James Harrison helped bring back the big trophy. Now, will he get the big contract?
By Ed Bouchette Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
And now, back to the reality of preparing for another football season.
The Super Bowl victory celebration will be put on hold for at least a small group of people today when the Steelers' coaching staff and scouts gather at their UPMC training center to map their plans for free agency.
The next football parade involving Steelers will be those who pass through their doors starting Feb. 27, when free agency begins.
As usual, the Steelers must make some difficult decisions not only on which of their free agents they will try to keep and how much to offer them and those on other teams they want to pitch, but also which of their players under contract in 2009 they might want to extend deals and which ones they might want to let go.
Joey Porter was under contract two years ago right until the time the Steelers released him to save about $5 million and make room for James Harrison at outside linebacker.
Now Harrison has one year left on his contract and the two sides have talked about a new one. Harrison, the NFL's defensive player of the year whose stunning 100-yard interception return helped the Steelers win Super Bowl XLIII, is in for a huge raise in pay.
"I was hoping we'd get $100," his Pittsburgh agent, Bill Parise, said with a laugh yesterday from Honolulu, where he joined Harrison for this week's Pro Bowl activities.
Harrison, who signed his current contract before the 2006 season when he was a backup linebacker, has been among the game's best bargains the past two years, perhaps the best. He earned a $1.2 million salary the past season and $1.1 million in 2007, his first as a starter. He led them in sacks both years and set their record with 16 this season. He is set to make $1.4 million next season. Those figures do not include any incentives he might have picked up.
"We have had discussions, not negotiated, but we have talked," Parise said. "I think the Steelers and I are on the same page. We don't think there will be any issues. My goal and, I think, theirs is the same. We know what we need to do and we'll both go about the business of trying to get it done."
Parise believes a deal can be wrapped up fairly quickly.
"I'm not worried about the Steelers at all. Their history shows they do the right thing at the right time."
The Steelers have many players in Harrison's spot, entering the final years of their contracts, and most of them likely want extensions. Traditionally, the Steelers look to negotiate extensions before a player enters the final year of his deal, but they don't do it with all of those players.
The list involves more big-name players than their pending free agents. Among other starters or longtime veterans with one year left on their contracts are wide receiver Hines Ward, defensive end Brett Keisel, tight end Heath Miller, safety Ryan Clark, kicker Jeff Reed, nose tackle Casey Hampton, cornerback Deshea Townsend and linebacker Larry Foote.
No doubt, they will try to extend the contracts of some.
"He certainly merits consideration'' said Keisel's agent, Eric Metz.
They will have to make tougher decisions on others.
For example, Larry Foote could be this year's Porter. He has one year left on a contract that will pay him $2,885,000, not outlandish for a starting linebacker. However, he has Lawrence Timmons behind him, and the No. 1 draft choice in 2007 is ready to start. Do they keep Foote one more year at that salary, even if they promote Timmons to that spot? Ask him to take a cut, and release him if he does not? Sources close to Foote say he will not accept a cut in pay.
Foote is a good man to have around, and with Timmons gave the Steelers plenty of flexibility at linebacker. This also is a team that paid Max Starks $6.9 million as a "backup" and look how that turned out.
All that does not even count their unrestricted free agents: Starks, Bryant McFadden, Marvel Smith, Nate Washington, Chris Kemoeatu, Trai Essex, Charlie Batch, Byron Leftwich, Keyaron Fox, Andre Frazier, Orpheus Roye, Mitch Berger and Fernando Bryant.
Some, like Berger, won't receive an offer. Some won't receive one until they look at other offers in free agency. Some will receive offers before Feb. 27.
The Steelers also must decide which restricted free agents to offer tenders and how much. The most notable is starting right tackle Willie Colon.
Ed Bouchette can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.