PITTSBURGH – Maurkice Pouncey choked up when asked what the Steelers’ financial commitment to him meant.
It was a heartfelt moment on a day when the Steelers made the three-time Pro Bowl center the highest-paid player in NFL history at the position, signing him to a six-year, $48-million contract.
“Words can’t explain that,” said Pouncey, the first center in NFL history to make the Pro Bowl in each of his first three seasons. “I’m just glad to be a Pittsburgh Steeler, to be honest with you guys.
“I’ll do anything for this team. ... I’m trying not to bust out crying, so it’s really hard to talk right now. The organization and the loyalty they showed with this new contract, it’s true love here.”
Pouncey’s new deal includes just over $20 million in bonuses, including a $13-million signing bonus. But it also lowers his 2014 salary cap hit from $5.26 million to $5 million, including a $1 million salary.
The deal exceeds the 5-year, $42-million contract signed by Cleveland’s Alex Mack in April.
Pouncey’s deal is a big investment for a player who missed all but eight plays of the 2013 season after suffering a torn ACL last September in a 16-7 loss to Tennessee.
But he is seen not only as a leader of the offensive linemen, but the team as well.
“I think it just reiterates what we all feel and believe and that is we all believe in him,” said quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. “We believe in his work ethic, the type of player he is, the type of person he is and the teammate that he is. He is a great football player.”
Pouncey, who doesn’t turn 25 until next month, was the Steelers’ first pick in the 2010 draft and was heading into the final season of his rookie deal. Despite missing 15 games in 2013, he has appeared in 46 career games, an average of 15 per season over the first three years of his career.
He said his status was never on his mind.
“I didn’t think I was ever going to walk again,” said Pouncey of his initial reaction to the torn ACL. “The contract was the last thing on my mind. I think playing football was the first thing that came to my mind. God has been good to me. Words can’t explain this.”
Pouncey’s deal wasn’t the only one completed by the Steelers Thursday as they wrapped up their third, and final week, of optional offseason workouts. The team reached an agreement on a deal with third-round draft pick Dri Archer, a running back from Kent State, leaving it with just one draft pick still unsigned, second-round selection Stephon Tuitt, a defensive end from Notre Dame.
The Steelers will hold their three-day manadatory mini-camp starting next Tuesday before breaking until the opening of training camp July 25.