The Best Is Yet To Come - By Tim Bodamer

Steelers Fever Exclusive Editorial

Crazy as it sounds, the Pittsburgh Steelers may be the team of the future, regardless if they end up playing in Jacksonville and the Super Bowl at the end of this season.

The Steelers, at 10-1 and who've dropped the NFL's other two heavies, the Patriots and Eagles, have a ferocious defense, great running game, and rookie quarterback sensation Ben Roethlisberger. Their coaching staff may be the best in the league, and they are doing it all without drawing huge money free agents or rebuilding from scratch.

That being said, despite all of the Steelers' successes this year, next year could be even better if their ducks line up in a proverbial NFL row.

Next season, the Steelers offense will have a more seasoned Roethlisberger. They will have guard Kendall Simmons back in the mix.

They have an opportunity to draft a pass catching tight end in the first or second round (doesn't Virginia's Health Miller sound enticing), and they will return virtually with their whole offense.

The negatives, Plaxico Burress is a free agent, as is guard Keydrick Vincent and tackle Oliver Ross. So, the Steelers, who have already promised a restructuring of all-pro wide receiver Hines Ward's contract before next year, might have trouble signing both receivers.

Here are my thoughts: Put the franchise tag on Burress, lock up Ward, sign Ross to a one-year deal and take your chances with Simmons.

Vincent, a find and savior at guard when Simmons went down, will be the victim of free agency.

If Simmons comes back healthy, the Steelers will upgrade their position. Ross, meanwhile, will keep the right tackle seat warm until rookie Max Starks is ready to take over. Starks has made huge strides since training camp. The third-rounder from Florida State could blossom into an all-pro tackle some day.

Defensively, the Steelers found out what depth they really had. Chad Scott, Casey Hampton, and Kendrell Bell all succumb to major injuries. But all three were replaced virtually without missing a beat. Willie Williams filled Scott's spot at one corner, Hampton was replaced by Chris Hoke (who proved a better pass rusher), and Bell's absence hasn't been missed thanks to Larry Foote's play. What does that mean in 2005? Hampton has a quality backup in Hoke, and Bell and Scott, both big money players, will be searching for work. Add the ongoing development of cornerbacks Ricardo Colclough and Ike Taylor (surrounding starter Deshea Townsend), and safeties Troy Polamalu and Chris Hope, and the Steelers might have their best secondary since their last Super Bowl in the mid 1990s.

I'm not a capologist, so I don't know how releasing Scott, Bell and Vincent might free up some cap room. I do know Roethlisberger isn't being paid like Peyton Manning, Duce Staley isn't being paid like Priest Holmes, and Foote isn't getting paid like Brian Urlacher.

That might free some room for the Steelers to shore up one or two positions: the aforementioned tight end, defensive end, or inside or outside linebacker.

What is known is that this team is young, solid in the key positions and growing. And in the age of here today, gone tomorrow, the Steelers might be setting up shop atop the AFC for years to come.