Steelers president Art Rooney II said it is "not a fun part of the business" when he has to release a five-time Pro Bowl player who, among other things, helped his team win Super Bowl XLIII with a spectacular 100-yard interception return.
But he also said the Steelers face difficult roster decisions every year, such as cutting linebacker James Harrison, and that this offseason is no more dire or critical than recent ones.
Harrison, the NFL's defensive player of the year in 2008, was released last week when he refused to take a pay cut on the $6.56 million salary he was due in 2013.
That was followed on Wednesday by the release of guard Willie Colon, who started only 12 games since 2010 because of injuries and was scheduled to make $5.5 million this season.
"It's not easy," Rooney said Thursday. "It's not a part of the job you enjoy, having to say goodbye to players like that who meant that much to us and had contributed that much to our success."
In addition to releasing Harrison and Colon, the Steelers have already lost top receiver Mike Wallace (Miami), cornerback Keenan Lewis (New Orleans) and running back and former No. 1 draft choice Rashard Mendenhall (Arizona) in free agency. They also have not made an attempt to re-sign left tackle Max Starks and nose tackle Casey Hampton.
That follows a season in which the Steelers released three of their longtime stars -- Hines Ward, James Farrior and Aaron Smith.
But Rooney said the Steelers situation heading into the 2013 season is no more dire than past seasons.
"I don't view it as dramatically different than other years," he said. "The recent history is, we face decisions like this almost every year in terms of making decisions on players who made key contributions. I always say, every year is a new jigsaw puzzle and you have to put together the pieces the best way you can and shaping contracts is a big part of that.
"You have to have players with contracts who fit within the system. It's a challenge every year. Sometimes you have to make decision on players like we had the last couple years that are not fun decisions."
The Steelers have not been active players in free agency the past couple years, other than signing players to improve their depth, not fill starting spots. So far, their only free-agent signing has been backup quarterback Bruce Gradkowski.
"We're at that stage [where] it's just begun and we will continue to look for opportunities to improve our roster," Rooney said. "That's where we are. We'll be looking at opportunities, to extent there are some, to add players to the roster that make sense. Wherever we can improve we'll try to do so."
Gerry Dulac: email@example.com and Twitter @gerrydulac.