply better players than what was behind Smith. Also, Al Woods stepped up and showed that he could be the new Chris Hoke - if not more.

Questions still remain with the D-Line as well, though. Should Ziggy Hood be released or signed for minimum as backup nose tackle/defensive end? Do the Steelers draft a nose tackle or let Hebron Fangupo step into that role? A player the coaching staff is high on, actually.

Regardless, those questions can be addressed as we move further into the offseason. Decisions regarding the newly shorn Brett Keisel begin March 12 as to whether or not we'll have the shear delight of No. 99 kicking the follicle out opposing linemen for one more year.