Steelers Resign Health Miller to Six Year Extension

Training camp has not yet begun, yet the Steelers continue to make moves to fortify the team’s future.

Steelers.com announced this afternoon that the Pittsburgh Steelers have come to terms with tight end Heath Miller. According to the Post-Gazette, the deal includes a 12.5 million dollar signing bonus and totals 35.3 million dollars over six years.

Good Move for Both Sides

Drafted in the first round of the 2005 draft, Heath Miller has quietly emerged as one of the NFL’s top tight ends. Entering the final year of his rookie contract, Miller’s future with the team has been the subject of intense speculation. Under normal circumstances Miller would have been eligible for unrestricted free agency, having played five seasons in the league.

However, if the NFL owners and the NFL Players Association do not reach an agreement to extend their current collective bargaining agreement before the 2009 season ends the salary cap will expire in 2010. At first blush an uncapped year appears to be a player’s dream.

But the deal contains a number of poison pills, one of which stipulates that players do not enter unrestricted free agency until they have played their sixth year.

The deal will keep Miller with the Steelers for the next six years, presumably the prime of his NFL career. While they most likely would have kept his services had he become a restricted free agent, one of the Daniel Snyders of the league could have offered a ridiculous deal that would have been impossible to match.

Miller could certainly have given him a shot at more money by waiting, but in waiting he would be running the risk of a major injury prior to reaching free agency. Instead, he opted to sign and secure the next several years of his future with the Steelers.

Unsung Hero?

Heath Miller does not get the kind of press of a Tony Gonzales or (in his day) Shannon Sharpe, get, but his contributions to the Steelers are invaluable. Miller made an immedate impact as a rookie, and developed to the point where he’s caught just under fifty passes in each of the last two seasons.

And if his 2008 receiving average and touchdown total might be down a smidge, look no further than the AFC Championship game against Baltimore, where Miller averaged 20.7 yards on three catches, helping pick up the slack in the absence of Hines Ward.

Miller gives Ben Roethlisberger an escape valve under the middle, and has a knack for coming down with the ball in third down situations. Miller is also an exceptional run blocker, an area of the team that needs strengthening.

Last of Many?

Now that Miller has signed, the Steelers have 6 Steelers headed for unrestricted free agency unless their contracts are extended. The others are Casey Hampton, Brett Keisel, Ryan Clark, Deshea Townsend, Tryone Carter, and Jeff Reed.

As bad as this sounds, the Steelers have greatly impoved this situation during the past off season, which included signing Hines Ward, James Harrison, and Max Starks to extensions, all three of whom would have become free agents in March 2010.

Most of the speculation on the remaining pool focused on Health Miller, as many pegged him as the most likely and the most desirable prospects to resign.

Pittsburgh would undoubtedly like to bank on the future services of several their other impending free agents, but the Steelers are unlikely to get many others under contract.

The Steelers have maneuvered with precious little cap space during the off season, and Miller’s signing along with the recent inking of first round draft pick Evander “Ziggy” Hood likely leaves the team with little room under the cap.

You can follow all of the off season’s Steelers free agent news by clicking on our Steelers 2009 Free Agent Focus tag.

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Max Starks Signs with the Steelers for Four Years

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and ESPN.com are reporting that Max Starks has signed a long-term deal with the Steelers. Stark’s contract is for four years and 26.4 million dollars, with a ten million dollar signing bonus.

Prior to the off season, the Steelers had named Max Starks their franchise player, binding him to the team for the 2009 season and paying him $8,451,000 for the year. In spite of that, both Starks and the Steelers have insisted that a long term deal was what both sides wanted.

While many in the media saw prospect as unlikely due to NFL salary cap considerations, an agreement was reached this week. The move will also create about 2 million dollars in extra salary cap room for the Steelers.

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Larry Foote Wants Out of Pittsburgh… Careful of What You Wish For…

First they cut Gary Russell. Then they restructured Ike Taylor’s contract. Then they restructured and resigned Hines Ward  to a new, cap-friendly contract. Now word is that inside linebacker Larry Foote wants out.

  • All in the name of the salary cap.

All of this portended to Larry Foote’s departure from the Steelers. And now it appears that is about to happen, but the situation is not unfolding as expected.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Pittsburgh Tribune Review are both reporting that Larry Foote will leave the Steelers via trade or the wavier wire, but apparently this is happening at Larry Foote’s bidding.

Foote told the Post-Gazette’s Ed Bouchette:

“It was my doing. I wanted to go. They were trying to trade me.”

Bouchette reports that the Steelers did try to shop Foote during the draft and found no new takers, and that they were going to waive him this morning, but have held off for the moment because they want to give a trade another shot.

From Bouchette’s article it is hard to 100% certain whether the impetus for the trade came from Foote or not, but either way Foote is not happy in Pittsburgh.

What Have You Done for Me Lately Mr. Foote?

His comments make it clear that he is not happy about being phased out in favor of 2007 first round draft pick Lawrence Timmons. He went as far as to tell Bouchette:

James Farrior never slows down, and Timmons came in and I can’t grow here any more. They turned me into a two-down linebacker last year. I was stuck in a role. I love the team, I love winning, but you can’t keep being unhappy. It got to the point where they were not giving me a chance. [Emphasis added.]

Steelers Nation should feel no ill will to a player who wants to go somewhere where he can start, but Foote would also do well to remember that when Kendrell Bell went down to injury in early 2002, Bill Cowher turned to the rookie Foote as opposed to a more experienced back up such as John Fiala.

That was 2002. Sentimentally certainly did not lead Mike Tomlin to start Foote ahead of Timmons in 2008, but based on what he demonstrated on the field, Timmons almost certainly would have vindicated a decision to start him instead.

Careful of What You Wish For Mr. Foote

Larry Foote is not the first Steelers linebacker to ask for his release upon getting stuck behind a young Turk. And Larry Foote would be wise to learn from the cautionary tale of Jerry Olsavsky.

Injuries brought Jerry Olsavsky into the Steelers starting line up for parts of 1995 and almost all of 1996. Jerry O did well both times, but nonetheless Earl Holmes was slated to start in front of him going into the 1997 season.

Olsavsky sought and got his release during the 1997 off season. He followed Marv Lewis to Baltimore, but he did not start. He recorded ten tackles in nine games and, if memory serves, the Ravens cut him before the end of the season and he was out of football.

Larry Foote is of course a different caliber player than Jerry Olsavsky, but in Pittsburgh he’s part of the defending number one defense of the defending Super Bowl Champions.

The Steelers will probably honor Foote’s wish, (although there does seem to be some doubt about that now.) Foote is certainly good enough to land on another NFL team where he can start and perhaps stand out. But as Jerry Olsavsky’s story shows, getting your wish isn’t always the best thing that can happen to you.

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Steelers Sign Hines Ward to Extension

ESPN.com is reporting the the Pittsburgh Steelers have resigned Hines Ward to an contract extension.

The deal is reportedly for four years and $22 million dollars. The Pittsburgh Steelers have apparently structured the deal to give themselves valuable salary cap room (read, Hines Ward did not get much of a bonus.)

  • Hines Ward had been scheduled to become a free agent at the end of the Steelers 2009 season.

Reflecting on this possiblity, Steelers Digest Editor Bob Labriola suggested that Ward might be contemplating retirement, and he suggested that the Steelers begin preparing for that possiblity.

As Steelers OTA’s began two weeks ago, Ward sounded like anything but a man who was thinking about hanging it up, or itching to see if the grass really was greener on the other side.

  • Instead Hines Ward expressed his desire to play his entire career as a Steeler.

With a four year extension in hand, it looks like he will do that. And Steelers Nation should give thanks.

Hines Ward Contract Confirmed, but Not Yet Signed

Later in the day, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Ed Bouchette confirmed the story with Ward’s agent, Eugene Parker. Parker confirmed that an agreement had been reached, both out of a desire on the part of Ward to finish his playing days in Pittsburgh and on the part of the Steelers, who needed salary cap space.

While an agreement has been reached, it has not yet been signed, and could be either four our five years in length.

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Steelers Signing of Keiwan Ratliff Puzzling

The Steelers confirmed that they have signed former Indianapolis Colts corner back Kiewan Ratliff to a one year deal.

The Cincinnati Bengals drafted him in the second round in 2004, but Ratliff has never been more than a back up and occasional starter since then. He has also played as a back up in Tampa Bay in 2007 and in Indianapolis last year.

He gives the team some veteran depth at corner, and will most likely push Antonio Bryant for a roster spot, although the Post-Gazette is reporting that he might challenge William Gay for a starting spot. If he does make a serious push to start, then he is either a late bloomer, al la James Harrison, or William Gay will have greatly disappointed in Latrobe this summer.

Given the Steelers acute lack of salary cap space, one has to wonder why the team made this move.

Will Deshea Townsend to Move to Safety…?

Yes, it does lessen the pressure to pick a DB in the draft, but this draft is reputed to be strong with mid-round, high value defensive backs. Perhaps the move signals a lack of confidence in William Gay and/or Roy Lewis, or perhaps Steelers coaches are seeing signs that Desha Townsend is finally losing a step.

This move might also signal that coaches are thinking of transitioning Townsend to safety. There was some talk of this in during the 2008 off season, when it was unclear that Ryan Clark would make a full recovery, but nothing ever surfaced.

Regardless, this the Steelers Signing of Keiwan Ratliff is a surprising move whose motive is difficult to understand.

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Steelers Resign Charlie Batch

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is reporting that the Steelers have resigned Charlie Batch. Batch has been a Steelers reserve quarterback since joining the team in 2002.

Charlie Batch had been a unrestricted free agent, but received little interest while on the free agent market. The Steelers coaches and front office think highly of Batch, and wanted him back, but his status had been in some doubt due to the uncertainty surrounding Byron Leftwich.

Leftwich joined the Steelers when Batch was injured in preseason, and had played very well in relief of Ben Roethlisberger in three games this past season. Leftwich sees himself as a starter, and had difficulty finding a team that would give him a chance to complete for a starting job. Barring that possibility, Leftwich was open to returning to the Steelers, and the Steelers wanted him back.

But Leftwich did land in Tampa Bay, and  Leftwich’s defection saw the Steelers resign Charlie Batch in short order.

Analysis of Steelers Decision to Bring Back Charlie Batch

This move was highly anticipated. Perhaps the only surprising thing about it is that Batch signed a one year deal.

  • Does that indicate that the Steelers see third string quaterback Dennis Dixon growing into a potential number two quarterback over the next year?

Perhaps, or perhaps it is simply a reflection of the reality that with age and injuries mounting, Batch status with the Steelers is now year-to-year.

Regardless, Batch is reliable back up quarterback who has delivered when he’s been called on to step on to the field, and is a positive presence both in the locker room and on the sidelines when he is not.

Thanks for reading. Trace all the Steelers 3009 free agent moves via our Steelers 2009 Free Agent Focus.

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Steelers Resign James Harrison

Both ESPN.com and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette have announced that the Pittsburgh Steelers have reached an agreement to extend the contract of NFL Defensive Player of the year James Harrison.

Resigning James Harrison was the Steelers top off season priority, and while negotiations have been complicated by the intricacies of the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement, an agreement was reached today.

The reported terms of the contract are for 6 years and 51 million dollars, with about 20 million in signing bonuses and other guarantees.

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Tampa Bay Buccaneeers Sign Byron Leftwich

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers sign Byron Leftwich ending speculation that Steelers reserve quarterback might stay in Pittsburgh.

The Steelers brought in Bryon Leftwich when Charlie Batch went down in preseason, and Leftwich performed well in three games in relief of Ben Roethlisberger.

For a time it appeared that Leftwich might return to the Steelers, as he initally drew little interest on the free agent market. But Tampa Bay was willing to give him a chance to start, and hence he opted to sign with them.

Leftwich’s departure makes it more likely that the Steelers will resign Charlie Batch to be Ben Roethlisberger’s back up in 2009.

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Steelers Sign Keyaron Fox

The Steelers signed another unrestricted free agent, and like the rest of them, this one happened to be a Pittsburgh Steeler (Steel Curtain Rising was in error ten days or so ago when we said they had no more left to sign.)

This time it was back up linebacker and special teams player Keyaron Fox. Fox was signed last year to a one year deal after having played from 2004 to 2007 for the Kansas City Chiefs. In Kansas City, Fox appeared in 40 games and made four starts recording 1 sack.

  • During the Pittsburgh Steelers 2008 season, Keyaron Fox appeared in 13 games and made 11 tackles.

The Pittsburgh Post Gazette reported that he got a 1.8 million dollar contract for two years, but his signing bonus is only $380,000. A number of weeks ago Ed Bouchette announced that they were close to resigning Fox, but this was that week that saw the Steelers sign Keyaron Fox.

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Byron Leftwich to the Redskins?

Steel Curtain Rising speculated, long before the major Pittsburgh papers, (well, ok, only one day before) that should Bryon Leftwich fail to secure a solid offer to start somewhere else, he might very well decide to remain a back up in Pittsburgh.

  • It now appears that Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder will test that hypothesis.

Earlier this week the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that the Steelers were hoping to sign both Charlie Batch and Byron Leftwich, but that Leftwich was in talks with another, unnamed team.

Now we know the name of that team, and it is the Washington Redskins, as Leftwich worked out with the Redskins last Friday.

Bryon Leftwich a Hometown Hero?

Byron Leftwich is a Washington DC area native, and was boyhood fan of the team. Like most kids, he grew up dreaming of playing for his hometown team. Later he admitted to the Washington Post’s Michael Wilbon that playing against them, as he did when the Steelers defeated the Redskins last season on Monday Night Football, was the next best thing.

For the moment we can only speculate if the possibility of winning another Super Bowl with the Steelers outweighs the possibility returning to Washington as a native son.

What Exactly is Daniel Snyder Thinking, Anyway?

Its been confirmed that the Redskins, tried, and failed, to land Jay Cutler in a trade. This transpired despite the fact that Jason Campbell has been steadily growing into a quality NFL quarterback. Campbell threw for over three thousand yards last year, completed 62% of his passes, and had a quarterback rating of 80.4%.

One has to wonder, if Snyder is willing to ditch Campbell as his starter, is he also enticing Leftwich to come to Washington with the promise of competing for a starting spot? A Washington Post article cited an unnamed Redskins source saying that Leftwich was being recruited exclusively as a back up.

Still, its not hard to imagine Snyder making such a pitch. Such an overture, direct or indirect, would be a slap in the face at Jason Campbell and could easily disrupt the chemistry of the Redskins locker room, not that Daniel Snyder has ever let that stop him before. (For the record, the same article said that Campbell was aware of the Leftwich workout, and was completely OK with it.)

It says here that Leftwich should do what is in the best interests of his career. But along those lines, he’d be wise to consider the differences of playing for a team run by Dan Rooney (or Art II as the case may be) and one run by Daniel Snyder.

If Leftwich does sign with the Redskins, the Steelers will most certainly move to get Charlie Batch under contract.

Thanks for visiting. You can trace the Steeler free agent moves via our Steelers 2009 free agent focus.

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