On the Steelers: Will Steelers now sign some starters?
March 7, 2016 11:57 PM
The Steelers have come to terms with Darrius Heyward-Bey on a three-year contract.
The Steelers' Robert Golden intercepts pass in the Dec. 13 game against the Bengals in Cincinnati.
By Ed Bouchette / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Now that the Steelers have signed their No. 3 safety and No. 4 wide receiver from 2015, can they come to terms with a starter or two before they become unrestricted free agents at 4 p.m. Wednesday?
It was good for them to wrap up safety Robert Golden and wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey to three-year contracts Monday. Since they have few safeties with much experience under contract, Golden for the moment would be considered their starter.
Heyward-Bey, though, is no better than their No. 4 receiver — ahead of Sammie Coates for now. His signing might reflect the tenuous situation of Martavis Bryant, who was suspended four games to start the 2015 season for reported multiple marijuana violations. If he is caught again, he faces a 10-game suspension.
So the Steelers held onto some depth at each position with those two signings, but there remain the positions of cornerback and offensive line. Their two starting cornerbacks and the No. 4 man all will become unrestricted free agents Wednesday — William Gay and Antwon Blake along with Brandon Boykin. They previously re-signed No. 3 corner Ross Cockrell.
In the meantime, 40 percent of their starting line, the entire left side, will be free to sign elsewhere Wednesday. They have been negotiating for new contracts with tackle Kelvin Beachum and Ramon Foster but with one day left before free agency, they have not come to terms.
Beachum has been their starting left tackle since 2013, although his 2015 season ended in the sixth game because of a torn knee ligament. Alejandro Villanueva did such a good enough job as his replacement that the Steelers could decide to keep him there and let Beachum go. They drafted Beachum, who turns 27 in June, in the seventh round in 2012 from SMU.
Foster, 30, has been a starting guard since 2010, when he opened 12 games because of injuries. The Steelers signed him as an undrafted free agent in 2009 from Tennessee, where he played right tackle. He became even more valuable last season with the loss of Beachum and Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey to a preseason injury and he helped the two new starters on each side of him.
Teams were permitted to begin negotiating with impending free agents from other franchises Monday but cannot actually sign one until 4 p.m. Wednesday.
Golden gets noticed
Golden now moves up to depth-chart starter at strong safety along with Mike Mitchell at free safety, for the time being at least. They would hope to find a free agent to either take that job away or draft one to compete with Golden, 25. He started three games at strong safety in 2015, his fourth with the Steelers, and played in all 16 games and their two in the playoffs.
He was selected as the special-teams captain the past two seasons and signed a one-year, $1.5 million tender as a restricted free agent last year. Golden first signed with the Steelers as an undrafted free agent from the University of Arizona in 2012. He has played in every game but one, as a rookie, since then.
While he first made the roster for his special-teams play, he increasingly has impressed his coaches as a backup safety. He played 35 percent of the team’s defensive snaps last season.
The Steelers now have four safeties with various NFL experience under contract — Golden, Mitchell and backups Shamarko Thomas and Ross Ventrone. Veteran Will Allen, 34, will become a free agent Wednesday if the Steelers do not sign him.
Heyward-Bey caught 21 passes for 214 yards and two touchdowns with the Steelers last season variously as their No. 3 or 4 wide receiver, depending on injuries. He joined them as a free agent in 2014 and excelled on special teams the past two seasons.
The Oakland Raiders drafted him with the seventh overall pick in 2009. He played with Indianapolis in 2013 before joining the Steelers.
Heyward-Bey’s deal gives the Steelers their complete complement of wide receivers back from last season — starters Antonio Brown and Markus Wheaton, Bryant and Sammie Coates all under contract.
The NFL Players Association issued an update on each team’s salary cap, with which teams must be in compliance by Wednesday. The Steelers cap for 2016 is $157,628,978, which has been adjusted for the carryover room left unused from 2015.
A team source told the Post-Gazette they were about $8.5 million under the salary cap on their top 51 contracts after the adjustment and after the removal of the retired Heath Miller’s $4 million salary.
That was before they signed Golden and Heyward-Bey to their new deals.
While the top 51 contracts count throughout the offseason, once the regular season begins each team’s full roster counts against the cap — the 53-man roster along with those on injured reserve and the practice squad.
Ed Bouchette:email@example.com and Twitter @EdBouchette.
Correction, posted March 8, 2016: An earlier version had incorrect information. The Steelers drafted Kelvin Beachum in the seventh round in 2012 from SMU.
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