Steelers' signings finally come to end
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The Steelers will pause to catch their breath after a week of spending in free agency like few others in their history.
The spate of signings ended Monday.
"We had the flurry of activity, however you want to say it," director of football operations Kevin Colbert said Monday afternoon, "and we'll continue to monitor our own as well as others, but really the focus is going to shift more heavily toward the college draft."
They might not have imitated the Washington Redskins, who infamously overspend this time of year, but they certainly were un-Steelers-like in their aggressive approach.
Prodigal-son linebacker Larry Foote officially returned Monday to become the fifth outside free agent and the sixth total, including Ryan Clark, to sign in the past week. Counting their signing of Casey Hampton and the issuing of the franchise tag to Jeff Reed in the days before they could become free agents, the Steelers have locked up eight players -- three of their own, five from other teams.
Those eight have received contracts totaling $63,259,00, including $14.1 million in signing bonuses.
The Steelers rarely have been so aggressive in free agency, especially in recent years. Last year, for example, they signed only two unrestricted free agents and waited until the end of April and beginning of May to do so -- cornerback Keiwan Ratliff and wide receiver Shaun McDonald. They signed only three total in each of 2008 and '07 and only one in '06 and one in '05.
"We never go into an offseason with 'X' number of players we want to sign," Colbert said. "However, there were players available that we felt could help us and we were able to make a deal."
Colbert said it had nothing to do with this year having no team salary caps.
"You can't use the word 'cap' but we're going to do things within our own structure," Colbert said. "And we were able to do these things within what we went into with our structure."
The largest contracts went to their own free agents -- Hampton earned an average of $7.1 million over three years including a $6.5 million signing bonus and Clark earned $3.5 million on average over four years with a $3 million signing bonus. Foote's one-year excursion to his hometown of Detroit paid off in his return to the Steelers, who signed him to a three-year contract that averages $3.1 million annually and includes a $1.8 million signing bonus.
No visits by other free agents are planned and unless another player pops loose or some other circumstance warrants it, the Steelers' signings may have ended with Foote.
"I would say we're not done," Colbert said. "We're never going to close the door because players available now, obviously some will be taken off the market but there may be others to come onto the market and then we would have to adjust at that point."
Neither are they active in trying to re-sign any of their own free agents such as halfback Willie Parker or defensive ends Nick Eason or Travis Kirschke, nor any of their restricted free agents. None of the Steelers' free agents has signed elsewhere yet.
Asked specifically about Parker, their starting running back since 2005 who lost his job after an injury early last season, Colbert said, "We'll never close the door on any of our guys."
As for those they did sign: "What we wanted to do was add competition and depth, and those free agents we think have started the process of the offseason additions. And now we want to continue that with the draft. There's really nothing more than that."
NOTES -- Pitt tight ends Dorin Dickerson and Nate Byham visited the Steelers Monday. They do not count against the 30 visits the team is permitted to have from college players. The Steelers will begin entertaining such prospects in two weeks. ... The Steelers' offseason training program began Monday, the first day permitted under NFL rules. Many players participated in the workouts that do not include practices. Among the most notable missing: quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.