Steelers re-sign guard Kemoeatu

| Saturday, Feb. 28, 2009

The Steelers re-signed guard Chris Kemoeatu to a five-year contract Friday, and director of football operations Kevin Colbert said he is optimistic the team can bring back some of its other players that became unrestricted free agents yesterday.

"Our big free agency is trying to keep our own players," Colbert said, "which we are trying to do. We'll be as competitive as we can be."

The Steelers generally stay idle through the first frenzied days of free agency. However, they made a significant signing yesterday on the first day of free agency, when they locked up Kemoeatu, who started every game at left guard last season.

The Steelers also re-signed restricted free agent Sean McHugh yesterday, and the tight end/fullback's three-year, $2.57 million deal includes a $390,000 signing bonus.

Kemoeatu's deal is worth as much as $20 million and includes a $3.885 million signing bonus.

The New York Jets made an offer to Kemoeatu, perhaps the top guard on the free-agent market. In the end, the fourth-year veteran took less money to re-sign with the Steelers.

Among the other Steelers' remaining free agents, left tackle Marvel Smith is the only one that Colbert conceded has little chance of returning to Pittsburgh.

A couple of things, however, may work against the Steelers as they try to re-sign their players.

They were only around $10 million under the salary cap before re-signing Kemoeatu. And they may not be able to come close to matching offers made to cornerback Bryant McFadden and wide receiver Nate Washington, among others.

Washington visited the Detroit Lions yesterday and is scheduled to meet with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. A handful of other teams also have expressed interest in Washington, who may get the chance to start elsewhere.

Colbert said he is confident the Steelers will get the chance to make pitches to players such as McFadden and Washington, even if they get offers from other teams.

"I don't think players want to leave here," Colbert said, "and if that's the case, the agent will usually give you the opportunity to match what his client his getting."

In addition to re-signing their own free agents, the Steelers are trying to reach agreements with outside linebacker James Harrison and left tackle Max Starks on long-term deals.

Each is signed through next season.

Colbert said talks with Harrison's agent, Bill Parise, have been "positive" and that Starks and the Steelers are committed to working out an agreement on a multi-year contract.

"Max wants to be here, I believe, for the rest of his career," Colbert said. "We'd love to have that just as much as he would. We're trying to get there."

The offensive line had been fraught with uncertainty just a couple of weeks ago.

Recent moves, including the re-signing of Kemoeatu, almost assure that the Steelers will return the five offensive linemen who started all or the majority of the time last season.

The team did part ways with veteran guard Kendall Simmons, who is still recovering from a ruptured Achilles tendon, Thursday.

Simmons' release didn't provide immediate salary cap relief, Colbert said, but it did help the Steelers long-term "maneuverability" in dealing with the cap. Simmons, who had started 30 consecutive games at right tackle before getting hurt in September, is expected to make a full recovery.

But, said Colbert, "we don't know what point he would be able to help us next year, and we had to make some decisions."

OL remains intact

The Steelers re-signed left guard Chris Kemoeatu on Friday, and they should have all five of their starters on the offensive line back next season. Here is a look at the status of those players.

LT: Max Starks — Signed a one-year, $8.451 million deal last week, but the 6-foot-8, 345-pounder and the Steelers are working toward a long-term contract. Starks started the Steelers' final 14 games at left tackle last season after back problems sidelined Marvel Smith

LG: Chris Kemoeatu — Took less money to return to the Steelers, who picked the 6-3, 344-pounder in the sixth round of the 2005 draft. A seldom-used reserve his first three season, Kemoeatu started every game at left guard last season.

C: Justin Hartwig — The 6-4, 312-pounder signed a two-year deal with the Steelers last March and stabilized the center position.

RG: Darnell Stapleton — Another in a long line of undrafted free agents that have thrived with the Steelers, Stapleton took over at right guard after a foot injury ended Kendall Simmons' season. The 6-3, 305-pounder started the final 15 games at right guard.

RT: Willie Colon — Restricted free agent has started 38 consecutive games at right tackle. The Steelers have offered the 6-3, 335-pounder a one-year, $2.198 million contract. They have the right to match any offer made to Colon and would receive a first-round pick if he signs elsewhere.

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