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Free agencies will mean changes for the Steelers

| Friday, Dec. 27, 2013, 9:25 p.m.

It wasn't a typical Friday for the Steelers.

Teammates walked from locker to locker collecting autographs for friends and relatives. Several players sat in small groups, knowing this might be the final time they gathered in this room to close a work week.

One out of every three players on this Steelers team becomes a free agent after the season ends — perhaps as soon as late Sunday afternoon — and they realized this might be one of their final times together.

Brett Keisel, the 35-year-old defensive end who is one of those free agents-to-be, offered some advice for players such as Jason Worilds, Ziggy Hood and Emmanuel Sanders, who are going through this for the first time.

“Just go out and understand you still have an opportunity to go out and play with your guys, even if it is the last time,” Keisel said. “You've got to make it count. There will be changes — there always are. The locker room is different after every year.”

Sanders uses the locker occupied last season by fellow wide receiver Mike Wallace, who left for a $60 million deal with Miami. Sanders won't get that kind of money but is likely to receive an offer the salary cap-restrained Steelers can't match. The Patriots tried to sign him earlier this year as a restricted free agent.

“Right now, I live for the moment,” Sanders said. “What happens in the offseason, happens. But I always wish nothing but the best to everyone, no matter what happens. I hope everyone gets put in the best situation they can be in.”

Sanders said he prefers to stay in Pittsburgh, but he realizes the market will dictate his value.

Worilds, who should benefit greatly from his career-high eight sacks this season, has said much the same thing.

“You've got to look out for yourself, especially because it doesn't come around very often,” Sanders said. “You've got to take care of your family. I've got a son on the way, and that's all I'm thinking about.”

To keep their season going, the Steelers (7-8) not only must beat the Browns (4-11) at Heinz Field, they need the Dolphins, Ravens and Chargers to lose. Sanders said he'll be watching the scoreboard Sunday to see how those games play out.

Jerricho Cotchery said one thing he won't be doing is watching the scoreboard and guessing where he might be playing next season, if it's not Pittsburgh.

“The reason I've been playing this long is my desire to win a championship, and that's what drives me every day,” said Cotchery, who is in his 10th NFL season. “That's how I got my contract the first time around. I wasn't thinking about it. I was just playing ball and having fun with it. I wasn't thinking about the money.

“When you spend too much time (on free agency), you can think circles around yourself. You spend too much time trying to figure out how the situation will play out, and it will drive you crazy. Any time my mind tries to go that way, it's ‘No, no, no.' ”

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

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