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Keisel among 2014 free agents yet to sign

Source: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Source: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

 

Brett Keisel has been a stable force for the Pittsburgh Steelers‘ defense since taking over the right defensive end position in 2006.  The Greybull, Wyoming native was drafted by the Steelers in 2002 (seventh round) and started out as many rookies do, on the special teams unit.  He began substituting in behind Aaron Smith in 2005.  Since then, Keisel has become an iconic player at the position.  While some argue that Keisel’s age is a factor in why he hasn’t been signed during the first and second phases of the 2014 NFL free agency period, Keisel still has the ambition, ability and desire to play.

In a January 2014 interview for Examiner.com, Keisel was asked if he’d return to the Steelers for the upcoming season.  His response: “That’s really up in the air right now. I want to continue to play for as long as I feel that I can, and I feel like I can still play.”  While his name has been linked with conversations with the Detroit Lions, Keisel remains available.

Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports said of Keisel, “He has been through the wars in the AFC North, playing some very physical football over the years and becoming the kind of teammate and leader everyone wants in their locker room.”  Keisel has prided himself on being a leader and it is evident in everything he has said throughout the free agency period that he intends to be dedicated to keep playing in the NFL and has kept himself in great shape.

One of the biggest hurdles to Keisel being re-signed by the Steelers is salary cap money and the incredible depth in available draft choices this year.

The top prospect on defense in many pre-draft lineups just happens to be a defensive end – Jadeveon Clowney.  Clowney is familiar to a 3-4 alignment after playing at South Carolina, but wasn’t required to get down into a stance often when rushing from the outside as much as he was used to get inside the attack on stunts.  There are fears that hype has elevated Clowney’s draft potential after frequently having to come out of games.  Conditioning may be something that Clowney will have to demonstrate he has dedicated himself to  immediately.  Clowney also announced post-season surgery to remove bone spurs in his right foot, but has pro-level talent.

Whether the Steelers would go for a defensive end in the first round (15th overall pick) is also suspect.  Most agree that the Steelers will focus on finding at least one young receiver to round out the recent signings of Lance Moore and Darrius Heyward-Bay to compliment Antonio Brown and sophomore receivers Derek Moye and Markus Wheaton.  And, the Steelers are expected to look early in the draft.

The Steelers are also shallow in their defensive backfield, especially after Ryan Clark signed a deal with the Washington Redskins.  With compensatory picks, the Steelers are expected to seek out at least two defensive backs in the 2014 draft.  Justin Gilbert out of Oklahoma State is the highest rated on CBS Sports’ draft board (at 10 overall), but there are questions of consistency.  Despite that, Gilbert led the Big 12 with seven interceptions in 2013 (returning two for touchdowns).  The Steelers may be interested in Gilbert’s stats at returning kickoffs – six of which he returned for scores in his career (one kickoff return TD shy of the NCAA record held by C.J. Spiller and Tyron Carrier) – since Pittsburgh is in desperate need for something special on their special teams.

With two Super Bowl wins under his belt, Keisel is still an option for Pittsburgh.  Keisel has never indicated that he wouldn’t be open to a contract negotiation with the front office.  Keisel has been open about how much he has loved his time with the Steelers and that remaining with the team his entire career would be something that would make him happy.  With Keisel still unsigned, the Steelers may be able to appeal to him for a one-year contract.  Keisel could continue his mentoring ways while remaining in the active roster, doing what he does best at the edge of the defensive line.

Ten other top draft prospects at defensive end

Rank Player Pos. Pos. Rank School Class Ht. Wt. Proj. Round
22 Kony Ealy DE 2 Missouri rJr 6-4 273 1
30 Dee Ford DE 3 Auburn rSr 6-2 252 1-2
43 Scott Crichton DE 4 Oregon State rJr 6-3 273 2
44 Trent Murphy DE 5 Stanford rSr 6-5 250 2
52 Kareem Martin DE 6 North Carolina Sr 6-6 272 2
70 Marcus Smith DE 7 Louisville Sr 6-3 251 2-3
80 Jackson Jeffcoat DE 8 Texas Sr 6-3 247 2-3
90 Demarcus Lawrence DE 9 Boise State rJr 6-3 251 3
107 Will Clarke DE 10 West Virginia rSr 6-6 271 3-4
109 Chris Smith DE 11 Arkansas Sr 6-1 266 3-4

(prospect projection source: CBS Sports)
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