Steelers: Foote's return would provide flexibility at linebacker

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Larry Foote grew up in Detroit and played in college at Michigan, so his desire to return to his hometown last year was understandable.

So is his desire to return to the Steelers. Especially after one season with the Detroit Lions, who followed the NFL's first winless season in 32 years by winning two games in 2009.

One year after leaving the Steelers because he did not want to be a backup, Foote will visit his former team today and, if he passes a morning physical, likely sign a multi-year contract that will continue what has been a flurry of free-agent activity for the Steelers the past eight days.

If Foote signs a contract, he would be the fifth unrestricted free agent signed by the Steelers since last Monday, a busy period of activity in which the team also re-signed free safety Ryan Clark to a four-year, $14 million contract that included a $3 million signing bonus. Foote also would be the second former Steeler to be reunited with his old team, joining wide receiver Antwaan Randle El, who returned after a four-year absence.

Curiously, none of those five unrestricted free agents were brought in to be starters or even considered potential starters, unless there is an injury.

That includes Foote, who will be 30 in June. He will provide depth at inside linebacker, give the Steelers a proven run-stopper and create some flexibility if there were an injury at outside linebacker -- a scenario that would allow the team to move inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons to the outside.

Foote met last week with the Washington Redskins, where former Steelers defensive assistant Lou Spanos is the new linebacker coach; and also with the Arizona Cardinals, where he would be reunited with several former Steelers coaches and players, including head coach Ken Whisenhunt and former linebacker mate Clark Haggans.

But, in each instance, Foote was allowed to leave without signing a contract, something that is not expected to happen with the Steelers, pending a physical.

Foote started all 16 regular-season games in each of his past five seasons with the Steelers and the first 14 with the Lions, extending his streak to 94 in a row. But he missed the last two games of the 2009 season with a foot injury.

Foote met with reporters in Arizona and said he wanted to play for a winning team again. Some of his former teammates with the Steelers said Foote was so discouraged in Detroit that he wasn't the same verbose, outgoing player he was in Pittsburgh.

"I'm begging. I want to get back to a winner," Foote said after meeting with the Cardinals. "I feel more comfortable with a 3-4 [defense]. Pittsburgh wants me back but I want to be a Cardinal and hopefully we can get it done.

"First of all, they're winning. I know 'Whiz'. I know his pedigree, what type of coach he is, the talent they have here. They have a good chance of going back to the Super Bowl."


Gerry Dulac: gdulac@post-gazette.com .


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