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As Ed Bouchette pointed out in today's PG, the Steelers are looking at a very unsure future, with nine starters becoming free agents at the end of the season, and little cap rooom to work with.

The pending UFAs following the 2009 campaign include tight end Heath Miller, halfback Willie Parker, nose tackle Casey Hampton, defensive end Brett Keisel, tackles Max Starks and Willie Colon, free safety Ryan Clark, center Justin Hartwig and kicker Jeff Reed.

Bouchette thinks the Steelers' first priorities will be Miller, Reed, and Clark, because of the drop-off in depth at their respective positions. The team wants to sign Starks to a long-term deal, but that's looking more and more like an impossibility, mostly because he would command a signing bonus in the $15 million range.

The one bit of good news is that a new CBA could be reached before next year's free agency period, which would convert players such as Miller and Colon into RFAs instead of UFAs. Teams would be allowed to franchise two players instead of one, which means they could potentially keep Miller, Colon, and two franchisees.

But even in that best-case scenario, the Steelers will probably have to replace no fewer than five starters in 2010. They've already started preparing for this day with draft picks like Rashard Mendenhall and Ziggy Hood, so expect the team's starting nucleus to get much younger and more cap-friendly in a hurry.

Bouchette on the Steelers: Team on a budget [PG]

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