Keisel signing more proof Steelers don't age discriminate
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Two things happened over the past several days that give more insight into how the Steelers operate. One was the retirement of Marvel Smith in California, the other was the signing of Brett Keisel to a five-year contract yesterday.
Keisel will earn $18.885 million over the next five years, and the deal included a $5 million signing bonus.
Smith wanted an extension this time last year and was not happy when one was not forthcoming. At the time, many noted that the Steelers just do not give big contracts to players over 30. Smith then went out and played five games before his season ended with yet another back problem, which also prematurely ended his 2007 season.
Smith wound up signing as a free agent with the San Francisco 49ers, and retired over the weekend when it was apparent he no longer could play.
Keisel, who turns 31 on Sept. 19, was the player the coaches pushed the front office to sign of all those entering their final season. He also is the latest 30-something to get such a long-term deal. The others include Hines Ward, and James Harrison this year, on the heels of James Farrior's deal last year.
Aaron Smith, now 33, who signed a contract extension at age 30 and proved them right on the money on that occasion as well, believes it is just good business to keep good players such as Keisel, no matter what the age.
"I think it's proven. Seems like around the league, old isn't considered as old as it used to be. With him, it's the smart thing to do. You have a guy who is a solid player who can play for a long time and you don't have to teach him.
"You look at Keis, he started four years, he still has a young body, he hasn't taken a ton of snaps and you have a player who knows how to play the game and is a veteran, which is hard. Usually by the time you get to 30, guys have a ton of snaps and he hasn't. He still has a young body. In that case, they have a good situation with him."
The same held true with Harrison, who enters only his third season as a starter at age 31.
Keisel may be the final player the Steelers sign this year, yet none of the others is pulling a Brandon Marshall act in Pittsburgh.
Free safety Ryan Clark, among six starters who will be playing out the final season of their contracts in 2009, expressed how they likely feel about it.
"The organization is going to do what's best for them from a business standpoint, and I think they're trying to do the best they can in keeping the core together," Clark said yesterday after learning of Keisel's new deal.
"As for me, you just finish playing football. Nothing I can do. I want to be here; I made that known. I'm tired of moving, my wife is tired of moving, my son plays tailback and free safety on his little community team, I'm excited to watch that.
"We love it here, we want to be here and we'll see what happens."
The five other starters in the last year of their contracts are nose tackle Casey Hampton, halfback Willie Parker, tackle Willie Colon, center Justin Hartwig and kicker Jeff Reed.
"In this situation, I hold no cards," Clark said. "My job as husband and father is to provide for my family and this is the way I do it. I'm not going to pitch a fit and not show up. I love the guys I play with, I love this organization and more importantly I have a responsibility."
The original fear in August that offensive lineman Darnell Stapleton might be lost for the season has come through. The fear was generated before his exploratory arthroscopic knee surgery the first week of August.
After the surgery that removed loose cartilage, however, there was relief all the way around. Tomlin said at the time the news was encouraging. The idea was that Stapleton would miss several weeks. "They liked what they saw," Tomlin said.
Now, Stapleton might be in for more surgery.
"We continued to watch his progress coming off the surgery, but it wasn't moving in the direction we wanted it to, quite frankly," Tomlin said. "We didn't think he was going to be able to do it. Maybe he has another procedure in his future."
The same could happen to tight end Sean McHugh, who became their starting fullback in the second half of last season. He had arthroscopic "cleanup" knee surgery Wednesday. McHugh found himself in a fight for his roster spot with rookie tight end David Johnson, who also has shown ability to line up at fullback.
"All things at this point appear to be encouraging," Tomlin said about McHugh, then turned his attention to Johnson. "David's the guy who is taking advantage of some extra snaps because of that situation, and he'll get some more snaps this week and we'll see how he sorts out. But, no question, to this point he's represented himself well and really has our attention going into this last week."
It sounds as if Doug Legursky will become the backup center to Justin Hartwig, and rookie A.Q. Shipley's best bet is the practice squad.
"I have been pleased with what Doug Legursky has done," Tomlin said yesterday. "He has taken advantage of an opportunity; he has shown position flexibility and played some center and guard. Really, if you look at where he is with his career and what he is doing on our football team right now, he kind of mirrors the position Darnell [Stapleton] was in a year ago.
"Darnell was a guy that was an undrafted second-year man in our program. He showed some interior offensive line flexibility, and that is how he stuck and made it. On down the line, he had an opportunity to get into the lineup. A year ago, Darnell Stapleton was Doug Legursky."
First Published September 1, 2009 12:00 am