However, they have been frustrated in their attempts to sign linebacker James Harrison to a long-term contract. Harrison, who has a year left on his current contract at $1.4 million, wants to be paid like he was the NFL defensive player of the year. [Update: According to Scott Brown of the Tribune-Review, the Steelers are closing in on a $45 million deal with Harrison that could be completed early next week.]
Both sides have a point. One, the Steelers still have Harrison under contract and he turns 31 next month. They also could make him the franchise player next year. But Harrison also has been a bargain the past two seasons with salaries of $1.1 million and $1.2 million. He made Pro Bowl in his first season as a starter in 2007, then hit the jackpot last season, topped off when he contributed arguably the best defensive play in Super Bowl history.
The other deal would be to sign quarterback Byron Leftwich. The Steelers have made him a two-year offer but for just the veteran minimum. Leftwich wants more or he wants to sign for just one season. He visited Tampa Bay this week after visiting Washington last week.
Their other option is to sign Charlie Batch. In fact, they want to sign both, but Batch realizes he'd likely be the odd man out if that happens because the Steelers plan to keep Dennis Dixon, their fifth-round draft choice last year.
The Steelers also are knocking their heads against the wall hoping tackle Max Starks will sign long-term. He has a guaranteed $8.5 million as their franchise player, so it will take more than hope to get him to sign a long-term deal that does not start with at least $15 million in guarantees over the next two years as a baseline.
Fox helped boost their special teams and he also is a backup linebacker on a team that starts four of them and always is looking for linebackers.
--The dates and times for the Steelers' two preseason road games have been determined. They will play at Washington Aug. 22 at 7:30 p.m. and at Carolina Sept. 3 at 8 p.m.
--The Steelers will hold their first two of 14 organized team activities before the draft on April 20 and 21. Their attendance-mandatory minicamp will be conducted May 1-3, the weekend after the draft. They will resume OTAs May 19, 20, 21, 26, 27 and 28 and conclude with three in June on the 9th, 10th and 11th.
--Coach Mike Tomlin has no problem having to wait until the end of each round to draft a player (the Steelers have one in each, plus extras in the fifth and seventh).
"I would rather pick at the bottom of the first round than the top because what it takes to get to the top to pick is miserable," Tomlin said.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I'm a private person. I have somewhat of a public job." -- Coach Mike Tomlin, on why he's not heard from much in the offseason.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Here are the players who have visited the Steelers this week: Center Alex Mack of California, DT Fili Moala (Southern Cal), OG Herman Johnson (LSU), TE Richard Quinn (North Carolina), CB Donald Washington (Ohio State), CB Don Carey (Norfolk State), CB Sherrod Martin (Troy) and OLB Lawrence Sidbury (Richmond).
TEAM NEEDS/OFFSEASON STRATEGY
The Steelers lost three free agents since free agency began - wide receiver Nate Washington, cornerback Bryant McFadden and safety Anthony Smith. They have signed no free agents other than their own. They signed eight free agents in one form or another including four offensive linemen: Max Starks, Chris Kemoeatu, Willie Colon and Trai Essex. They also kept tight end/fullback Sean McHugh, cornerback Fernando Bryant and linebackers Andre Frazier and Arnold Harrison. They'd like to ultimately sign a free agent wide receiver to compete with Limas Sweed for the No. 3 spot and add depth.
1. Offensive Linemen: While they kept Starks, Kemoeatu and tendered Colon, they have little depth and no one to push their starters. They need a young tackle and/or guard.
2. Defensive Linemen: They have good players, better than most, but they're also getting old. Five of their top six defensive linemen are over 30.
3. Wide receivers: Losing UFA Nate Washington to the Titans means they have two experienced players at the position, Santonio Holmes and Hines Ward, who turns 33 in March. Limas Sweed, who played little as a rookie, moves up to No. 3.
FRANCHISE PLAYER: OT Max Starks: Tendered at $8.451M; signed tender Feb. 23.
TRANSITION PLAYER: None.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
--QB Charlie Batch wants to return as Ben Roethlisberger's backup. The team wants him back.
--P Mitch Berger punted poorly and will not receive an offer because Daniel Sepulveda will return from injury.
--QB Byron Leftwich did a nice job and is now ready to compete somewhere else to start.
--DE Orpheus Roye completed his 13th season by mainly being inactive on game day and he likely will not be re-signed.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered)
--TE Jon Dekker (not tendered as ERFA) was on injured reserve.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS
--G Jeremy Parquet was a backup who played little.
--CB Fernando Bryant: UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--OT Willie Colon: RFA; $2.198M/1 yr.
--FB Carey Davis: ERFA; terms unknown.
--OT Trai Essex: UFA; $1.94M/2 yrs, $500,000 SB.
--LB Keyaron Fox: UFA; $1.8M/2 yrs, $380,000 SB.
--LB Andre Frazier: UFA; $1.375M/2 yrs, $125,000 SB; 2009 cap: $687,500.
--LB Arnold Harrison: Not tendered as RFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--OG Chris Kemoeatu: UFA; $20M/5 yrs, $3.885M SB/$6M guaranteed.
--CB Anthony Madison: RFA; $1.01M/1 yr.
--TE/FB Sean McHugh; RFA; (tendered at $1.01M with seventh-round pick as compensation); $2.57M/3 yrs, $390,000 SB.
--OT Max Starks: FFA; $8.451M/1 yr.
--RB Stefan Logan: FA CFL; terms unknown.
--WR Brandon Williams: FA; terms unknown.
--LB Mike Humpal (released/failed physical).
--CB Bryant McFadden: UFA Cardinals; $10M/2 yrs, $1M RB/$5M guaranteed.
--OG Kendall Simmons (released/failed physical).
--S Anthony Smith: Not tendered as RFA/Packers; $1.485M/2 yrs, $100,000 RB.
--OT Marvel Smith: UFA 49ers; 2 yrs, terms unknown.
--WR Nate Washington: UFA Titans; terms unknown.