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Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
In our latest version of "Thought of the Day" in the AFC North, our community got a chance to play virtual general manager of the defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers.
With limited cap room, Pittsburgh likely has a chance to give an extension to one more veterans before the start of the regular season. But with many key players in the final year of their deals -- such as Heath Miller, Ryan Clark, Casey Hampton and Willie Parker -- the Steelers have to be selective.
Here are the best responses from our AFC North inbox:
Mike Mazur from Copley, Ohio writes: Excellent (and scary) topic. Heath Miller is a MUST resign. He does everything well and is entering his prime. The same cannot be said regarding any of the other players. Brett Keisel and Hampton are as good as gone. Parker has a 50% shot of resigning. After Miller is resigned, PLAN B should be Ryan Clark and PLAN C is Jeff Reed.
Steve from Ridgway, Pa. writes: James, this may come as a shock to a of people, but I would sign Ryan Clark because he is the only player position without depth. Brett Keisel and Casey Hampton have Evander "Ziggy" Hood at their position now. Matt Spaeth has proved that he can come up big at the TE position, and we really don't know anything about Rashard Mendenhall at RB. And Reed, well there are plenty of kickers out there in the FA pool. I'd even take [Mike] Vanderjagt.
Brendan from Maryland writes: I think it has to be Casey Hampton. He's one of the best nose tackles in the league and from what I've heard, "Ziggy" Hood is better suited to replace Keisel rather than Hampton. I'm going to hate to see Keisel go, but Hampton is more valuable in my opinion.
Craig from LWood Ohio writes: Hey J-Dub. I can't even fathom having to make a decision like this in real life. But if I had to make this tough decision, I would choose to extend Willie Parker's contract. They can sign him while his value is a bit lower than in other years. Also, he is the least likely to be loyal to the Steelers based on his actions and whining in the past. Miller, Clark, Keisel and Reed seem like they would resign with the burgh, especially if they repeat or go deep in the playoffs, and 'Big Hamp' is about at the end of his career.
Johnny D from Baltimore writes: Great Job covering the AFC North! In response to the thought of the Day. I say sign Jeff Reed first. He has been an accurate and reliable kicker in the clutch and is overlooked. Willie Parker has durability issues and will likely be replaced by Mendenhall. Casey Hampton is more committed to good eating then staying in shape and Hoke fills in and the d-line doesn't miss a beat. Ryan Clark is an option to re-sign, however he may be expensive. Same is true for Miller, he is a great TE, however I don't feel the Steelers truly utilize his talents and Spaeth can fill the void without the high price. Keisel is also an option, however he is aging. His price tag should be more affordable and could only be a 3 year contract. I still say Reed though for his consistency and accuracy. Not everyone can kick at Heinz field and I think he often times gets taken for granted.
Derick Young from Kalispell, MT writes: Heath Miller--He is a very underrated TE in the league, solid blocking on every down, has soft hands, and is young. He is exactly the type of player the Steelers want and need to keep. Blue-collar guy that plays hard every play. Keep him for another five years at least.
Matt Rippin from Pittsburgh writes: I put Ryan Clark first on the list. He figures to be the most affordable of the group, and the free safety is a badly underrated position in Dick LeBeau's defense (especially with someone as active as Troy Polamalu at SS). I'll put Miller just behind him, because he's the best player of the bunch. Keisel goes at the bottom of the list. He's over 30 and the Steelers just drafted his replacement. Thank you sincerely for your efforts, Brett.
R. Andrews from Pittsburgh, Pa. writes: If you're just picking one before the season starts it would be Hampton, because Hood is not ready to be a starter plus you have all season and the off-season to sign the rest of them and Hampton is the most marketable.
Turtle from Chicago, IL writes: James, love the blog. I'm looking forward to your extensive coverage throughout training camp. I think when you factor in value, age and importance of position you have to extend Heath Miller before all others. Casey Hampton is old and wearing down and another team will break the bank on him. Ryan Clark is solid but replaceable, same with Keisel now that we drafted Hood. Heath may be our best blocker on a shaky line on top of his value as a great pass catching tight end. He also is rarely injured and this will only be his fifth year in the league.
Wayne from Columbia, SC writes: I would definitely sign Ryan Clark. He is a beast at safety and makes receivers scared to catch the ball, and that is what Steelers football is all about. I think without him last year, the defense would have been significantly worse.
AFC North final say
James Walker: The Steelers would like to re-sign at least two players off this list, but that seems unlikely before the start of the regular season. Considering money is always a factor, Clark is the AFC North blog's pick to be next in line for a new deal. Miller is in his prime but also comes with a heavier price tag -- one that might eat up nearly every bit of cap space Pittsburgh has left this year. Since teams like to have a little wiggle room entering the season due to injury -- remember the Byron Leftwich signing? -- Pittsburgh may prefer the value pick in Clark.
Thanks to everyone for participating. If you have any future "Thought of the Day" topics, feel free to send to the AFC North inbox.