Steelers restructure Porter; other moves coming

Less than a week after restructuring the contract of offensive tackle Marvel Smith to save about $1.4 million, the Steelers have done the same thing with linebacker Joey Porter to save another $1.65 million.

As in the works are deals to restructure the deals of defensive end Aaron Smith and running back Jerome Bettis that would help get the Steelers under the league's salary cap of $80.5 million by March 3, the day the 2004 salary cap goes into effect.

Next up, the release of several veterans not in the team's plans for 2004, including cornerback Dewayne Washington, tight end Mark Bruener and running back Amos Zereoue. The team is also considering whether it will attempt to restructure the contract of outside linebacker Jason Gildon or whether to give their all-time sacks leader his outright release after June 1.

The restructuring of Marvel Smith's deal last week left the Steelers are $2.4 million over the salary cap, meaning they are between $600 and $700 thousand over the cap with a week remaining to find some more space.

Releasing Washington and Bruener will free up another $1.3 million giving the Steelers about $600,000 in breathing room. Releasing Zereoue, meanwhile, would clear about $1.1 million.

If the Steelers and Bettis agree to lower his 2004 base salary $3.75 million to the veteran minimum, it would give the team enough room to make a serious pitch to potential free agents while also giving it enough cap space to cover its rookie cap.

Anything beyond that, however, would likely require the restructuring of Aaron Smith and the release and/or restructuring of Gildon.

The Steelers have also reportedly begun negotiations with backup outside linebacker Clark Haggans, safety Mike Logan and fullback Dan Kreider on new deals that would keep the unrestricted free agents with the team.

Haggans, who was sentenced to 10 days in prison earlier this week in Colorado from charges stemming from a drunk driving incident, would give the Steelers another option at outside linebacker in case Gildon is released.

But the fact the team is considering restructuring Gildon's deal shows it has little confidence in the ability of 2003 second-round draft pick Alonzo Jackson to step in and play in 2004.

Kreider has been the team's starting fullback for the past three seasons, while Logan was a starter at strong safety last season. While Kreider most certainly would be re-signed as a starter, Logan would be brought back as a backup to 2003 first-round draft pick Troy Polamalu or as a player to compete with Chris Hope for the starting free safety position held down by veteran Brent Alexander the past three seasons.

Alexander is still mulling retirement, but has not yet made a decision. If the team is able to re-sign Logan, Alexander could also be released.

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