Steelers Notebook: Money is the reason Burress didn't return

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In the end, the Steelers really could not afford to sign Plaxico Burress, not when they are scrambling to get under the salary cap.

So Burress decided to return to the city where he used to play, but it wasn't with the New York Giants. He is back in New York with the Jets, where he joins another former Steelers receiver, Santonio Holmes.

The Jets announced Burress had reached an agreement in principle on a one-year contract on Sunday, one day after he had a brief courtship with the Steelers at their Saint Vincent College training camp.

"He was one of the guys," said inside linebacker Larry Foote, one of Burress' friends on the team. "When you got a quarterback like Ben [Roethlisberger] and this organization, he was serious about returning. But I'm quite sure it came down to money."

ESPN reported Burress signed a deal worth $3,017,000 -- all of it guaranteed -- with the Jets. The Steelers, who are struggling to get under the cap of roughly $120 million, were not in position to offer Burress a similar deal to return.

The Steelers did not want to sign Burress to a one-year deal and were seeking some type of multi-year arrangement.

"He really wanted to come here I know," said backup quarterback Byron Leftwich, who had been working out with Burress and was one of the players who had lunch with him on Saturday. "He loved coach [Mike] Tomlin and he really enjoyed his time here. You didn't have to sell him on returning."

"I think he was really considering it," said linebacker James Farrior, another Burress friend. "It was one of his main options. When you get guys of his caliber, you don't want them to leave the building [without offering a contract]."

Burress will be 34 on Aug. 12 and was recently released from prison after serving 20 months on a gun possession charge. He played five seasons with the Steelers, catching 261 passes for 4,164 yards and 22 touchdowns, before signing in free agency with the Giants after the 2004 season.

The Steelers wanted to bring him back as their No. 3 receiver and a big target in the red zone.

Now, his second chance at the NFL comes with a team that was interested in him a few years ago before he went to prison.

Burress met with the Steelers on Saturday after sitting down with Giants coach Tom Coughlin on Friday. Burress mentioned he would be interested in playing for several teams, including the Jets. But it appears Burress was going to sign with the Jets all along because he didn't need to meet with general manager Mike Tannenbaum and coach Rex Ryan to make his decision.

"I think it would have been pretty sweet," wide receiver Mike Wallace said about the possibility of playing with Burress. "We would have had to spread it out a little more, but I would have welcomed him with open arms and found a spot for him. We would have been excited about it."

Gay agrees to contract

The Steelers made sure they retained their top three cornerbacks from last season when they agreed to a one-year contract with nickel back William Gay.

Gay, a restricted free agent, cannot begin practicing with the team until Thursday under the new rules set forth by the league. Punter Daniel Sepulveda also agreed to a one-year contract.

With those players out of the way, the Steelers will try to get contracts for quarterback Dennis Dixon, a restricted free agent, and running back Mewelde Moore, an unrestricted free agent, as early as today.

Also, former New England Patriots tight end Daniel Graham, who visited the team Saturday, left without signing a contract. He is going to visit other teams. The Steelers are looking for a No. 2 tight end to replace Matt Spaeth, who signed with the Bears.

New rules

The Steelers practiced in pads for the first time Sunday, part of the new player-safety rules that restrict padded practices in training camp and the regular season.

Two-a-day practices in pads have been eliminated at camp by all NFL teams and only 14 practices in pads can be held during the regular season. Teams are restricted to one practice in pads per week for the first 11 weeks, then just one practice in pads in three of the final five weeks of the regular season.

Pro Bowl nose tackle Casey Hampton believes the restrictions will extend his career.

"Guys are going to play 15 years easy, now; I definitely feel that way," Hampton said. "Because the way practices and things are set up ... Mike [Tomlin] always has done a great job in the past taking care of us. But it's even better now.

"I couldn't even imagine if I came in under his system. If I'd been playing this long, I can't imagine how much better my body would feel."

Hampton begins his 11th NFL season since being a No. 1 pick in 2001 and often comes out of the game in the Steelers' nickel and dime defensive packages. He believes the new rules will benefit the Steelers, who have eight defensive starters who are 30 or older.

"If you can stay healthy, you never know how long you can play," Hampton said. "We got a lot of older guys. We build our team through the draft. We don't bring a lot of new guys in or things like that. We've always been a close team and we've always had guys around who know the way we do things. I think it's a lot easier for us than other teams."

Who's that 78?

Ben Roethlisberger wore the No. 78 jersey number of former teammate Max Starks during the afternoon practice. Roethlisberger did it as a tribute to his former starting left tackle, who was released last week.

"We were the last two of our draft class," Roethlisberger said. "Max's locker was next to mine for seven, eight years. I wore it in honor of Max. I'm not going to [discount] the possibility he might not come back. Who knows?"

Injury update

Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (foot), tackle Marcus Gilbert (hamstring), wide receiver Limas Sweed (hamstring), cornerback Crezdon Butler (quad) and cornerback Keenan Lewis (heat-related illness) did not practice. ... Because the players are off today, coach Mike Tomlin put them through a 2 1/2 hour practice in the heat. "Nothing wrong with getting a little work in," Tomlin said. The Steelers will resume practice Tuesday. The afternoon session at 2:55 p.m. is open to the public.

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