Contract status and notes

The Pittsburgh Steelers have many key players who are looking for a contract extension this year, but Hines Ward is the first priority and everyone else must wait.

  • CB Deshea Townsend was playing safety the past week simply to get on the field without taxing himself too much. Townsend had sports hernia surgery earlier this year.
  • NT Casey Hampton will be a free agent after next season. Hampton was their top draft pick in 2001 and made the Pro Bowl after the 2003 season. He was playing as well until his ACL was torn in the sixth game last season.

    "Whatever happens, happens, I can't worry about that," Hampton said. "I have to worry about getting back on the field. I missed 10 games last season, my main goal is to get back and try to help this team win."
  • CB DeShea Townsend, scheduled to be a free agent next offseason, won't be approached by the Steelers until Hines Ward is either signed to an extension or talks reach a breakdown.

    "The focus is always going to be on Hines first," said Townsend, who enters his eighth year with the team, the past 1 1/2 as a starter. "That's how it goes. I want to sign a new contract and stay here. I have to go out there and prove myself on the field again, I guess."
  • DE Kimo von Oelhoffen, scheduled to be a free agent next offseason, won't be approached by the Steelers until Hines Ward is either signed to an extension or talks reach a breakdown. Von Oelhoffen is 34 and the Steelers might not want to sign him to an extension before the start of the season.
  • TE Jeremy Tuman, scheduled to be a free agent next offseason, won't be approached by the Steelers until Hines Ward is either signed to an extension or talks reach a breakdown. Tuman may not start much longer because they drafted tight end Heath Miller in the first round.
  • WR Antwaan Randle El, scheduled to be a free agent next offseason, won't be approached by the Steelers until Hines Ward is either signed to an extension or talks reach a breakdown. Randle El is competing to start with Cedrick Wilson.
  • S Chris Hope, scheduled to be a free agent next offseason, won't be approached by the Steelers until Hines Ward is either signed to an extension or talks reach a breakdown. They may want to see more of Hope, who started only one year.
  • LB Rian Wallace, their fifth-rounder from Temple, signed with the Steelers.

    Wallace received a three-year contract for $1,036,500 with a $111,500 signing bonus and annual salaries of $230,000, $310,000 and $385,000. He'll play inside linebacker.

    "We are trying to keep him where he is more comfortable for right now," said Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler. "We will see how things go in camp and decide where our personnel is best fit."
  • RB Jerome Bettis practiced for the first time the past week since preparations for the AFC Championship Game Jan. 23. He said he wanted his body to heal from a general beaten-up feeling. "It was a good rest," Bettis said, "but now it's time to get back to work."
  • WR Hines Ward is the top priority for the Steelers among their seven starters who will be free agents after next season. Little progress for a new contract has been made in the talks between the Steelers and Ward's agent, Eugene Parker, which began at the end of April.
  • QB Ben Roethlisberger asked the Steelers to open up the offense more next season, and it looks as though they will do just that.

    They've thrown the ball a lot more this spring, added plays to their passing game and feel last year's rookie sensation at quarterback is ready to take on a bigger load next season.

    "Certainly, we want to run the football, that's our identity," said coordinator Ken Whisenhunt. "But I think we'll be able to do a few more things throwing the football this year, especially on first and second down, and I think that will even help us run the ball better."

    The Steelers ran 618 times and passed 358 times (plus 36 sacks trying to throw) even though their quarterback had the best rookie season of anyone in the history of the league. Roethlisberger completed 66.4 percent of his passes for a 98.1 passer rating, both NFL rookie records. They ran the ball 61 percent of the time, the highest percentage of any NFL team the past 20 years.

    Roethlisberger's success came as the Steelers kept the offense simple for him as a rookie and ran the ball to take pressure off him with the lead.

    "The biggest thing is he's more comfortable with what we're doing," said Whisenhunt, who enters his second season as coordinator. "I think our offense is more comfortable with him and with what we're doing and certainly I can get better. I've learned some things from the first year."


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