It takes a lot to bring a big, tough, NFL lineman to tears. In Maurkice Pouncey’s case, it took $48 million.
That’s what Pouncey will earn over the next six years after the Steelers tore up the final year of his rookie contract and signed him to a new one that will keep him as their center through the 2019 season.
Pouncey, the only center to make the Pro Bowl in his first three NFL seasons, earned his new deal nine months after a torn anterior cruciate ligament caused him to miss all but the first offensive series of the 2013 season.
Pouncey talks about long-term deal with Steelers
Maurkice Pouncey, the Steelers' center, talks about the new six-year contract he signed to remain with the franchise. (Video by Andrew Rush; 6/12/2014)
Roethlisberger weighs in on Pouncey contract
The PG's Ed Bouchette offers details on the Steelers' announcement that center Maurkice Pouncey has signed a new six-year contract. It's a move that pleased quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. (Video by Andrew Rush; 6/12/2014)
He teared up while reflecting on it all at a news conference Wednesday.
“Words can’t explain that…the organization, the loyalty they showed with this new contract,” Pouncey said in his emotional response. “There’s a lot of love here.”
His agent, Joel Segal, and Steelers negotiator Omar Khan struck the deal that will pay Pouncey $20.25 million in total bonus money — a $13 million signing bonus and the rest in roster bonuses. The Steelers, however, created about $100,000 in salary cap room for 2014 because the new deal reduces Pouncey’s salary for this season to $1 million.
His signing prompted some words of joy, if not tears, from his teammates.
“We’re more excited than he is about it,” guard Ramon Foster said. “He’s worked his butt off. It’s good to see his hard work has come around to him. We’re glad to have him back and the team commit to him like that.”
Added quarterback Ben Roethlisberger: “He’s a leader on this team, to me the best center in the game. I’m so happy he’s going to be around here. I won’t have to worry about another [Pouncey] signing hopefully for the rest of my career.”
After making the Pro Bowl his first three seasons, Pouncey’s fourth ended abruptly when he left the first offensive series of the 2013 opener with a torn ACL. He worked out at the Steelers facility to rehabilitate the injury after the season and has not missed a spring practice.
“I knew they had been working on it. It’s well-deserved. He put in all the hard work, and hard work pays off,” his linemate and fellow Florida alum Marcus Gilbert said. “He knows now that he has the deal behind him he can just go play without thinking about anything, not worry injuries, just go out there and play football, the game he loves.”
Technically, Cleveland’s Alex Mack remains the highest-paid center on average per year with a contract that is worth $42 million over five years, a contract that also is voidable after three. But no one seemed to care who technically is the highest-paid center in the NFL, particularly Pouncey.
“I’m just glad to be a Pittsburgh Steeler, to be honest with you guys,” Pouncey said as tears flowed and he continued talking in a halting manner.
“I’ll do anything for this team. … I’m trying not to bust out crying, so it’s hard to really talk right now.”
Pouncey missed three regular-season games and two in the postseason his first three years because of an ankle injury and then a minor knee injury. On the first series of last season, when the Steelers were using their new zone-blocking scheme, right guard David DeCastro pulled and dived to his left to make a block and instead struck Pouncey.
The hit caused the ACL injury that Pouncey said is fully healed, although he has been getting Thursdays off from practice this spring while continuing to rehab the knee. When first hurt, in the 2013 opener against Tennessee Sept. 8 at Heinz Field, he had dark thoughts.
“I didn’t think I was ever going to be able to walk again.”
But now …
“I’m totally fine. I’m doing everything that’s possible.”
What makes Pouncey so valuable in the Steelers’ scheme of things?
“He’s incredibly athletic, very smart, but he puts the work in,” Roethlisberger said. “He’s here constantly, bugging the coaches to watch more film and talk about things. His work ethic is tremendous.
“As athletic as he is, you can pull him and you can do so many things with him. That group up front is a special group as it is, and he’s kind of the glue that holds them all together.”
They are Worilds apart
The Steelers are having a much tougher time getting another key player to commit to a new deal. They made linebacker Jason Worilds a multiyear contract offer earlier this year, although no details could be determined. His side did not accept it, and sources have said it will be the last, best offer from the team.
Worilds has a guaranteed $9.7 million contract for this season as their transition player. He could become an unrestricted free agent in 2015. He missed all but the first spring practice with a calf injury, although he has been running and working out.
Sepulveda pays a visit
Former Steelers punter Daniel Sepulveda, 30, took in practice Thursday and said he has a tryout scheduled with the New York Jets. Sepulveda was done in by three ACL tears in his five years with the Steelers that ended with the 2011 season and has not played since.
Ed Bouchette: email@example.com and Twitter @EdBouchette. First Published June 12, 2014 10:10 AM