Five starters became free to seek their fortune elsewhere as left tackle Kelvin Beachum, nose tackle Steve McLendon, cornerback Antwon Blake, safety Will Allen and fullback Will Johnson became unrestricted free agents at 4 p.m., the start of the NFL’s new calendar year.
Some or all still could re-sign with the Steelers at some point.
The team also did not make a qualifying tender to restricted free agent linebacker Terence Garvin, making him unrestricted.
In the meantime, the Steelers set their sights on another team’s free agent. Ladarius Green, a young tight end with the San Diego Chargers, has been targeted by the Steelers to possibly help replace the retired Heath Miller.
Green, 25, will visit the Steelers today at their training complex on the South Side. He “is expected to sign” with the Steelers, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. A Steelers source told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that while Green is a target, he would not predict that the player would sign.
The Steelers liked the 6-6, 240-pound Green as a rookie from Louisiana Lafayette in 2012, when the Chargers drafted him in the fourth round. He has since caught 77 passes for 1,087 yards and seven touchdowns over his four seasons in San Diego.
He had his best season last year when he caught 37 passes for 429 yards and four touchdowns. He two concussions within two weeks early in the season and later injured an ankle. As a result, he missed three games in 2015.
Green, who was born in Berlin, Germany, while his parents were in the U.S. military, is considered typical of many Steelers tight ends in that he has the ability to both block and catch passes. He would join second-year player Jesse James and veteran Matt Spaeth at the position.
The Chargers re-signed tight end Antonio Gates to a two-year contract Wednesday.
Foster, 30, signed a three-year contract to remain with the Steelers Wednesday morning, saying “let’s make more memories.”
He started every game at left guard last season, his sixth as a starter on their offensive line. It might have been his best performance because he had two new starters on either side of him. Cody Wallace took over for Maurkice Pouncey after the All-Pro center was lost in the preseason with an ankle injury. Then, six games into the season, left tackle Beachum’s year ended with a torn knee ligament and he was replaced by inexperienced Alejandro Villanueva.
Beachum remained the last significant Steelers player on offense unsigned as free agency began. With Foster, the team now is paying top dollar to four of their five starting linemen. Guard David DeCastro had his $8 million option year picked up for 2016 and should sign a long-term deal before the season begins; Pouncey and right tackle Marcus Gilbert are on multiple-year deals.
If the Steelers do not re-sign Beachum at some point, Villanueva will remain their starting left tackle. Mike Adams, their second-round draft pick in 2013, would have become an unrestricted free agent Wednesday but because he spent all of last season on the physically unable to perform list, it did not count as a year toward free agency. He thus has one year left under contract. Adams had back surgery last summer and he did not recover as well or as quickly as he and the team had hoped. If healthy, he could become the No. 3 offensive tackle.
The Steelers signed four players over the past two days before they could become free agents: Starters Foster and cornerback William Gay, and backups Robert Golden at safety and Darrius Heyward-Bey at wide receiver.
Besides the five starters and Garvin, other Steelers who became unrestricted free agents are cornerback Brandon Boykin, quarterbacks Bruce Gradkowski and Mike Vick, defensive linemen Cam Thomas and Clifton Geathers, offensive linemen Doug Legursky and Byron Stingily, linebacker Sean Spence and halfback Jordan Todman.
Ed Bouchette: email@example.com and Twitter @EdBouchette.
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