If the team has issues with its offensive line now, next season could be disastrous because [Marvel] Smith and new left guard Chris Kemoeatu will become unrestricted free agents if they remain unsigned. So, too, will Max Starks and Trai Essex, their top two backup tackles. Starting right tackle Willie Colon will become a restricted free agent. It's likely that Smith won't return if he's not signed to an extension over the next month.The Steelers have a month to talk about extending current contracts because their rule is not to renegotiate deals once the season begins. OK, fine. But clearly, there'a a problem here. Remember, the offensive line allowed their franchise quarterback to be sacked 47 times last season, plus six more times in a playoff loss to Jacksonville. That franchise quarterback was then signed to an eight-year, $102 million extension, which is good. But how are they going to protect him? For better or for worse, they let Alan Faneca, arguably the best guard they ever had, leave in free agency -- a move I was OK with, considering how much Faneca wound up getting from the Noo Yawk Jets. But in the draft, the Steelers didn't pick on offensive lineman until the fourth round, leaving them essentially to scramble with what they had, plus the addition of free agent center Justin Hartwig, who battled injuries last year with the Carolina Panthers. And now, they seem to be in no real hurry to keep anyone else, particularly tackle Marvel Smith, who should be fully recovered from the back troubles that plagued him last year. Look, I like that they picked some sure-fire skill guys in the first two rounds in Rashard Mendenhall and Limas Sweed. But considering the Murderers' Row that is their 2008 schedule, and considering the obvious holes they had (and still seem to have) up front, is there any reason to expect that this will be a playoff team? And why, after all the years of attention that was paid to molding a first-rate, smash-mouth O-line, does this team now no longer make the guys up front a priority?
OK, that's enough. Back to summertime, though I will be weighing in on the Steelers' ownership dispute/situation in the coming days. You know you can't wait.