PITTSBURGH -- It is not something he will have to confront right after the season ends but a decision Brett Keisel dreads may be on the horizon.
And the dilemma the veteran defensive end potentially faces is this: Retire so he doesn’t have to leave Pittsburgh or finish his career elsewhere since Keisel feels like he still has some good years left in him.
“I don’t think I could wear any other colors,” Keisel said. “I’m a Steeler.”
He is also a competition junkie, which is why it won’t be easy for Keisel to walk away from football if the Steelers decide that he is no longer in their plans.
Keisel’s situation is a complicated one, and it has little to do with his standing as one of the most respected Steelers -- as well as a fan favorite because of his blue-collar ethos and the beard that has made him something of a cult figure in Pittsburgh.
Keisel is in the final year of his contract, and he fits the profile of the kind of veteran that the Steelers have released or not re-signed in the past two offseasons. As much as he has meant to the organization, Keisel is in his 12th NFL season and he is 35 years old.
The Steelers need to get younger on defense, but they also need a viable replacement at right defensive end if they decide against bringing Keisel back.
Ziggy Hood is the obvious choice to take Keisel’s spot. But he is also in the final year of his contract so there is no guarantee the former first-round draft pick will return to the Steelers.
If there is any veteran the Steelers should consider bring back for one more season it is Keisel. His play has not slipped appreciably despite his age, and he had been leading the Steelers in quarterback hurries before getting sidelined by plantar fasciitis.
Keisel is the undisputed leader of the defensive line, a player who is held up as a model to younger ones by position coach John Mitchell. And he would likely agree to the kind of short-term contract that would be favorable to the Steelers and allow him to finish his career in Pittsburgh.
What is working against Keisel, aside from the encroachment of age, is recent history.
Hines Ward, James Farrior, Aaron Smith and Casey Hampton are among the veterans the Steelers released or didn’t re-sign over the past two years. If Keisel is among the next to go will he follow those players in retiring instead of trying to play for another team?
It’s a decision Keisel hopes to put off as long as possible.
“I still feel like I’m a good player,” Keisel said, “and I still love competing. What’s hardest for me in the offseason is when I don’t have something that I’m competing in all the time because I’ve been doing this for so long. That’s what probably scares me most about not having this every day is finding something that I can get an adrenaline rush from.”