Hoke's retirement will start transition

January, 25, 2012
1/25/12
3:56
PM ET
Chris Hoke will announce his retirement at a news conference, ending one of the greatest runs by a backup defensive lineman. It will also mark the start of a salary cap-induced transition for the Steelers' defense.

With the Steelers projected to be $25 million over the cap, the top candidates on defense to get released in March are: nose tackle Casey Hampton ($4.89 million salary in 2012), inside linebacker Larry Foote ($3 million), inside linebacker James Farrior ($2.82 million), cornerback Bryant McFadden ($2.5 million) and defensive end Aaron Smith ($2.1 million).

The biggest void would be at nose tackle, where Hampton and Hoke have been the anchor there for 11 seasons. If both are gone -- and it's not a lock that Hampton is gone -- the pressure is on the Steelers to fill that spot in the draft. The only nose tackle with any experience would be Steve McLendon, and he's better suited as a backup. Ziggy Hood could also be moved to that spot if Pittsburgh has no other options there.

The loss of Hoke can't be understated. He was the defense's best insurance policy. The Steelers were 17-1 in Hoke's 18 career regular-season starts, many of which came in 2004 when Hampton was injured.

Hoke, 35, who had season-ending neck surgery last month, is in the final year of his contract.

Jamison Hensley

ESPN Ravens reporter

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