Steelers keep Foster, others expected to go

March 11, 2013
Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace catches a touchdown against Tennessee this past season. Wallace reportedly agreed to a contract with the Miami Dolphins yesterday that’s expected to pay him around $11 million a year. - Associated Press

With the NFL free agency period set to begin at 4 p.m. today, the Steelers made a move Monday to keep one of their own potential free agents, signing guard Ramon Foster to a three-year deal.

The signing means the Steelers won’t make any drastic moves today, including making a pitch to retain any of their own players.

Reports out of Miami are that the Dolphins have made an offer to wide receiver Mike Wallace that is expected to be in the $11-million-per-season range, but the deal cannot be completed until today. While teams were permitted to meet with players and discuss contracts over the weekend, they could not sign until the free agency period officially begins.

The Steelers had expected to lose Wallace, who struggled in 2012 after sitting out training camp to show his displeasure at not having a new deal with the team.

Pittsburgh had $3.4 million in salary cap space available after releasing linebacker James Harrison Saturday in a move that cleared $5 million and making qualifying tender offers to restricted free agents Jonathan Dwyer, Isaac Redman, Steve McLendon and Emmanuel Sanders.

The Steelers used about half of that to sign the 27-year-old Foster, who has started 42 games the past four seasons, including all 16 in 2012.

Originally signed as an undrafted rookie out of Tennessee in 2009, Foster made 13 starts at right guard last season before sliding over to left guard when rookie David DeCastro was finally ready to play after suffering a severe knee injury in the preseason.

The signing of Foster could make guard Wille Colon expendable.

Colon has appeared in just 12 games the past three seasons – 11 of which came in 2012 – with a myriad of injuries.

The Steelers signed Colon, who had not missed a start prior to the 2010 season, to a five-year, $29-million contract extension in 2011. He is slated to make a base salary of $5.5 million in 2013, with a salary cap value of $7.65 million.

The Steelers would save just $1.5 million by releasing him now as opposed to $5.5 million in savings if he is released after June 1.

That money could come in handy, particularly if the Steelers want to counter any offers to their own players in free agency.

In addition to Wallace, cornerback Keenan Lewis, running back Rashard Mendenhall, left tackle Max Starks, offensive lineman Doug Legursky, nose tackle Casey Hampton, linebacker Larry Foote, safeties Will Allen and Ryan Mundy and long snapper Greg Warren, among others, are headed for unrestricted free agency.

Of that group, Lewis, who led the NFL in pass breakups in 2012 with 21, figures to get the most interest. Cleveland is reportedly interested in making Lewis a long-term offer, and the Steelers prepared for his eventual loss last week by re-signing veteran William Gay.

The Browns have an NFL-best $46 million in available cap space.

Third-year pro Cortez Allen is expected to replace Lewis in the starting lineup, with Gay competing with Curtis Brown and Josh Victorian as the nickel corner.

Miami and Denver are reportedly interested in Mendenhall, who gained just 182 yards in six games in 2012 after suffering a torn ACL in the final regular season game of 2011. He was also suspended for a game by head coach Mike Tomlin after failing to show up for a game against the Chargers after Tomlin told him he would be inactive.

A former first-round draft pick, Mendenhall was never completely healthy last season and could be looking to sign a one- or two-year deal to prove his knee is sound before hitting the free agent market again.

Dale Lolley has been with the Observer-Reporter since 1993 after previously working at WJAC-TV and the Tribune-Democrat in Johnstown, and The Derrick in Oil City. A native of Fryburg, Pa., he is a graduate of North Clarion High School and the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, where he earned a degree in journalism. He has covered the Pittsburgh Steelers since joining the Observer-Reporter in 1993, and also serves as the outdoors editor. He also is a radio host for Pittsburgh’s ESPN 970-AM, and serves as administrative adviser for the Red & Black, Washington & Jefferson College’s student newspaper.

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