Wide receiver Hines Ward, defensive end Antonio Smith and linebacker James Farrior have all been told they will not be returning to the Steelers in 2012. Though Tomlin appreciated all three, he said the time was right to move on.
"You try to remove emotion from it more than anything, but that's a difficult thing to do," Tomlin told the team's official website. "These guys have made a lot of plays for us. They've provided great leadership. They've been significant members of teams that have been very successful. As human beings, we all feel that and acknowledge that. When it comes to making the decision, it has to be football-based, with the building of the team moving forward."
With younger players ready to move into the vacancies created by the veterans' departures, Tomlin looked forward to giving attention to some of the more notable players.
"Thankfully for us, we feel comfortable with the guys who we have in position to play for those guys," Tomlin said, "and in most instances those (departing veterans) have missed a significant amount of time, even this past season, so we have seen those replacements play above the line football already. When you're talking about Larry Foote and Ziggy Hood and Antonio Brown, we've seen what those guys are capable of doing for us, so there's less guesswork."
Tomlin said he was not concerned by a new leadership dynamic on the team.
"I would refer to it as a leadership transition (instead of a leadership void)," explained Tomlin. "The plays are going to be made, the leadership is going to be provided, and there's a certain uncomfortable element of that because the reality is that it's going to come from someplace new. Someplace different. Maybe even exciting. It might even be surprising. I don't fear that. I embrace that."