Mike Wallace established himself as one of the top young receivers in the NFL last season. Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown established themselves as valuable components of the Steelers offense as rookies.
All could stand to lose playing time or see a drop in their production if the Steelers decide to sign free-agent Plaxico Burress. But that did not stop them from all but rolling out the red carpet to welcome Burress back to Pittsburgh.
Burress, who played with the Steelers from 2000-2004, missed the past two seasons while serving a jail sentence for a weapons violation in New York. He was expected to meet with New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin today and is due to meet with Steelers coach Mike Tomlin Saturday about the possibility of rejoining the club.
"I think it would be great," said Sanders, who had 28 receptions and two touchdowns as a rookie. "Whoever wants to come in and put their hands in the pile and help us win a championship, I'm all about it. We got to the Super Bowl last year and we lost. I remember walking off that field and thinking I have to know what it's like when the confetti is falling and I have the T-shirt on my back and the ring on my finger. If he wants to come in and help us, I'm down."
Brown and Burress worked out together this summer because they share the same agent, Drew Rosenhaus.
"I'm here for whatever they want me to do," said Brown, who had 16 receptions and 167 yards last season and caught the long pass in the playoff game against the Baltimore Ravens that set up the deciding touchdown. "I think special teams will be key for me. And the more reps I get at receiver, it will be key for me."
Brown said Burress is in "great shape."
"He's ready," Brown said. "We've been working out together. Plax is a great guy, one of my close friends and a good mentor. It would be great to have him here."
Burress was a favorite target of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in the 2004 season. In five seasons with the Steelers, Burress had 4,157 receiving yards and 22 touchdowns. He left the Steelers to sign as a free agent with the New York Giants after the '04 season. As a member of the Giants, he scored the winning touchdown to help New York defeat New England, 17-14, in Super Bowl XLII.
"I'm with it," Wallace said. "I'd love to have him here. He's a great player. He'd be a great addition to our team."
Max Starks, released by the Steelers Thursday to help create salary-cap room, could be re-signed by them before the end of training camp, sources told the Post-Gazette.
Starks, who has been a starter at tackle since his second season in 2005, counted more than $7 million on their salary cap, which was estimated to be more than $10 million above the limit this year. He started the past three seasons at left tackle after two years at right tackle.
His season ended in November when he required neck surgery, and he has had trouble getting his weight down.
Starks sent out two tweets thanking Steelers fans for their support.
"To all of SteelersNation thank you so much for all your support throughout my career as a Steeler. I will always be a part of pittsburgh.
"And you as fans have always given support, on and off the field. We had some great memories, a couple trophies along the way! Thank you ..."
Starting receiver Hines Ward and starting left guard Chris Kemoeatu will open training camp on the sideline, placed on the physically-unable-to-perform list until they overcome their injuries.
Ward had surgery on a thumb that has not sufficiently healed and Kemoeatu has swelling in a knee. The Steelers also put tight end Eugene Bright, recovering from shoulder surgery, on the PUP list.
Tomlin announced that five draft picks had signed, leaving only first-round pick Cameron Heyward and third-rounder Curtis Brown unsigned. Signed to four-year contracts were offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert, cornerback Cortez Allen, linebacker Chris Carter, offensive guard Keith Williams and running back Baron Batch.
Starks was not the only veteran released. Antwaan Randle El was told he would not be back for another season. Randle El was signed last season to be a third or fourth receiver, but he gave way to Sanders and Brown late in the season. Brown and Sanders said they would miss Randle El's guidance. "It's good and it's bad because El was my role model," Sanders said. "Anything I needed, I went to El. He made my transition to the NFL a lot easier. I hope nothing but the best for him. Now me and Antonio know we'll have a little bit more of the freight."
Linebacker LaMarr Woodley carries the designation as the Steelers franchise player, but there is the possibility that a new long-term contract might be worked out before the regular season begins. Woodley said his contract status will not be a distraction. "All I can do is wait and see," he said. "I'm not going to make a big deal out of it, like last year. I'm franchised right now. Everything else will take care of itself."
Matt Spaeth, the backup tight end to Heath Miller the past four seasons, signed with the Chicago Bears Thursday, meaning third-year player David Johnson could have a different role this season.
Johnson, known for his blocking, might get an opportunity to show more in the passing game with Spaeth gone. Miller and Johnson are the only tight ends on the roster with NFL experience.
"I always look forward to getting better and playing more," Johnson said. "Who doesn't want to play more and have a big role on the team? It means a lot to me, and I'm ready to take on that new role."
KDKA-FM Sportsradio 93-7 The Fan announced an agreement with safety Ryan Clark to play host to a one-hour weekly show. "The Ryan Clark Show" will debut 6 p.m. Sept. 6 and continue through the end of the regular season.
Ray Fittipaldo: email@example.com .