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Steelers sign ex-Chargers tight end Green, keep veteran guard Foster

| Wednesday, March 9, 2016, 8:39 a.m.
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Tight end Ladarius Green was a fourth-round pick out of Louisiana-Lafayette in 2012.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers offensive guard Ramon Foster plays against the Bengals Sunday, Dec. 13, 2015, at Paul Brown Stadium.
Chaz Palla | Trib Total Media
The re-signing of guard Ramon Foster means the Steelers have all five starters along the offensive line locked up long-term.

The Steelers don't mess with unrestricted free agents — at least not on the first day.

That all changed late Wednesday night when the Steelers addressed one of their biggest needs on the opening day of free agency when they signed ex-Chargers tight end Ladarius Green to a 5-year deal, according to industry sources.

The deal is worth a reported $20 million with a $4.5 million signing bonus. Heath Miller, who retired last month, was set to make $4 million in 2016.

Green's signing is the first time in general manager Kevin Colbert's tenure dating to 2000 that the Steelers signed an unrestricted free agent from another team on the first day of free agency.

Green fills an immediate need.

When Miller retired last month, it left the Steelers with a thin position that included veteran Matt Spaeth, Jesse James, coming off his rookie season, and practice squad player Xavier Grimble.

Green, 25, doesn't have much more experience, but his upside is promising.

Green (6-6, 237) was a fourth-round pick out of Louisiana-Lafayette in 2012 but struggled getting on the field. He was stifled behind Antonio Gates in San Diego for four seasons. Even when he was the top tight end during Gates' suspension this year, Green managed only 37 receptions for 429 yards and four touchdowns.

Considering that tight ends Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener signed for a little more than $7 million a season over the past few days, Green's $5 million per season average is cap friendly. He will only count $2.44 million against the cap this year.

Taking less money has been a theme of the Steelers recently.

Ramon Foster did the same thing when he decided against testing free agency and re-signed with the Steelers thus solidifying the offensive line for at least the next three years.

William Gay did the same on Tuesday re-upping for a $2.5 per season that feel in line with Robert Golden and Darrius Heyward-Bey.

Golden, Heyward-Bey, Gay and Green will count less than $8 million against the 2016 salary cap.

Golden signed a three-year deal worth $4.95 million; Heyward-Bey signed three years for $3.8 million and Gay got $7.5 million over three years including a $1.9 million signing bonus.

Specific details on Foster's three-year deal weren't immediately available, but he did say money wasn't the reason why he re-signed hours before having an opportunity to test free agency.

“We had some talks with other teams,” Foster said on KDKA-FM. “And I told my agent, we should try to get the best deal done possible with Pittsburgh. Him being an agent, he wanted to explore other options, but we maximized everything we could out of Pittsburgh … and both sides are happy with it, and that's exciting.

“It's not about the money. It's about chasing that ring. Can you imagine what a seventh Super Bowl in Pittsburgh would look like? I mean, the parade, the rings, the diamonds — that right there is what I'm searching for.”

The Steelers took the step toward that by securing Foster.

With guard David DeCastro likely to get an extension in the summer after the Steelers this year picked up the fifth-year option to his rookie contract and the Steelers having the final say on left tackle Alejandro Villanueva's contract for the next three seasons, the Steelers will have their entire offensive line under their control through the 2018 season. Maurkice Pouncey and Marcus Gilbert are signed through 2019.

Foster was the last piece of that puzzle.

“At the end of the day, you want that hardware,” Foster said. “Pittsburgh is a place that's going to be, I think, year-in and year-out, be talked about as far as the Super Bowl chase…we have that shot, and that's what I'm looking forward to.

Even though Kelvin Beachum started the past three years at left tackle, his ACL injury in October coupled with the emergence of Villanueva in his absence could make Beachum expendable.

Foster, 30, proved not to be expendable for the Steelers.

Foster, who has played in 109 games for the Steelers, has been durable over his seven-year career. Since being inserted into the starting lineup midway through the Steelers' Super Bowl XLV season in 2010, Foster has started 88 of the past 94 games, including the playoffs. He has missed more than one game only once in his career.

Notes: The NFLPA released its new calendar year salary cap report Wednesday and had the Steelers at $3,712,743 under the cap. A few hours later, that number ballooned to $11,362,743 — an increase of $7.65 million. The Tribune-Review confirmed the increase was not due to a restructure contract of Ben Roethlisberger or an extension of Lawrence Timmons, both of which are likely … The Steelers still could bring back all four of their starters who became free agents on Wednesday in Beachum, Will Allen, Antwon Blake and Steve McLendon, but none of them will likely be a priority.

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