By Jim Wexell
Posted Feb 28, 2007

Free agency begins Thursday night at 12o’clock and the Steelers are freeing up money to become a player. But can they free up enough money to buy a starting linebacker? They’ll probably need one. Read below.

The renegotiation of Aaron Smith was just a tip of the iceberg for the Pittsburgh Steelers, who are busy in negotiations with all of their potential 2008 free agents ... except Joey Porter.
Porter's status with the team is becoming more uncertain with each passing day. In fact, team officials now doubt that Porter will be with the team in 2007.

Porter has given the Steelers no indication he’ll accept the terms of the final year of his contract, which calls for a salary of $4 million. Unless Porter or his agent provide such information to the Steelers, the team will refuse to pay him the $1 million roster bonus he’s due and in effect will release him.

That's the dilemma the Steelers face on the eve of the fiscal new year. Free agency begins March 2 and it appears the Steelers will have some money -- thanks to the renegotiation of Smith's contract -- to pursue a new linebacker, or maybe even a running back, defensive lineman or tight end.

The Steelers have depth problems at those positions and will begin searching for those answers on Friday. They can plug some holes by resigning their own free-agent backups, such as running back Najeh Davenport and safety Tyrone Carter, but it’s unlikely the team will bring back defensive lineman Rodney Bailey. Nor, it was indicated, are they interested in recently released New York Jets defensive lineman Kimo von Oelhoffen, the former Steeler.

The only starter involved in free agency Friday will be right tackle Max Starks, who, a source confirmed, will be offered a restricted free agent tender of either $1.8 million or $1.3 million. The former would require compensation of a first-round pick should the Steelers not match an offer, and the latter – a new option in restricted free agency – would require a second-round pick as compensation.

As for Porter, his problems with the Steelers began just before training camp in 2006 when then-coach Bill Cowher convinced him to report on time because he had two years left on his deal. After a sub-par season – by his standards -- and another knee surgery, Porter enters what would be the final year of his contract as a 30-year-old on a team that new Coach Mike Tomlin is looking to shape into his own image.

It should be remembered that Cowher, at his first training camp, cut the previous year’s first-round draft choice, Huey Richardson, and the move symbolically separated the new regime from the old. Porter, it appears, is making himself the sacrificial lamb for Tomlin.
I was really hoping Porter would return to us at least for his final year! If he leaves that opens up a huge hole not only at OLB but who will be the emotional leader of the defense? Stay tuned............