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Steelers sign QB Gradkowski, cut Colon; Mendenhall to Arizona

| Wednesday, March 13, 2013, 12:21 p.m.
Offensive lineman Willie Colon struggled to stay healthy during his tenure with the Steelers.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Offensive lineman Willie Colon struggled to stay healthy during his tenure with the Steelers.

Bruce Gradkowski is returning home, and Keenan Lewis might, too.

Willie Colon? He joined James Harrison in looking for a new home after being released Wednesday by the Steelers in a salary cap move that helps them now but adds millions of dollars' worth of dead money to their 2014 cap.

Rashard Mendenhall also joined the list of ex-Steelers on the second day of NFL free agency, turning down a chance to visit with the talent-stockpiling Denver Broncos to sign immediately with the Arizona Cardinals and familiar coach Bruce Arians.

Lewis, also an unrestricted free agent, posted on Twitter that he was meeting with his hometown New Orleans Saints. Lewis, who became a starting cornerback only last season, is believed to be asking for far more money than the Steelers can afford to pay.

While talent continued to flow out of the Steelers' South Side complex — coveted wide receiver Mike Wallace left Tuesday for Miami — a native Pittsburgher came back as former Seton-La Salle quarterback Bruce Gradkowski signed a three-year contract.

Greg Warren, the Steelers' long snapper since 2005, also signed a one-year contract.

Gradkowski is expected to replace former backup Byron Leftwich, who had a succession of injuries while with the Steelers and will not be brought back; backup Charlie Batch's status remains uncertain. Gradkowski will be with his fifth team and third in the AFC North since being drafted out of Toledo by Tampa Bay in 2006. Gradkowski, never a build-a-team-around quarterback himself, also hasn't played with one.

“I'm excited because there's a great franchise quarterback here” in Ben Roethlisberger, Gradkowski said. “To get to play with him and be a part of this is amazing. I haven't had that yet, to be somewhere where that guy is the guy.”

Gradkowski, 30, played sparingly with the Raiders and Bengals the past two seasons, throwing only 29 passes and one touchdown pass. He also played previously for the Browns. One of Gradkowski's most memorable performances came in 2009, when he threw three touchdown passes in the fourth quarter to lead the Raiders to a 27-24 upset of the Steelers at Heinz Field.

The Steelers signaled they planned to part ways with Colon, their starting left guard last season, when they didn't ask him to renegotiate his contract. They also brought back guard Ramon Foster, who is expected to play left guard with David DeCastro on the right side next season.

The Colon move will be designated as a June 1 transaction so the Steelers immediately can clear $5.5 million of salary cap space, although it adds $4.3 million of dead money to their 2014 cap.

Colon declined to comment on the decision, which apparently took him by surprise since he was under the impression he was returning. He played well when he was on the field but that was infrequent the last three seasons. He missed the 2010 season with an Achilles injury and all but one game of 2011 with a torn triceps. He sat out the final month of last season with a knee injury.

Mendenhall, the former first-round draft pick and 1,000-yard rusher who fell into disfavor with the Steelers after skipping a game last season, will get a new start under an old coach.

Arians was the Steelers offensive coordinator during Mendenhall's first four seasons, when he twice ran for more than 1,000 yards.

Mendenhall ended his Steelers career with 3,549 yards and 29 touchdowns but ran for only 182 yards last season when he lost time to knee injury rehabilitation, a benching for fumbling twice in Cleveland and a one-game suspension for skipping a game in which he was deactivated.

Mendenhall is expected to make $2.5 million with $1 million in possible incentives.

Steelers safety Ryan Mundy is planning to visit the Giants, who are seeking a replacement for Kenny Phillips.

The Steelers also lost special teams ace Lorenzo Alexander to the Cardinals.

Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter arobinson_Trib.

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