Thursday, February 15, 2007
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The Steelers start their final evaluations of free agents today as the new coaches join the scouting staff to make up a wish list of players they might add to their team and those they do not want -- perhaps including some of their own.
The Steelers have no unrestricted free agents who started for them last season, and only one who is restricted -- offensive right tackle Max Starks. It's likely some players under contract won't be asked back, particularly if the Steelers believe they can release a player to make room under their salary cap to sign another.
"We were an 8-8 team," Kevin Colbert, their football operations director, said yesterday. "For us to think we can stand pat and be any better than that, I think would be naive on our part."
Colbert said the Steelers will be tight under the salary cap, expected to be about $109 million per team, and that it is likely they will be as active this year as they have been in recent years in free agency, or very little. Each of the past two years, they've signed one mid-priced free agent who eventually started -- wide receiver Cedrick Wilson in 2005 and safety Ryan Clark in 2006.
Free agency starts March 2.
There are ways to create more room under the cap, through re-signing their players and shifting their salaries into a bonus, by asking players to take cuts or by releasing players. For example, in all likelihood punter Chris Gardocki, 37, will be released because he ranked near the bottom of the league and his salary for 2007 would be slightly more than $1 million.
They also must decide what to do with linebacker Joey Porter. He not only is set to earn a salary of $4 million but an additional $1 million in a roster bonus payable early in March. Last year, Porter admitted that then-coach Bill Cowher talked him out of holding out of training camp because he wanted a contract extension. Will they try to extend his contract? Let him play out his last season, hoping he does not hold out?
Another possibility would be to not pay Porter the $1 million bonus and let him become a free agent. That's considered unlikely, particularly since they are thin at outside linebacker and, while Porter had a subpar 2006 after knee surgery in May, he made three Pro Bowls in the previous four seasons.
"I want to say there are [six] guys with either roster or reporting bonuses, and we're still in the process of making those decisions," Colbert said when asked if the Steelers would pay Porter's roster bonus.
"We haven't made any decision on anybody not being here or even being here. As we go through this thing and we get closer -- like that ... and you look at what's going to be available and compare it to what you have -- is there somewhere we can upgrade either through an exchange of players or a combination of players? Those are the things we're going to be doing, along with the draft and the cap all kind of mixed in together."
The other five players due roster bonuses in March are Alan Faneca ($1 million), Aaron Smith ($1 million), Ike Taylor ($300,000), Marvel Smith ($250,000) and Willie Parker ($250,000).