Safety Ryan Clark wants to stay. The Steelers want to re-sign him.
So, what could be the problem?
Money. It always comes down to money. Often when a player leaves a team as a free agent, it is not because he wanted to leave or the team did not want him back, the sides just could not agree on the money.
First, let us get Clark's intentions up front. He wants to come back and play for the Steelers in 2010, rejoining Pro Bowl strong safety Troy Polamalu.
"Yeah, I do. I do," Clark said. "It's a great place to play. I think the Rooney family runs the team the way an organization should be run. I want to come back and make it right too. I want to come back and play with Troy, get all our guys back and make another run at it."
How much value do the Steelers place on Ryan Clark as their free safety vs. what Clark and his agent want? The average annual compensation for the top 10 safeties (both free and strong) a year ago was $5.13 million. No. 2 on that list was Polamalu at $6.82 million. Clark counted $2.4 million on the salary cap last year.
Clark had a good season with the Steelers in 2009 and they needed it with Polamalu missing 11 games. But they are not likely to have their two safeties among the highest-paid players on their defense.
A look at the other free agents the Steelers must decide on in anticipation of the start of free agency on March 5:
Sunday: Nose Tackle Casey HAMPTON
Today: Safety Ryan CLARK
Tuesday: Running Back Willie PARKER
Wednesday: Cornerback Deshea TOWNSEND
Thursday: Right Tackle Willie COLON
Friday: Kicker Jeff REED
Could Clark get more elsewhere by becoming an unrestricted free agent March 5? Undoubtedly. Clark re-signing with the Steelers will boil down to how much less he is willing to take from them vs. going elsewhere.
"I'm going to do everything possible to make that happen," said agent Joel Turner, who believes talks with the Steelers will commence early in February. "To be perfectly honest, I don't see why it shouldn't happen. Unless Mr. Rooney doesn't want him back, no way it should not happen.
"We will not sell out for a song, and we will not ask to be the highest paid at his position. We're extremely reasonable and fair-minded people."
The NFL is steaming toward its first uncapped year on payrolls since 1992 and while that means teams can pay whatever they want, Steelers president Art Rooney II said his team will stay within normal guidelines.
The Steelers did not make an offer to Clark last year when he had one season left on his contract. That is a window the Steelers often use to negotiate extensions and they did so with James Harrison, Brett Keisel, Heath Miller, Justin Hartwig and Max Starks in 2009.
The Steelers want to sign others before they can become free agents March 5 and have done that previously. Besides Clark, they aim to try to sign Jeff Reed and Casey Hampton. Turner said he had a conversation with Steelers executives Kevin Colbert and Omar Khan in August about Clark.
"Kevin and Omar told me they want Ryan Clark here, that they intend him staying here. Omar said Ryan will retire a Pittsburgh Steeler."
Clark, 29, ranked second on the team last season with 110 tackles, tied for first with three interceptions and ranked third with nine pass breakups. He has also become a leader on defense and a contributor in their community. Naturally, the Steelers would want him back. If he leaves, they would have to draft someone, sign a free agent or insert Ryan Mundy to replace him and not likely get the same performance level.
"Ryan really wants to stay there, as does his wife and children," Turner said. "They've made that their home. We're going to do everything humanly possible to make that happen. The Steelers' organization is very fair. I don't expect them to try to come in under market value and I'm not going to come in and say we want more than Ed Reed."
Everyone in these circumstances has said the right thing. Soon, money will do all the talking.