Forward thinking helps Steelers win despite losing key players

One of the greatest strengths of the Pittsburgh Steelers is their ability to self-scout. I'm not sure any team does it better.

They're always proactive at locking up rising stars well before they reach age 30. They grasp the realities of their small-market origins and are adept at knowing when to let a veteran walk if the price is too high.

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It's why many believe corner Ike Taylor will move on for greener pastures once free agency begins and why someone like LaMarr Woodley has little reason to worry about the franchise tag (he'll get that Terrell Suggs/DeMarcus Ware contract in due time; he isn't going anywhere).

The ability to juggle a roster and adroitly hash out free-agent money isn't easy. But the Steelers get it. You can go back to them parting ways with aging free agents Greg Lloyd and Kevin Greene. Their expert ownership, stability, family values, and unsurpassed tradition of championships help explain why players and coaches are so often willing to give Pittsburgh a true hometown discount.

The Steelers know their dominant front seven will allow lesser corners to hold up in coverage, and they also have one of the best safety tandems in the NFL to help out. Investing huge in a corner now doesn't make sense, which means with Taylor now 31, it's likely the Steelers will make a difficult, but astute, decision on the veteran.

The Steelers also are proactive in terms of roster overhaul and have already begun to fortify positions where stars will be moving on. In two years, James Harrison will be 35 and set to make roughly $7 million; with Woodley then into what projects to be a massive deal and this year's top pick, Cam Heyward, providing some explosion off the edge, the Steelers should be equipped to hold up without Harrison.

The Steelers know that in the front three, Aaron Smith, Brett Keisel and Casey Hampton are all getting older. Within two years, lots of change could be going on there as well. But in true Steelers fashion, that change has already begun. Ziggy Hood was a monster last year after getting more reps in his second season and he can play all over the defensive line. Throw in Heyward, and they could be well on their way.

On offense, Hines Ward is a year-to-year guy at this point in his career; Mike Wallace has already emerged as a star, and the receivers they selected in 2010 have started to emerge.

That's why, with the Steelers, the "window of opportunity" talk doesn't really apply. They have multiple windows.

Will the Steelers contend for a Super Bowl in 2013 with Harrison and Ward and Smith and Hampton all still on the field? Highly doubtful.

But will the Steelers still be gunning for a championship with an altered and younger cast? History would suggest absolutely, yes, they will.

Follow Jason La Canfora on Twitter @JasonLaCanfora

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