Combine notebook: Steelers might try free-agent market



INDIANAPOLIS -- Might the Steelers be more active in free agency this year, especially if the salary cap rises even more to $130 million?

Steelers president Art Rooney II did not dismiss the possibility Saturday, although he said he will wait until the NFL officially announces an additional increase in the cap.

The league announced a month ago that the cap would be $126 million in 2014, an increase of $3 million from the previous season. But ESPN reported the other day that the cap is going to be increased even more, to $130 million this season, in part to keep up with the dramatic rise in quarterback salaries.

It would be among the largest increases since the salary cap was implemented in 1994. The biggest increase was $17 million, which occurred from 2005 to 2006.

If that happens, Rooney said the increase would be a "significantly bigger bump" and be welcomed by the Steelers.

"We can use a little more room," Rooney said at the NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. "But it's not something we're planning to rely on right now. We'll see what happens with it."

The Steelers have not gone into the free-agent market to get a starter since they signed safety Ryan Clark in 2006. Most of their activity has been focused on signing backups or role players.

But that could change this year when free agency begins March 11 because the Steelers have some measure of need at just about every level of their defense. Rooney said the Steelers already have begun the process and will have "our eyes open" in free agency.

"Now, being at the combine and seeing who might be available, that's when we have to see what we might be able to accomplish in the draft as opposed to what we can accomplish in free agency," Rooney said. "There are a lot of pieces to it, but you try to evaluate the best way to make them all fit."

Then Rooney added, "There are certainly some areas we need to look at."

Language hot topic

Baltimore Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said the league's competition committee, which includes Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, spent the past three days discussing the possibility of penalizing a player for using racially insensitive language on the field.

Newsome was asked if that rule would include any such comments that might be made about Missouri defensive end Michael Sam, who would be the first NFL player to openly declare he is gay.

"I don't want to get out in front of what the competition committee talked about, but we did talk about race and gender," said Newsome, a member of the eight-man committee.

Newsome said the rule possibility will be discussed further when the competition committee meets next week in Naples, Fla.

The committee will then decide if a proposal should be presented to the league owners at the their annual meeting in March in Orlando, Fla.

"With any rule that we put into play, we have to look at it from A to Z and find out what are the unintended consequences as much as the consequences," Newsome said.

"As was stated in our meetings, there are microphones everywhere. So, if something is being said. it's probably going to be captured somewhere so they would be able to have it verified if we had to."

Ravens let Rice case play out

Newsome said he has not talked to Ray Rice since the Ravens running back was arrested for allegedly attacking his girlfriend and knocking her unconscious in an Atlantic City casino.

But Newsome said he has seen the surveillance video of Rice dragging her unconscious body from an elevator and laying her on the floor "just like everybody else, and it doesn't look good."

But Newsome added, "But until we get all the facts, we will allow the process to run its course. We will let the facts determine what the consequences will be."

Newsome said the Ravens will follow whatever discipline is deemed necessary by the NFL under the league's personal-conduct policy.


Gerry Dulac: gdulac@post-gazette.com and Twitter @gerrydulac.

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