Steelers begin free agency with small moves
PITTSBURGH – The Pittsburgh Steelers are sticking with what they know.
The Steelers re-signed linebacker Larry Foote and wide receiver Plaxico Burress on Tuesday while also tendering offers to four restricted free agents.
Foote, 32, agreed to a three-year deal while the 35-year-old Burress will stick around for 2013. Foote and Burress join offensive lineman Ramon Foster as potential free agents who opted to remain in Pittsburgh rather than test the open market. Foster agreed to a three-year contract on Monday.
Financial terms were not disclosed.
The signings give the Steelers some stability in key spots. Foote started all 16 games at inside linebacker last season and his return allows the Steelers to bring former third-round pick Sean Spence back slowly from a devastating knee injury suffered at the end of the 2012 preseason. The 11-year veteran was his typically steady self for the NFL’s top-ranked defense, finishing with four sacks and 113 tackles.
Foote made $3 million in 2012 and expressed a desire to return to Pittsburgh at the end of a disappointing 8-8 season. If he had chosen to play elsewhere, the Steelers would have to find two new starting linebackers after they cut 2008 NFL Defensive Player of the Year James Harrison on Saturday.
Burress should provide depth for the Steelers after the loss of Mike Wallace to Miami. However, Burress struggled to get onto the field last November.
The hope he would quickly regain his rapport with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger never materialized. He caught just three passes for 42 yards and a touchdown in three games and was made inactive three times.
There should be more opportunities for Burress to get onto the field if he can remain healthy. Pittsburgh is not expected to re-sign Wallace, opening up at least one spot on the depth chart. The Steelers did tender an offer to Emmanuel Sanders on Tuesday, who will likely move to the team’s No. 2 receiver behind Antonio Brown. Sanders had 44 receptions for 626 yards and a touchdown in 2012 while working mostly out of the slot.
The Steelers also tendered offers to running backs Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman, who will likely battle for the starting running back spot next season. Veteran running back Rashard Mendenhall, a free agent, will almost certainly not return to the Steelers. Dwyer and Redman combined for 1,033 yards rushing and four touchdowns in 2012 but had trouble staying on the field due to injury problems.
The only notable free agent signing through the first day of the new league year remains cornerback William Gay, who agreed to a three-year contract last week. The Steelers are unlikely to make a major splash during the signing period due to salary cap concerns. The team has little wiggle room under the $123 million ceiling, though several players reportedly agreed to restructure deals, including Roethlisberger.
The cap will cost Pittsburgh a handful of starters, including Harrison, Wallace, Mendenhall and cornerback Keenan Lewis, who led the AFC with 23 passes defensed in 2012.