Call back the Turk

With the delay of free agency comes a delay in sending out the pink slips.

A number of Pittsburgh Steelers drew reprieves Thursday when the NFL moved the start of free agency back three days.

With NFL free agency set to begin at 12:01 a.m. Friday, the Steelers were preparing to purge themselves of a few veterans in an effort to get under the league's salary cap, which has been set at $94.53 million.

Among those expected to be sent packing were quarterback Tommy Maddox, safety Mike Logan and cornerback Willie Williams. According to the NFL Player's Association Web site, retired running back Jerome Bettis' $5.35 million salary for 2006 has already been taken off the books for the Steelers.

Centers Jeff Hartings and Chukky Okobi also got reprieves, as the Steelers considered releasing one or the other.

One player who didn't make the cut was injured safety Russell Stuvaints, who was released in order to save nearly a quarter of a million dollars. The Steelers promised Stuvaints they will bring him back within 25 days, otherwise they'll face an injury lawsuit. Also, the Steelers are close to finalizing a restructuring of Duce Staley's contract.

Hartings, who has made the past two Pro Bowls, is due a roster bonus of $750,000 March 8 and has a base salary of $4 million in 2006, pushing his cap number to just over $8 million. The Steelers have spoken with Hartings' representatives about taking a paycut similar to the one Bettis took in 2004 and 2005 to remain with the Steelers, but the 33-year-old Hartings would prefer to lower his salary by extending his contract past the one year it has remaining.

Okobi's base salary jumps from $540,000 to $2 million in 2006 and the Steelers are working to lower that number. If Okobi balks, the Steelers will cut him.

The Steelers entered the week about $7 million above the cap, if the league doesn't come up with a new collective bargaining agreement. The Steelers gained $5 million when Bettis was taken off the books, but need to trim at least $4 million more in order make tender offers to restricted free agents Ike Taylor and Sean Morey.

The Steelers cannot, however, make those tender offers until they know where they stand in relation to the cap.

The Steelers will tender Taylor a contract worth $1.552 million, which would give them the first right of refusal on any contract offer he might receive. If the Steelers choose not to match an offer for Taylor, they'd receive a first-round draft pick in return from the team that signed him.

Morey, a special teams standout, will be offered a tender of $712,000, which would only give the Steelers the right to match any contract offer he might receive. Since he wasn't drafted by the Steelers, they'd receive no compensation should he sign elsewhere.

If a new CBA is reached over the weekend, the Steelers will have a little more breathing room under the cap, which would rise to about $105 million. That might give the team enough cap space to make moves to re-sign free agent wide receiver Antwaan Randle El, defensive end Brett Keisel and/or safety Chris Hope.

With the league's agreement to move the start of free agency back to 12:01 a.m. Monday, the Steelers have until 6 p.m. Sunday to get under the salary cap for 2006.


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