Keisel in tow

Brett Keisel came on strong at the end of last season, and on Tuesday the Steelers paid him for it.

Brett Keisel, 27, signed a four-year contract with the Pittsburgh Steelers and will replace the departed Kimo von Oelhoffen at right defensive end this season.

According to the Post-Gazette, Keisel's contract is worth $13.1 million with a $3.3 million signing bonus.

Von Oelhoffen signed a three-year contract worth $9.2 million yesterday with the New York Jets.

The Steelers, though, were set on starting Keisel, who, in four years with the team hasn't made a start but who produced down the stretch. Of his three sacks, two were recorded in the season's penultimate regular-season game at Cleveland. He also forced a fumble in the game.

In the playoffs, Keisel recorded two sacks of Denver quarterback Jake Plummer in the AFC Championship game. He also forced Plummer to fumble on a play that sealed the win for the Steelers.

After the Super Bowl, Keisel became the Steelers' top priority in free agency, and yesterday both sides came away fulfilled.

"I'm very excited," Keisel said. "I felt kind of like I came full circle. I was almost the last draft pick, 242nd, and to be able to have this opportunity is really special for me. I can't thank the Rooneys and Coach (Bill) Cowher enough for believing in me and giving me a chance.

"The ball's in my court. I've just got to make my free throws."

Keisel drew interest from a couple of teams, he said, and newspaper accounts had him heading to Denver and New England, but Keisel never left Pittsburgh.

"Things worked out exactly how they were supposed to and I'm thrilled to stay here in Pittsburgh," he said.

While the loss of von Oelhoffen opens the door for Keisel, he won't take veteran backup Travis Kirschke for granted.

"Where I play and how I play I'm sure will be determined later," Keisel said. "Seeing my buddy Kimo sign with New York (yesterday) kind of opened that opportunity up. I thought through all of this that they would get us both back somehow, but I'm sure Kimo will dominate up in New York like he did here, and hopefully I can dominate here too."

Keisel said his late-season production was more a result of playing time than any kind of development on his part. He also will put on more weight. Keisel kept his weight at 280 pounds in order to play special teams. He led the Steelers in special-teams tackles with 23, four more than runner-up Chidi Iwuoma. Those days, though, are gone. Keisel will add weight in order to better stand up at the point of attack.

"I'm going to have to put some lead in the old can," he said. "I dropped a bit during the season because I felt like I needed to keep up with Clint (Kriewaldt) and James (Harrison) and Sean (Morey) and Chidi flying down there, but I can do that. I can put on the weight and I'll be ready to go when the season comes rolling around. Putting on weight's a pretty simple process."

In little more than a month, Keisel has won a Super Bowl ring and signed a fat contract.

"Yep, 2006 is starting very well. It's been a great year so far," he said. "I want to keep it going."

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