Steelers front office sprint to lock up roster
Ben Roethlisberger rests during special teams drills at training camp Sunday. Roethlisberger wore the jersey number of former teammate Max Starks, who was released last week.
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The Steelers players might have had their first day off of training camp Monday, but that doesn't mean everybody else did.
One thing is for sure: If the Steelers can maintain the pace set by their team executives the past six days, they just might race to their 21st division title by November.
While the players are still in the embryo stages of training camp, team president Art Rooney II and director of football operations Kevin Colbert have been setting a frenetic pace to put together a football team, but also get under the roughly $120 million salary cap by Thursday.
They can see the finish line, especially after a spate of re-signings Monday and the restructuring of the contracts of two of their highest-paid players -- quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and four-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker James Harrison -- plus defensive end Brett Keisel.
Roethlisberger, who signed an eight-year, $102 million contract in March 2008, will not have the amount or length of his deal altered, said his agent, Ryan Tollner. But it was restructured to create more cap space for the Steelers in 2011 and future seasons.
Harrison, who signed a six-year, $51.7 million contract with $20 million guaranteed in April 2009, did the same -- moving around enough money to help the Steelers while not changing the length or amount of his original deal.
In many instances, restructuring a contract means more up-front money in the form of a signing bonus for a player.
"It was something for Ben to do," Tollner said. "The team needed to free up space and Ben was certainly happy to help out."
The Steelers are trying to restructure the contracts of at least five players, and maybe six, to get to the $120 million salary cap by the deadline. If they are able to do so, the Steelers are confident they will not have to release any players to get under the salary cap.
The restructured contracts are not official until they have been submitted to the NFL office for approval. The Steelers will not do that until Wednesday night because Roethlisberger, Harrison and Keisel would not be able to practice until Thursday if they were submitted before then, under rules of the new collective bargaining agreement.
The Steelers would also create more cap room if they signed outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley, their franchised player, to a long-term contract. The Steelers intend to do so, but probably not until they have finished re-working the contracts of some of their veteran players.
"We were able to move things around so James could help the Steelers with the cap tremendously," said Bill Parise, Harrison's Pittsburgh-based agent. "That's part of being a team player."
Keisel, 32, has three years remaining on a five-year, $18,885,000 contract he signed in August 2009. The restructuring was confirmed by his agent, Monroeville native Eric Metz,
While the Steelers are trying to make sure they don't have to release any more players, they also are making sure they can re-sign some of their veteran players who were restricted or unrestricted free agents.
The latest is backup quarterback Dennis Dixon, who agreed to sign a one-year tender Monday to remain with the team. He joins third-down back Mewelde Moore and backup nose tackle Chris Hoke, two unrestricted free agents who each agreed to one-year contracts to return.
Those players cannot practice until Thursday.
Dixon is expected to be the team's No. 3 quarterback behind Roethlisberger and Byron Leftwich, though veteran Charlie Batch is in training camp. The Steelers are not expected to carry four quarterbacks on their 53-man roster.
Since Saturday night, the Steelers have signed Dixon, Moore, Hoke, nickel back William Gay and punter Daniel Sepulveda. All received one-year deals.
NOTES -- The Steelers will practice at 2:55 p.m. today at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe. The session is open to the public. .... The Steelers will hold their annual night practice Friday at Latrobe Stadium.
First Published August 2, 2011 12:00 am