Steelers have money to spend, but mulling who is worthy
By The Sports Xchange
LATROBE, Pa. -- The Pittsburgh Steelers have somewhere around $6 million in salary cap space and team president Art Rooney II declared one reason they would not negotiate an extension to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's contract is so they could try to sign some of their players who enter the final year of their deal.
The Steelers have five starters on the final year of their contract and they may not sign any of them to extensions - unless Rooney painted himself into a corner by saying so.
They really have no interest in signing cornerback Cortez Allen or kicker Shaun Suisham at the moment. They offered linebacker Jason Worilds a multi-year deal a long time ago that he turned down and they say privately that was their best and last offer. Worilds has a one-year transition contract worth almost $10 million. Ike Taylor took a pay cut for the final year of his deal from $7 million to $2.5 million, so they won't try to extend him.
That leaves right tackle Marcus Gilbert. He started 13 games as a rookie, then the first five in 2012 before a right ankle injury put him on the shelf for the rest of the season. He came back to start all 16 games at right tackle last season. He and Allen would seem to be the most logical young players to extend, but the Steelers do not have a high opinion of Allen. They would like to see Gilbert step it up.
"We still have a group of pending free agents for the 2015 offseason and we still have a good four weeks to try to get something done and that's where we are right now," said general manager Kevin Colbert, who declined to speculate how many they might sign to contracts, if any.
"How much and how many is hard to say because one deal can affect another deal. We'd like to be able to do as much business as we can within our restraints time-wise."
That number and amount of money, however, could end up being closer to zero.
-- Brett Keisel remains unsigned and on the radar of the Steelers as they try to determine what they might have at defensive end. They signed free agent nose tackle/end Cam Thomas and drafted end Stephon Tuitt in the second round. Cameron Heyward has a lock on Keisel's old job at right end, where the 12-year vet started the past eight seasons.
"There have been times when we've brought back veteran players due to injury," general manager Kevin Colbert said. "We won't eliminate anybody. If we eliminated a player, we always tell a player don't keep us in your thought process."
-- The once-contentious relationship between quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and offensive coordinator Todd Haley has done a 180.
"Very rarely in life in general do you meet someone and hit it off and you're best friends right away,"
Roethlisberger said. "There's always a feeling-out period, especially when you have people who are guarded because of their profession, just who we are.
"But I think we are friends. Obviously, work is always first, but I think we're getting along great."
-- The Steelers will retire the No. 75 worn by Hall of Famer Joe Greene during a ceremony before their Nov. 2 night game against Baltimore at Heinz Field. The only other number retired by the Steelers, 50 years ago, was Hall of Famer Ernie Stautner's No. 70.
"Joe was the cornerstone of the Steel Curtain," Steelers Chairman Dan Rooney said. "This isn't something you can do for everyone. He was a catalyst and to retire his number is something we feel is a special thing. I am so happy we are honoring Joe this way."
-- RB Le'Veon Bell missed the first two practices in pads, including Wednesday, because of a tightness in his hamstring. It is not considered serious and Bell said it was precautionary. He missed all but four snaps of his rookie preseason last year because of a bruised knee and then a sprained foot, which caused him to miss the first three regular-season games also.
-- LB Sean Spence held up in his first practices in pads at Saint Vincent College since a grotesque knee injury in the final preseason game of his rookie year, 2012. Spence spent his rookie season on IR and last season on PUP and IR. He practiced once under the PUP rules at midseason 2013, but then broke a finger and that was that. He was a third-round pick in 2012.
-- SS Shamarko Thomas (5-9, 217) bowled over OT mike Adams (6-7, 323) during a bull rush in live 11-on-11 practices.
-- G Ramon Foster rejoined his teammates at practice Wednesday. He had been excused from the start of training camp because of the sudden death of his mother.
-- TE Rob Blanchflower, the Steelers' seventh-round draft pick, was on the sideline Wednesday with his left ankle in a walking boot. He has a high ankle sprain.
BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Rookie defensive end Stephon Tuitt, the team's second-round draft pick from Notre Dame, was taking some snaps with the first team. He and veteran Cam Thomas are competing to start on the left side. Thomas was signed as a free agent from San Diego, where he lost his job as starting nose tackle late last season.