PITTSBURGH – The Steelers had a big day writing checks Tuesday, signing offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert to a five-year contract extension and bringing back one of the team’s more popular players in recent years, defensive end Brett Keisel.
The 35-year-old Keisel, who turns 36 in September, agreed to return for a one-year deal.
While Gilbert’s deal secures part of the future for the team’s offensive line, it was the one with Keisel that fans will like the most.
A 2002 seventh-round draft pick, Keisel – known for his long, bushy beard – was a starter on the Steelers defensive line since 2006. He was a free agent at the conclusion of the 2013 season and remained unsigned, though the Cardinals flew him to Arizona yesterday as a possible replacement for Darnell Dockett, who suffered a season-ending injury Monday.
Keisel flew to Arizona, but never underwent a scheduled physical. The Steelers contacted his agent, and he returned to Pittsburgh to sign his new deal.
“I am very excited to finish what I started in 2002 with the Steelers,” Keisel tweeted. “Time to get to work.”
Keisel’s return was speculated about for some time. Though the Steelers brought in free agent Cam Thomas on a two-year, $4-million deal and selected Stephon Tuitt in the second round of this year’s draft, Keisel never cleared out his locker at the team’s South Side practice facility.
General manager Kevin Colbert said at the beginning of training camp the team wasn’t closing the door on bringing back the team’s defensive captain.
Keisel will help provide leadership in the locker room, shore up a run defense that has been leaky in the preseason. The Steelers have given up 321 rushing yards in two preseason games, including a 73-yard touchdown run two weeks ago against the Giants.
“Incomplete,” said Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin on how he would grade the run defense in two preseason games.
Where Keisel – who appeared in 144 career games, all with Pittsburgh – fits into the overall picture remains to be seen. Cameron Heyward moved from left to right defensive end in the offseason and played there exclusively in the preseason. Thomas and Tuitt have split time on the left side.
But Keisel has been the starting right defensive end since 2006 and is one of just six Steelers to have won two Super Bowl rings.
Gilbert, a four-year veteran, was one of four players heading into the final season of their contract that Colbert singled out at the start of training camp for potential extensions. The others were placekicker Shaun Suisham, outside linebacker Jason Worilds and cornerback Cortez Allen.
Suisham was signed to an extension two weeks ago.
“It means I am locked in and hopefully a Steeler for the rest of my career,” Gilbert said via Steelers.com. “It’s a blessing to work for a great organization, the Rooney family, Kevin Colbert and coach (Mike) Tomlin. Just to be around Pittsburgh, where they show you so much love, I couldn’t be happier and in a better place.”
Gilbert, 26, has appeared in 35 games for the Steelers, 34 of which have been starts, since they selected him in the second round of the 2011 draft.
He started 13 games, all at right tackle, in place of injured Willie Colon as a rookie in 2011, winning the Joe Greene Great Performance Award, which is given to the team’s rookie of the year.
Gilbert went into the 2012 season as the team’s starting right tackle, but was limited to five games because of an ankle injury that eventually ended his season.
But Gilbert bounced back in 2013, when he was the lone Steelers offensive lineman to start all 16 games.