As Ike Taylor walked off the practice field yesterday, an old friend was there to greet him. Dan Rooney bumped fists with the young cornerback, showing that the Steelers' chairman not only has some hip in him, but knows a good deal when he sees one.
Taylor fulfilled a promise yesterday to stay in Pittsburgh when he signed a five-year contract with the Steelers worth $22.5 million. It includes a $6.4 million signing bonus.
The deal came four days before the club's self-imposed deadline to end contract negotiations until the end of the season, and only happened because Taylor finally told his agent to take the deal.
"This is where I really wanted to be so that's what I wanted to do, get the deal done," Taylor said. "I told y'all I was going to be here; whether I signed this year or next year, regardless, I was going to be here."
By extending Taylor's contract, the Steelers will have no starters eligible for unrestricted free agency in 2007. Starting right tackle Max Starks will be their only restricted free agent if he does not sign a new contract before free agency starts in March.
The contract comes one week after the team signed halfback Willie Parker to a four-year, $13.6 million contract with a $3.75 million signing bonus.
"Anytime you get two young players like Willie and Ike, those are good signings," coach Bill Cowher said. "I'm happy for them."
Taylor, 26, can earn another $1.25 million if he reaches certain performance bonuses. The deal also includes $1.1 million in roster bonuses from year one through four.
The base contract itself makes Taylor the highest paid defensive back in Steelers history, although that could be passed next year if the team signs safety Troy Polamalu to an extension on a contract that runs out after the 2007 season. It eclipses Chad Scott's six-year, $24 million deal (with $5.4 million signing bonus) and Dewayne Washington's five-year, $19.8 million ($5.2 million) that both cornerbacks signed July 20, 2001.
Agent Scott Smith was seeking at least a $10 million signing bonus for Taylor, but the Steelers, who have never given more than $9 million, would not even talk about one that high. Talks practically ended during training camp, but picked up at Taylor's urging.
"I'm straight now, I'm happy, I'm here in Pittsburgh so let's roll," Taylor said.
Taylor, a fourth-round draft choice from Louisiana-Lafayette in 2003, became the starting left cornerback at the start of last season. His 25 passes defensed led the NFL, but he acknowledged dropping about 10 interceptions. He did catch three, one in the regular season and two in the playoffs, including a big one in the Super Bowl.
Taylor has the rare combination for a cornerback of size and speed. He stands 6 feet 1, weighs 191 pounds and can run with the better receivers in the league.
He led the Steelers with 10 tackles in the 2005 opener and continued his physical play throughout the season, finishing with 72 solo tackles, fourth on the team.
"He gets his hands on a lot of balls, has a lot of knockdowns," Dolphins coach Nick Saban said yesterday. "I think their two corners are really smart in how they play, and they're not easy to beat."
Taylor became the first Steelers cornerback since Rod Woodson to occasionally follow one receiver an entire game. He would switch sides to wherever some of the league's top receivers would line up, such as Chad Johnson of the Bengals.
Another might come Thursday night against Miami's Chris Chambers.
"I think there's a real good possibility that could happen," Saban said.
Taylor's friendship with Rooney, 74, began late in his rookie season.
"That's my guy," Taylor said. "I call him Pops. I look at him as a father figure and go to him with any type of questions."
He has also tried to talk Rooney into wearing hipper clothes.
"He's old school, so he doesn't like to change much," Taylor said. "I got him into some flip-flops to be comfortable. I want to get him into some shorts; I've been working on him for two years and it hasn't worked out."Matt Freed, Post-Gazette
Steelers quarterback Charlie Batch will start for Ben Roethlisberger Thursday.
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Ed Bouchette can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-3878.