Pittsburgh has approached free agency as it has in the past. There has not nor will there be any major signings, and those who overpriced themselves on their own team were allowed to enter the market as free agents.
Actually, only one player really overpriced himself and that was free safety Ryan Clark. They wanted to sign him, but his idea of what he was worth and their willingness to pay were not anywhere near each other. Clark eventually re-signed at a more comfortable price for Pittsburgh.
They already are paying Troy Polamalu an average of $6.5 million a year with his cap number over $8 million in 2010 and they were not about to sink more than $6 million into their other safety.
They signed five-time Pro Bowl nose tackle Casey Hampton and put the franchise tag on Jeff Reed. Kevin Colbert, their director of football operations, announced that all others would be permitted to go into the market and if they do not find something to their liking, the Steelers might like to have some of them back.
Among those they might want back is one of two veteran defensive ends, Travis Kirschke or Nick Eason. Aging cornerback Deshea Townsend could be another, especially since he has played some free safety and they need help there. Townsend has played 12 seasons in Pittsburgh and has established roots there and would love to stay.
The Steelers are notorious for not only starting slowly in free agency but for completely ignoring any of the bigger names or top-tiered free agents and this year is no different. They signed no one of note last season and little the year before. They did sign starting center Justin Hartwig in 2008 but only after the Atlanta Falcons had cut him.
This year they've signed free agent WRs Arnaz Battle and Antwaan Randle-El to three-year deals, adding depth to their receiving corps. Battle, a former 49er, was a UFA. Randle-El, who played his first four seasons with Pittsburgh, was cut by Washington after four seasons with the Redskins.
The Steelers' last significant signing was free safety Ryan Clark in 2006 and before that halfback Duce Staley in 2004 and linebacker James Farrior in 2002. Those are three significant signings in the past eight years, so little is expected of them as the first week of free agency winds down.
They have gambled in their secondary by not signing Clark or Townsend and placing only a low tender on RFA starting cornerback William Gay. Granted, Gay did not play well last season and ended up being replaced by Townsend at the end but he did well splitting time with Bryant McFadden in 2008, so much so that they did not make a big play to keep McFadden from leaving as a free agent.
Gay is young, spunky and in the past two seasons has had one good one and one bad one. He might fit better as a nickel back and even there, with more demands for cover corners in the league, someone might see a fifth-round draft choice for him a bargain or at least worth a try.
That also could be the case with tight end Matt Spaeth, although he would cost a team a third-round pick as a RFA. The Steelers use Spaeth in a way that is puzzling. He is a 6-foot-7 target who has been virtually ignored in their passing game and used primarily as a blocker. When they do throw to him, he's been capable but they prefer to throw to No. 1 tight end Heath Miller. Spaeth, though, is not much of a blocker due to his size.
If another team does sign him, it would be toward making him a pass-receiving tight end, which is what he was when he won the 2006 Mackey Award after catching 47 passes for 564 yards and four touchdowns at Minnesota. He caught five passes for the Steelers last season.
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