Steelers keep their own in free agency

March 12, 2013
Linebacker Larry Foote, who led the Steelers with 113 tackles last season, re-signed with Pittsburgh Tuesday.

Looking to shore up their roster prior to the opening of the NFL free agency period, the Steelers made a flurry of moves Tuesday, re-signing veterans Larry Foote, Plaxico Burress and David Johnson.

The moves were made possible earlier in the day, when the team and LaMarr Woodley agreed to restructure the linebacker’s contract, saving $4 million in salary cap space for 2013.

Woodley was scheduled to count $13.2 million against the Steelers’ cap, with a base salary of $9 million. The Steelers converted $5.4 million of that into signing bonus, spreading it over the remaining four years of his contract.

Woodley’s base salary is now $3.6 million, with his cap hit at a more manageable $9.2 million.

While the Steelers were adjusting Woodley’s $13-million cap hit, one of their former players was getting a deal worth $13 million per season.

Mike Wallace signed a five-year, $65-million contract with the Miami Dolphins that makes him the third-highest paid wide receiver in the NFL behind Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald and Detroit’s Calvin Johnson.

The signing was not unexpected and nearly doubled what the Steelers reportedly offered Wallace last summer.

With the additional cap space provided with Woodley’s restructure, Pittsburgh signed Foote, who led the team with 113 tackles last year, to a three-year deal that includes a $900,000 signing bonus. The 11-year veteran will count $1.5 million against the cap.

The Steelers felt the need to bring Foote back because they are not sure Sean Spence, a third-round draft pick last year, will be fully recovered from a severe knee injury suffered in a preseason game last August.

“He’s doing everything the doctors and trainers ask him to do,” Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said recently. “He’s not recovered yet, and quite honestly, we have to keep our fingers crossed that he does have a recovery. That will be determined over the next few months.”

Burress, also an 11-year veteran, signed a one-year deal for $940,000. He will count $630,000 against the team’s salary cap.

A first-round draft pick of the Steelers in 1999, Burress re-signed with the team last November after the Steelers had a rash of injuries at wide receiver. He had three receptions for 43 yards and a touchdown in limited action.

Johnson, who opened training camp as the starting fullback, missed the entire 2012 season after suffering a torn ACL in the team’s first preseason game. His injury opened the door for Will Johnson to make the team.

The Steelers will likely shift David Johnson back to his original position of tight end, hoping lesson the blow from the loss of Heath Miller, who is expected to miss training camp while recovering from a torn ACL suffered at the end of last season.

Running back Rashard Mendenhall, the Steelers’ leading rusher in three of the past four seasons, will reportedly visit Arizona today, with Denver also showing interest in Pittsburgh’s 2008 first-round draft pick.

The Steelers will host a pair of free agents as quarterback Bruce Gradkowski, a Seton-La Salle High School graduate, will visit today, as will former Indianpolis Colts linebacker Moise Fokou.

Gradkowski, a six-year veteran, has spent the past two seasons backing up Andy Dalton in Cincinnati. He has also played for Tampa Bay, Oakland and Cleveland. The Steelers are in the market for a backup to Ben Roethlisberger with both Byron Leftwich and 38-year-old Charlie Batch currently free agents.

Fokou, 27, played in all 16 games last season for Indianapolis, making one start. The 6-1, 237-pound linebacker played three seasons for Philadelphia, starting 22 games.

According to the Washington Post, the Steelers also have interest in Redskins linebacker Lorenzo Alexander, who had 46 tackles and 2.5 sacks as a reserve in 2012.

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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