Steelers notebook: Restructured Taylor pact increases salary-cap room
The Steelers were only about $200,000 below the $123 million salary cap after releasing running back Isaac Redman, according to the NFLPA website.
But by Thursday, they were $1.675 million under after restructuring cornerback Ike Taylor's contact — reducing his cap hit from about $9.5 million to $8 million. In a deal that assures he will return next season, Taylor will be paid his remaining money this season as a bonus rather than as salary.
• Only four Steelers players have played every snap this season: Ben Roethlisberger and David DeCastro on offense and Troy Polamalu and Lawrence Timmons on defense. Last season, only left tackle Max Starks played every play.
• Wide receiver Markus Wheaton (broken finger) was the only player missing practice Thursday. Returning to full participation after being held out of some work Wednesday were offensive tackles Kelvin Beachum (ribs) and Marcus Gilbert (quadriceps), tight end Richard Gordon (toe), defensive end Brett Keisel (ribs) and tight end Heath Miller (day off).
• Tight end Matt Spaeth, out all season with a mid-foot sprain, is eligible to return to practice but still hasn't done so. He is on the designated-to-return injured reserve list, which means he could return to play in two weeks. “I am working hard every day and doing what I can to get back,” said Spaeth, an excellent run blocker. “ But when will he return? “I can't tell you,” he said.
• Opposing Robert Griffin III of Washington last season should help the Steelers defense go against mobile Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor, who has excellent speed. He has outrushed every player on the Steelers roster. “They couldn't get him on the ground in college,” defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said, referring to Pryor's Ohio State career. “It's definitely going to be one of our big challenges, when he does keep it, to get him on the ground.”
• Center Fernando Velasco's consistent play has eased the Steelers through the nearly season-long absence of three-time Pro Bowl player Maurkice Pouncey. “It has been very impressive how he has worked himself into a new situation, new terminology and language, and altogether new people” offensive coordinator Todd Haley said of the former Titans lineman. “He's assimilated himself in a pretty impressive fashion.”
• There was some criticism of coach Mike Tomlin's decision not to fly to London until two days before the Steelers played the Vikings. But multiple Steelers players said they prefer traveling to Oakland the day before the West Coast game, as per custom, and not any earlier. Asked what he dislikes about the trip, Ben Roethlisberger said, “The batteries on the computer don't last that long. … But I like doing this. I wouldn't want to go any earlier.”
• Emmanuel Sanders nearly returned his first kickoff return of the season for a touchdown Sunday — a tiny grazing of the foot along the sideline wiped out his 107-yard return against Baltimore. Yet, he doesn't know if he'll return kicks against the Raiders. And he knows why. “Injury, and not only that, energy,” Sanders said. “You don't want your starters back there doing special teams because it's a huge risk. If one of those guys gets hurt on a special teams play, it's like, all right, now we have to go with our third string. I think we have good third-string guys here but, still, you don't want your starters to be out.” And the Steelers don't even list a third-teamer behind Sanders. Markus Wheaton is his backup, and he will miss a third consecutive game with a broken finger.