Notebook: Numbers Game

Kenneth Torgent's breakdown of a scattered Saturday at St. Vincent College:

LATROBE – The media swarm for the third day of camp at Saint Vincent College began with a state of the franchise, at least in terms of numbers and figures. Director of Football Operations Kevin Colbert addressed the media mid-morning, discussing the business behind the Steelers as the team signs, renegotiates, and terminates its way to a legal salary cap figure.

"Coming out of an uncapped year – we knew last year that we probably did some things that would have exceeded the salary cap had there been one in place for the 2010 season," said Colbert. "We always tried to keep track of where we might be and the damage we could possibly incur in the future, but we knew it was unavoidable that we were going to have to terminate some pretty prominent players just to be in compliance with the cap."

Three notable Steelers have already been axed: offensive tackles Max Starks and Flozell Adams and wide receiver Antwaan Randle El.

Even with those cuts, Pittsburgh finds itself over the cap line of about $120 million, which can be stretched to $123 million with the three $1 million cap exemptions granted under the new CBA that the team plans to use before the salary cap officially kicks in at the start of the league year on August 4th.

"We'll be doing some renegotiating to try to get in compliance," Colbert said. "There still could be some further terminations and there could be some new roster additions."

Colbert believes that the Steelers can fit back under the cap using contract renegotiations alone, but did note that any major addition will almost certainly be coupled with a termination of a current player.

Players who could see their contracts renegotiated include Troy Polamalu, Lawrence Timmons and LaMarr Woodley, who was hit with the franchise tag before the lockout close league business.

PLAX IS BACK? Former wideout Plaxico Burress, who has yet to take the field for an NFL team since his release from prison on gun-related charges, visited with the Steelers .

Plaxico spent nearly seven hours on campus, mostly talking with Tomlin, Colbert, and a few of his old teammates, before departing to catch a flight to San Francisco.

Earlier in the day, I felt 70/30 that Burress would return. His departure from Saint Vincent without an agreement has me leaning the opposite direction. The Steelers simply can't and won't get into a bidding war with the 49ers and Jets, who are in much better shape cap-wise.

LAST CHANCE: The player who stands to benefit the most if Burress takes his talents elsewhere is undoubtedly Limas Sweed, who almost certainly will disappear from thought if he fails to make the roster this season.

Sweed looked sharp all afternoon, showing soft hands and solid routes in both team and passing drills. Unfortunately, he sustained a hamstring injury toward the end of the practice. It didn't look serious, and I'd expect him to be back out and battling for that 5th or 6th spot.

GRAHAM VISITS: While all the focus was on Burress' visit, free-agent tight end Daniel Graham was also in Latrobe meeting with the team. The former Patriot/Bronco is more of a blocker than a receiver and would slot in at the second TE spot Matt Spaeth vacated just a few days ago.

The cap hit is everything here. If Pittsburgh can lock Graham up for the veteran minimum (or very close to it), they'll probably bring him in. If his asking price is any higher, the Steelers need to let him walk and let David Johnson split duties with one of the undrafted rookies.

INJURY NOTES: WR Emmanuel Sanders was experiencing discomfort in his foot and did not practice. OG/OT Marcus Gilbert and WR Limas Sweed both have hamstring injuries. CB Curtis Brown left early with an illness.

FIVE THINGS I LEARNED:

1A. One correction on my discussion of the punting position in yesterday's notebook. Jeremy Kapinos is under contract with the Steelers, but is unable to practice until the start of the league year, meaning undrafted rookie Aaron Bates isn't the only punter in camp. That said, Bates has impressed thus far and could be an improvement over Kapinos, who averaged just 41.1 yards per punt last season.

1B. Kapinos is one of eight players who are contractually obligated to be at camp, but can't take the field for practice until the 4th. The others are: Shaun Suisham, Doug Legursky, Tony Hills, Ryan Mundy, Jonathan Scott, Willie Colon, and Ike Taylor.

1C. The Steelers made A and 1/8th of B moot by re-signing Daniel Sepulveda.

2. Dennis Dixon is the only Steeler that has yet to sign his restricted free agent tender. He can attempt to sign with any team until 8/20 (Pittsburgh can match any offer), but once that date passes, his only options would be to sign with the Steelers or sit out the 2011 season.

3. If the team does perform any contract renegotiations, they won't be made official until Wednesday night after 6:00PM. The league year opens on Thursday.

4. Wes Lyons likely won't stick, but he's been one of the more interesting watches early in camp. Hailing from the football factory of Woodland Hills High School, the 6'8" Lyons arguably made the play of the camp so far, using every inch of his height to snatch a ball in tight coverage.

5. The more I watch seventh-round running back Baron Batch, the more I believe he'll stick on the roster. What's more, he'll contribute. He has the speed, he has the hands and ball control, and he's a willing blocker in the backfield. The only thing working against him is the abbreviated offseason.


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