Najeh Davenport made it appear the Steelers might not miss injured Willie Parker when he rushed for 123 yards and caught a 32-yard pass on a fake punt in a Week 15 victory last season in St. Louis.
He also started the American Football Conference wild-card playoff game against the Jacksonville Jaguars and scored two touchdowns.
But, after the Steelers signed veteran Mewelde Moore in free agency and, more important, drafted running back Rashard Mendenhall with the No. 1 pick, Davenport dropped on the depth chart and no longer fit into the team's plans -- especially when he was due to earn $1 million in base salary in 2008.
After trying to trade him, the Steelers released Davenport, 29, yesterday, ending a two-year relationship with the 252-pound running back who never quite became the battering-ram runner the team envisioned when they signed him as a free agent at the beginning of the 2006 season.
The Steelers released three other players to cut the roster to 82: Safety Mike Lorello of West Virginia, who spent parts of two seasons on the practice squad; first-year long-snapper Jared Retkofsky and rookie offensive lineman Doug Legursky. The Steelers must get to 80 players before training camp starts July 27.
The arrival of Mendenhall, a 225-pound running back from Illinois, dropped Davenport to at least the No. 3 back on the roster. And the signing of Moore, a running back/kick-returner with the Minnesota Vikings, likely eliminated any chance Davenport would again return kicks in 2008 -- a role he performed in 2006 when he averaged 21.3 yards on 21 returns.
There is another reason Davenport was released: The Steelers did not want to part with Gary Russell, a second-year free agent whom the coaches think can develop into a top-notch NFL running back.
Davenport was a fourth-round draft choice of the Green Bay Packers in 2002 who was used mainly as a backup to Ahman Green. In his first NFL start, he rushed for a career-high 178 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries against the St. Louis Rams on Monday Night Football -- the third-highest total by a player making his first start in 20 years.
In two seasons with the Steelers, Davenport rushed for 763 yards and seven touchdowns on 175 carries and caught 33 passes for 394 yards and three touchdowns.
Gerry Dulac can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1466.