Steelers Team Report
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INSIDE SLANT

Two of the Steelers’ three “priorities” were locked up before free agency began, and that means the third one is not happy. Free safety Ryan Clark desperately wants to stay with the Steelers, but apparently not enough to take much less money than he thinks he’s worth.


Still, he saw the “love” doled out to nose tackle Casey Hampton(notes) and even kicker Jeff Reed as the franchise player while the Steelers have performed their traditional non-committal “negotiations” with Clark’s agent.

The result? Clark became an unrestricted free agent Friday and he will not go quietly into the night.

“I haven’t had an offer yet. Nothing put to paper or even said verbally. We want to get this deal done,” Clark said.

“We bent over backwards to get it done before the (2009) season. You hear so much about being a priority and things like that. I mean if you think about it there have been a number of guys who have signed a contract and I haven’t been offered—Heath Miller, Justin Hartwig, Brett Keisel, Casey, Jeff. You know? So it’s not like one guy got signed and the well ran dry and there was nothing they could do. It hasn’t been that.

“If you think about priorities and prioritizing, obviously I was way down on the list as they go.”

The Steelers have announced that all of their other unrestricted free agents, including running back Willie Parker, cornerback Deshea Townsend, defensive ends Nick Eason and Travis Kirschke(notes) and safety Tyrone Carter would not be talked to before free agency starts. Kevin Colbert, their director of football operations, said they might try to get some of them back after they test the market.

That almost surely will now include Clark. One of the problems for Clark is the big contract they pay their other safety, Troy Polamalu, who will count about $8.3 million against their cap in 2010 if there were one. They are not about to sink another $5 million or $6 million into their other safety.

“You know, I’m not going to ask for $6 1/2, 7 million a year,” Clark said. “I wouldn’t do that. I know how much Troy makes and I know how much respect I have for Troy as a player and how much I love him as a friend. I don’t see myself as Troy’s (equal), I don’t see myself having to get that same type of pay. So it’s not a situation, ‘Oh, you have to pay me how Troy’s getting paid. I would be a fool to do that.”

Clark sounded as if he were wounded by the lack of a real offer from the Steelers.

“They showed their love and commitment to Jeff even though it’s only one year, $2.8 million, Brett Keisel, Heath Miller, Justin Hartwig. All these guys have been shown some type of love that says, ‘you know what, we want you here, we’re willing to work with you to get you here,’ I haven’t gotten it.”

Clark will have to try to get it elsewhere while the Steelers look for his replacement at free safety. Super-smart Ryan Mundy, entering his third season, is the logical replacement unless they find someone in the draft or free agency.

NOTES, QUOTES

QB Ben Roethlisberger has been accused of sexual assault in Georgia, according to multiple reports. The allegation was first reported by TMZ, with ESPN reporting that Milledgeville, Ga. police said a woman was allegedly assaulted or sexually manipulated by a white male fitting Roethlisberger’s build.

“Last night, Ben and his friends met a group of women and everyone mingled together throughout the evening,” said Ryan Tollner, Roethlisberger’s agent, on Moarch 5. “We have spoken to law enforcement. Based on information currently available, an allegation was made against Ben, which appeared to be dismissed after a preliminary investigation last night. Obviously, given the prior accusation against Ben, we are skeptical of motive, but we will continue to cooperate with everyone involved.”

• Casey Hampton worried about being named the team’s franchise player until he negotiated a three-year, $21.3 million contract last week.

“That was my main goal to not have anything to worry about, get it out of the way and be full steam ahead and concentrate on nothing but football,” said Hampton. “That is all I have to do now.”

• Hampton has long had issues with being overweight, so much so that coach Mike Tomlin put him on the physically unable to perform list to start the 2008 training camp because the coach said his nose tackle was out of shape. So, the Steelers negotiated a weight clause into his new contract that will cost him money if he goes above certain limits in each of the next three seasons.

Of his $21.3 million deal, $1 million will be jeopardized on a pro-rated basis over the three years if he does not make weight.

• The Steelers have partnered with STR Marketplace to provide a medium where fans can buy and sell seat licenses to Heinz Field without waiting a lifetime on their season ticket waiting list.

The information is available at www.steelers.com or http://steelers.strmarketplace.com.

Quote To Note: “If I had to take an educated guess, I’d say the probability of him being a free agent is greater than him being signed.” - Joel Turner, agent for FS Ryan Clark.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

The defense is getting/gotten old and it needs to be replenished, so it would surprise few if most of their draft concentrates on that side of the ball. Their secondary will benefit from Troy Polamalu’s healthy return but they face the prospect of losing three of their top six defensive backs - starting FS Ryan Clark and nickel CB Deshea Townsend as UFAs and starting CB William Gay as a RFA.

Their offensive line has shown it is just not good enough and the draft could bring a top-flight guard or tackle. Another running back also will be needed to complement starter Rashard Mendenhall because Willie Parker is set to leave as a UFA.

Offseason Strategy

Kevin Colbert, the Steelers’ director of football operations, identified three “priorities” for the team before free agency began, all involving UFAs. They signed NT Casey Hampton to a three-year, $21.3 million contract, made kicker Jeff Reed their franchise player and likely have struck out trying to negotiate a deal with free safety Ryan Clark.

The team also issued a first-round tender to four-year RFA Willie Colon and a fourth-round RFA tender to punter Daniel Sepulveda.

Team Needs

1. Cornerback: Even though the Steelers drafted corners in the third and fifth rounds last season, they got woeful play at the position and could lose starter and RFA William Gay and veteran UFA Deshea Townsend along with starting FS Ryan Clark.

2. Linebacker: The Steelers have little depth and no starting prospects behind their starting four, two of whom are well into their 30s - inside linebacker James Farrior will be 35 this season and outside linebacker James Harrison 32.

3. Defensive line: Although they re-signed NT Casey Hampton and drafted DE on first round last season, the Steelers’ three starters are all in their 30s and they need to groom someone to take over for Hampton and one DE over the next two years.

Medical Watch: No updates.

Franchise Player: PK Jeff Reed (tendered at $2.814M).

Transition Player: None.

Unrestricted Free Agents

• QB Charlie Batch is a reliable, when healthy, backup and that is the issue because he missed all of 2008 and ended 2009 with a broken wrist. He wants to return.

• LB Rocky Boiman was a late edition to try to save their drowning special teams. He’s not likely to return.

• SS Tyrone Carter won’t get a contract from the Steelers again unless he finds nothing from anywhere else.

• FS Ryan Clark would like to return and the team wants him back, but they are not likely to settle on a price before free agency begins.

• DE Nick Eason, if he’s willing to return at a minimum salary, could re-sign.

• WR Joey Galloway was a late signing after Limas Sweed was placed on injured reserve. He did not dress for either game and he is not likely to be invited back.

• DE Travis Kirschke, although he turns 36 this year, has been dependable and could re-sign if he does not go elsewhere, especially if they get nothing at the position in the draft.

• RB Willie Parker has seen his last days in Pittsburgh. They would love to have him back as a backup to Rashard Mendenhall but he wants more playing time than that.

• CB Deshea Townsend thinks he can still start in the league and the Steelers have no plans for him to do that. If he finds nothing of his liking in free agency, they will offer him a contract to return.

Unrestricted Free Agents (not tendered offers)

• RB Carey Davis (not tendered as RFA)..

• OG Darnell Stapleton (not tendered as RFA) was their starting right guard until an injury put him on injured reserve.

Restricted Free Agents (*indicates restricted because of uncapped year)

• *OT Willie Colon (tendered at $2.521M with first-round pick as compensation) entering third season as starter at right tackle.

• CB William Gay (tendered at $1.101M with fifth-round pick as compensation) had a disappointing first season as a starter but not bad enough that they want to lose him.

• P Daniel Sepulveda (tendered at $1.101M with fourth-round pick as compensation) was middle of the road and not likely to receive a high tender. He was drafted in the fourth round.

• TE Matt Spaeth (tendered at $1.101M with fifth-round pick as compensation) is No. 2 behind Heath Miller. He plays a lot but rarely is used as a target and he’s not a good blocker.

Exclusive Rights Free Agents

• LB Patrick Bailey was their rookie of the year for his special-teams play in 2008, but dropped off last season.

Players Re-signed

• NT Casey Hampton: Potential UFA; $21.3M/3 yrs, $11M guaranteed/$6.5M SB.

Players Acquired

• LB Derrick Doggett: CFL FA; terms unknown.

Players Lost: None.