Steelers face number of offseason issues

Jerry DiPaola
| Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2011

With an owner-imposed lockout threatening to shut down the NFL on March 4, Steelers backup nose tackle Chris Hoke said one of the chief concerns among players is what to do if they lose their health insurance.

If no new collective bargaining agreement is reached between the league and its players union, owners plan to shut down all league business — except the draft — ending players' benefits.

"All of our health insurance is cut off March 4," Hoke said. "Guys are worried about that, worried about whether there is going to be a season next year."

If the labor issues are not resolved, players will be unable to work out at their teams' facilities or sign a new contract.

That is especially crucial for the Steelers, who have 13 players eligible for free agency. That number includes outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley, cornerbacks Ike Taylor and William Gay and Hoke.

Coach Mike Tomlin met with the team yesterday, but he set no timetable for offseason workouts, minicamps or organized team activities.

"There is a lot of uncertainty," Hoke said.

One hopeful note: Hoke said defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, who is not signed for 2011, told his players he wants to return.

"He insinuated he wanted to come back," Hoke said. "He insinuated in talking to the defense that our work isn't done.

"He bleeds black and gold. He loves this team. He loves these players and we love him. I think he will be back."

Hoke, who is two months shy of his 35th birthday, said he hopes to return for his 10th season.

"I love playing for the Rooneys. I love playing for the City of Pittsburgh. It's been a home for my family for 10 years."

Meanwhile, Hoke and his teammates are trying to deal with the franchise's first Super Bowl defeat in 15 years.

"Speaking for a guy who has been to three Super Bowls," he said, "I'm glad we won the first two because I don't know how you deal with this.

"It's tough to lose a Super Bowl. You get there. You dream about being on top of that podium, holding that trophy, passing it around with your teammates. When you don't do that, it is hard to swallow. I don't know how the Bills (who lost four Super Bowls) dealt with it."

Wide receiver Antwaan Randle El, one of 16 Steelers 30 or older, said the defeat will linger.

"The frustration comes when we had the opportunity over and over and over to really seal the deal, to get the ball with one minute, 59 seconds and we got one first down," he said.

"That is what you kind of live for, to go down and win the game, and we didn't pull it off."

Note: The Steelers granted the Arizona Cardinals and Dallas Cowboys permission to interview defensive backs coach Ray Horton for positions on those teams. The Cardinals want to talk to Horton about their defensive coordinator position; the Cowboys are interested in Horton as a secondary coach. The Steelers also told the Cardinals they could not interview linebackers coach Keith Butler for their defensive coordinator job because he is considered the successor to Dick LeBeau whenever he retires.

Additional Information:

Free agents

Here is a list of 13 Steelers whose contracts expired after the season:

• Willie Colon, offensive tackle
• Dennis Dixon, quarterback
• Trai Essex, guard
• Keyaron Fox, linebacker
• William Gay, cornerback
• Tony Hills, offensive tackle
• Chris Hoke, nose tackle
• Mewelde Moore, running back
• Daniel Sepulveda, punter
• Matt Spaeth, tight end
• Shaun Suisham, kicker
• Ike Taylor, cornerback
• LaMarr Woodley, outside linebacker

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