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Keisel might be at end of Steelers career

| Thursday, March 6, 2014, 7:36 p.m.
Christopher Horner
Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel celebrates a tackle in front of Cleveland's Greg Little during the first quarter Sunday Dec. 30, 2012 at Heinz Field.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel leaves the field after being injured during the second quarter against the Jets on Sunday, Oct. 13, 2013, at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.

Larry Foote might not be the only veteran starter the Steelers lose from their defense. Brett Keisel might be leaving, too.

Keisel, an eight-year starter on a defense that ranks No. 1 in the NFL during that period, hasn't been contacted by the Steelers about returning next season and is preparing to play elsewhere, according to his agent.

Unlike Foote, who was released Wednesday with one season remaining on his contract, Keisel is an unrestricted free agent who is free to sign with any team.

While he will be 36 in September, Keisel is coming off an effective season in which he graded out 13th among all NFL 3-4 defensive ends in Pro Football Focus' pass rush evaluations.

“He's productive, healthy and has every intention to continue to play football,” said Eric Metz, Keisel's agent, Thursday.

Keisel missed four games late last season with a painful plantar fasciitis condition in his left foot that was worsened by a tear, but he returned to have two sacks in the final two games plus a critical fumble recovery against the Packers.

Keisel finished his 12th NFL season — he missed one season with an injury — with four sacks, giving him 8 12 in the last two seasons, a forced fumble, two fumble recoveries and 29 tackles. He is 13th in team history with 29 sacks.

Keisel made $2,825,000 in base salary last season, with a salary cap charge of $4.9 million, but the Steelers — if they have any interest in him returning — probably don't want to pay much more than the minimum of $955,000 plus a small signing bonus.

The Steelers' lack of interest in Keisel to date might not necessarily be a sign they have decided to move on. They could be waiting to see if Keisel, a defensive captain and one of the most-respected players in their locker room, attracts interest elsewhere.

“Hopefully, he can finish his career a Steeler as he's always desired,” Metz said.

The Steelers' two starting defensive ends at the beginning of last season, Keisel and Ziggy Hood, are free agents.

Still, the Steelers' approach to free agency appears to be as patient as ever. They want to bring back wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery, who caught 10 touchdown passes last season, but they have yet to discuss a contract with his agent, Jack Scharf.

The Steelers' new $20 million, three-year contract with safety Troy Polamalu includes a signing bonus ($6.75 million) and a 2014 base salary ($1.5 million) that equals the $8.25 million he was due to make in the final season of his former contract. There is no money guaranteed beyond this season.

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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