But a freshly shaved Keisel gave a strong indication Wednesday night that he will return for another season if the Steelers want him back.
“I’ve been preparing for when that day comes, and by 'that day' I mean the end,” Keisel told reporters at his Shear Da Beard charity event. “But right now I’m under contract and I’m going to rehab and see (how) things turn out.”
Keisel’s 13th NFL season ended in late November when he tore his triceps in the Steelers’ 35-32 loss to the New Orleans Saints. The injury and his advanced football age raised questions about whether the 36-year-old Keisel has played his last down for the Steelers.
The Steelers’ change in defensive coordinator from Dick LeBeau to Keith Butler cast more uncertainty on the future of Keisel and a handful of veterans.
But, much like veteran outside linebacker James Harrison, Keisel proved he could still play last season after the Steelers re-signed him in August.
Keisel finished fourth on the Steelers with 12 quarterback pressures despite missing the last four games. He also batted down six passes and made his second career interception.
Rookie Stephon Tuitt emerged after Keisel went down, and the 2014 second-round draft pick has the look of a cornerstone player. But Keisel had to accept a part-time role when he returned last season, and the Steelers don’t have much at defensive end behind Tuitt and Cameron Heyward.
Keisel and Cam Thomas are each signed for one more season, and if it comes down to a choice between the two, it's close to a no-brainer to bring Keisel back.
Thomas is younger and also plays nose tackle. But Keisel outplayed him in 2014 and Thomas' position flexibility isn't as valuable since the Steelers already have a pair of nose tackles in Steve McLendon and Daniel McCullers, who will play more in 2015 if he makes the improvement coach Mike Tomlin expects from players in their second NFL seasons.
Whatever the Steelers decide to do, Keisel seems at peace with what happens next.
“It’s getting close,” he said of retirement. “That’s the way this business goes.”