The Steelers often make more news for players who leave them than those they sign, and they did it again on the eve of free agency.
Yesterday, they waived their starting right guard Kendall Simmons, not only reducing their salary-cap room but making it clearer they need an infusion of offensive linemen, pronto.
Simmons has been a starter since the Steelers drafted him in the first round in 2002, but was placed on injured reserve after the fourth game of last season with a torn Achilles tendon. He spent all 2004 on injured reserve as well.
By releasing him, Simmons will count $4.71 million against their 2009 salary cap instead of the $4.67 million he would have counted had he remained on their roster. While they rid themselves of his $3.1 million salary, the annual $1.57 million amortization of his signing bonus through 2011 now comes due in full and counts against their 2009 cap.
Simmons signed a four-year contract extension just before the start of the 2007 season. The total of the five-year deal was worth $24 million and included a $7.85 million signing bonus. Eighteen months later, they released him.
That also means they have one experienced guard under contract today, Darnell Stapleton. Left guard Chris Kemoeatu is an unrestricted free agent as is backup guard-tackle Trai Essex.
The Steelers also released linebacker Mike Humpal and, in essence, said goodbye to safety Anthony Smith.
They issued one-year contract tenders to three restricted free agents -- offensive tackle Willie Colon, fullback/tight end Sean McHugh and cornerback Anthony Madison.
Smith, a third-round draft pick in 2006, did not receive a tender and became an unrestricted free agent.
By tendering the three players, the Steelers retained their right to match any offer they might receive. Colon received a tender of $2,198,000, which means if he signed elsewhere and the Steelers did not match, they would receive a first-round draft pick in return.
McHugh and Madison received the low tenders of $1.01 million. McHugh would bring a seventh-round pick if they did not match, but Madison would not because he was not a drafted player.
Linebacker Arnold Harrison, their other restricted free agent, did not receive a tender and will become unrestricted, as will tight end Jon Dekker, who did not receive a tender as an exclusive rights player. Dekker was arrested for obstruction of justice in Virginia the week before the Steelers left for the Super Bowl and did not make the trip. He was on injured reserve.
Two exclusive rights players received tenders: fullback Carey Davis and guard Jeremy Parquet. Neither could have become a free agent.
The Steelers could re-sign Smith, but the fact they did not even offer him a $1 million, one-year contract to protect their rights to him -- or to possibly receive a third-round pick in return for him -- shows how far he fell in their esteem. Smith, once considered a strong possibility to become their starting free safety, did not dress for any of the three postseason games.
The 2009 calendar year began at 12:01 a.m. today, when teams could begin signing free agents. The Steelers usually prefer to wait at least until a few days before they begin looking over some of the players available. They are, however, likely to lose some of their own free agents quickly. Among those considered prime targets by others in free agency are Kemoeatu, cornerback Bryant McFadden and wide receiver Nate Washington.