Rooney: Tough free agency decisions for Steelers familiar

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Steelers president Art Rooney II said today his team faces difficult roster decisions every year and that this offseason is no more dire or critical than recent ones.

He also said having to release a player such as five-time Pro Bowl linebacker James Harrison, along with guard Willie Colon, is not a "fun part of the business."

Harrison, the NFL's defensive player of the year in 2008, was released last week when he refused to take a pay cut on the $6.56 million salary he was due in 2013.

Colon was released Wednesday after three injury-plagued seasons in which he started only 12 games since 2010. He was scheduled to make $5.5 million this season.

"It's not easy," Rooney said. "It's not a part of the job you enjoy, having to say goodbye to player like that who meant that much to us and had contributed that much to our success."

In addition to releasing Harrison and Colon, the Steelers have already lost top receiver Mike Wallace and running back and former No. 1 draft choice Rashard Mendenhall in free agency. They also expect to lose starting cornerback Keenan Lewis and have not made an attempt to re-sign left tackle Max Starks and nose tackle Casey Hampton.

That follows a season in which the Steelers released three of their long-time stars -- Hines Ward, James Farrior and Aaron Smith.

But Rooney said the Steelers situation heading into the 2013 season is no more dire than past seasons.

"I don't view it as dramatically different than other years," Rooney said. "The recent history is, we face decisions like this almost every year in terms of making decisions on players who made key contributions. I always say, every year is a new jigsaw puzzle and you have to put together the pieces the best way you can and shaping contracts is a big part of that.

"You have to have players with contracts who fit within the system. It's a challenge every year. Sometimes you have to make decision on players like we had the last couple years that are not fun decisions."

The Steelers have not been active players in free agency the past couple years, other than signing players to improve their depth, not fill starting spots. So far, their only free-agent signing has been backup quarterback Bruce Gradkowski.

"We're at that stage [where] it's just begun and we woill continue to look for opportunities to improve our roster," Rooney said. "That's where we are. We'll be looking at opportunities, to extent there are some, to add players to the roster that make sense. Wherever we can improve we'll try to do so."

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Gerry Dulac:; twitter: @gerrydulac First Published March 14, 2013 4:45 AM


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