The Steelers will close the vault for another year and turn off the money stream after locking up linebacker Lawrence Timmons, the fourth starter to sign a contract since the start of training camp.
That means two other significant starters, safety Troy Polamalu and wide receiver Mike Wallace, will have to wait until 2012 either to sign new contracts with the Steelers or become free agents in March.
Polamalu said "God willing" he would get a new contract this year but declined to say much more about it.
"All comments about the contract stay between the Steelers and my agent. Sorry." He did add that, "I'd love to retire a Steeler."
New contracts could still happen for Polamalu and Wallace, just not this year, according to a Steelers source.
- Game: Preseason Game 3: Steelers vs. Atlanta Falcons.
- When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
- Where: Heinz Field.
- TV: KDKA.
Timmons signed a six-year, $50 million contract that takes him through the 2016 season and includes $18 million in bonuses. Combined with the six-year, $61.5 million contract signed by fellow linebacker LaMarr Woodley and the four-year, $28 million contract cornerback Ike Taylor signed, they have invested heavily in their defense.
The Steelers nearly are tapped out both under the salary cap and in the available real money they would have to dole out to sign players such as Polamalu and Wallace.
Plus, they have protection of sorts to keep both players beyond this season.
The Steelers can put the franchise tag on Polamalu next year, as they did with Woodley before signing him to his new contract. Wallace will be a restricted free agent, and they can tender him high enough that another team would have to give the Steelers a first-round pick to sign him -- and that is if the Steelers declined to match another team's contract to him.
Signing Polamalu, who will have made $30 million over four seasons after this one, would have been difficult anyway. He is the reigning NFL defensive player of the year, and agent Marvin Demoff likely would have demanded he become their highest-paid defensive player, at the least. The franchise tag for safeties this year is reportedly $8.8 million. They could give him the franchise tag again in 2013 if they do not re-sign him. He is 30 years old.
While Polamalu would not talk about his contract, Wallace said he hopes to have such a productive season that it will prompt a big contract for him next year, no matter who offers it.
"This is the last year of my contract. I kind of want to play it out.
"I'm not worried about that right now. I'm just trying to get back to the Super Bowl."
Besides the three big contracts for defensive players, the Steelers also signed offensive tackle Willie Colon to a five-year, $29 million contract at the start of training camp, including a $6 million signing bonus.
"I think it's awesome," Polamalu said of the signings, "especially with LaMarr and Lawrence. Those guys are something to reckon with whenever [teams] play the Steelers."
The Steelers will not sign Polamalu this year, but James Farrior said they signed his likeness in Timmons.
"He reminds me a lot like Troy," said Farrior, the defensive captain. "He makes plays the way Troy makes plays, he closes on ball-carriers and receivers the way Troy does. He has a lot of those same instincts that Troy has. We kid him about it all the time, he can get back there and play safety if he wanted to."
Timmons and Woodley were one-two in the Steelers draft of 2007, the first with Mike Tomlin as coach. Timmons has not made a Pro Bowl, but Farrior and others believe he is ready to explode in his third season as a starting inside linebacker. Timmons got off to a fast start last season and, at one point, led the league in tackles before leveling off. He refused to blame a bad hematoma on his side for any of it.
"Not a lot of people know him right now, but I'm sure they'll get to know him this year," Farrior said. "I think he can be the best linebacker in the league, hands down. He just has to put it all together. We thought it was going to happen last year.
"I think he started out great but kind of got lost in the shuffle a little bit along the way, but I'm looking for big things out of him this year."
Ben Roethlisberger did not get his man when he tried to talk Plaxico Burress into signing with the Steelers. He did, however, when offensive tackle Trai Essex came back Tuesday after coming to terms on a one-year deal Monday night.
Roethlisberger said he was a "middle man" while talking to Essex about returning over the past month. Essex, a tackle/guard who opened last season as the starting right guard, blamed himself for the Steelers not re-signing him before training camp.
"I had to take a look at myself and realize if I want to play this game, I have to be in shape," said Essex. "I wasn't during the lockout. I didn't come in in shape like I was supposed to."
Over the past six weeks or so, Essex said he lost "a significant amount" of weight. "A couple of newborn babies" worth, he said.
Essex, drafted in the third round in 2005, has started 25 games for the Steelers, some at tackle, some at guard. He most likely will serve as their top backup tackle and can fill in at guard.
"I've been here for six years, so I know what I'm doing," Essex said. "I guess they want to see where I'm at physically"
First Published August 24, 2011 4:00 AM