The Steelers granted linebacker Larry Foote his wish and released him yesterday, but made it sound as if it were a move made because of salary-cap pressures.
Foote, who turns 29 next month, had one year left on his contract with a salary of $2,885,000 that now does not exist. Rampant speculation has him headed to his hometown of Detroit, where he could become the Lions' starting middle linebacker.
"Larry has been a big part of our success, but, unfortunately, the realities of the salary cap made this decision inevitable," Kevin Colbert, the Steelers' director of football operations, said in a statement. "We wish Larry and his family nothing but the best as he moves forward with his career."
Foote's release, however, came after he asked the Steelers to move him and long after they normally would have released a player to clear salary-cap room. In 2007, for example, they released linebacker Joey Porter before the March free-agency period began.
The Steelers never asked Foote to take a cut in salary, and coach Mike Tomlin said earlier that he wanted him back.
Foote has started every game since 2004 at inside linebacker but usually did not play on passing downs. Last season, when the Steelers used their nickel defense, Lawrence Timmons replaced him. Foote cited his limited role as an early down player, and his apparent belief that Timmons, their first-round draft pick in 2007, would start this coming season prompted his request.
"I was stuck in a role," Foote said. "It's nothing personal."
He wants to sign with a team where he has a chance to start and play on all downs. The team that seems most suited to that is Detroit, which needs a strong starting linebacker in its 4-3 defense. Foote has said he would like to return to play in Detroit, which became the first NFL team to go 0-16 last season.
Sean McHugh, a tight end/fullback, joined the Steelers last summer after Detroit released him. He said it was the best thing to happen to him, but also understood why Foote would want to leave a Super Bowl champ to go to a winless team.
"He's been in a position where he's got a couple of Super Bowl rings and he's made a decision in his life -- what makes his life better is to be back home," McHugh said. "He has a wife and children and, from his point of view, he's been to the highest level, been part of this.
"The other side of it, too, a guy like Larry might say, 'OK, I've been there and now I can go and put my stamp on another team and try to help get another team there. It's kind of a new beginning for him and being at home. Maybe he's thinking, hey, it's time to do it somewhere else now."
Foote did not attend the Steelers' mandatory minicamp last week, and Tomlin called it a mutual agreement. The coach said Foote would not be fined.
Ed Bouchette can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .