Given recent losses, Tomlin knows Steelers must add talent
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PHOENIX -- Mike Tomlin sat on the patio of the posh Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa, looking relaxed in an off-white camp shirt and sounding like he didn't have a care in the world -- even if he does.
His Steelers team is losing starters at an alarming rate -- five and counting since the end of the season -- and salary-cap restrictions are limiting its ability to replace any of them.
Two of those departed -- wide receiver Mike Wallace and running back Rashard Mendenhall -- were the featured players at their position for several years. And even Tomlin acknowledged the Steelers have to do something to replace them.
"We're trying to add talent at all positions -- obviously wide receiver is one of them," Tomlin said Sunday, sitting in the shade and getting ready for the start of the NFL's owners meeting that begins today. "When you lose players the caliber of Mike Wallace, we want to continually add to the talent and our depth.
"We'll have the opportunity to do that this spring, the draft being the primary one, but also recognizing we're capable of free agency as well."
And running back?
Mendenhall was let go to sign with Arizona and Isaac Redman is a restricted free agent who was offered a one-year tender for $1,323,000. Jonathan Dwyer was offered the same tender as a restricted free agent and already signed his. But Redman and Dwyer are not considered feature backs.
"Obviously, we need to add to the pool of talent we have at that position," Tomlin said.
The Steelers brought in former Arizona running back Beanie Wells Friday and he passed his physical. However, his knee injury is bad enough that it would be a risk for the Steelers to sign him.
The Steelers have signed only two outside free agents since the end of the season -- cornerback William Gay and quarterback Bruce Gradkowski. Both will assume backup positions.
Former Steelers tight end Matt Spaeth will be at the team's South Side facility today to take a physical and sign a two-year contract. Spaeth, a third-round pick in 2007, has not signed a contract despite national reports.
The Steelers rarely sign a starter in free agency and this year might be no different.
"There's a desire to assemble the very best team we can assemble, but we deal in a world of realism and we have constraints with the salary cap that can limit some of those thoughts," Tomlin said. "I'm not a big dreamer in that regard and don't spend a lot of time on things that aren't practical."
Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert was a bit more cryptic when asked about the impact of already losing three starters in free agency -- Wallace, Mendenhall and cornerback Keenan Lewis.
"Only time will tell ... We'll see where that goes," Colbert said. "You can also argue we lost three persons from an 8-8 team."
Then, Colbert added: "Can we get better? We hope."
Colbert said the Steelers have not received any official notification that wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders has signed an offer sheet with the New England Patriots, despite national reports. A team source said the Steelers were told by Sanders' agent, Jordan Woy, that his client has not signed an offer sheet.
If he does, the Steelers can match the offer for Sanders, who is a restricted free agent, or let him go and receive a third-round choice in this year's draft in return.
What would the Steelers do if Sanders does sign an offer sheet?
"As of right now, he doesn't have an offer, so it's a moot point," Tomlin said. "It's something we will address as an organization if the situation develops."
The potential loss of Sanders, coupled with Wallace, would create a dire need at wide receiver. But Colbert said that will not force the Steelers to have any "needs" in the draft.
"I don't like to use the word 'need,' " Colbert said. "We're not going to list one position or prioritize over another."
Speaking publicly for the first time since the end of the season, Tomlin also said he believes "we have a solid group of players" and did not acknowledge any type of discontent in the locker room like some players have suggested after a quote from an anonymous player criticizing linebacker LaMarr Woodley's production and conditioning.
"For me, the reality is, we were an 8-8 team and that's probably more acceptable in some places than it is our place," Tomlin said. "I hope we have a solid group, I believe we do. I'm not looking to put anyone at ease in that regard. We need to get better in , do better than we did in , and we have a group that is geared toward doing that."
Colbert said the decision to sign Gradkowski, a Dormont native and Seton-LaSalle High School graduate, was partly because Gradkowski is familiar with the teams in the AFC North. The Cleveland Browns, and most recently Cincinnati Bengals, are among the five teams for whom Gradkowski, 30, has played in his seven-year career.
"He is a young, veteran backup," Colbert said. "He still has some productive years and it's not a year-to-year proposition. We were hoping to get an experienced backup who not only knows the league, but knows our division very well."
First Published March 18, 2013 12:00 am