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Mitchell deal cap-friendly for Steelers; long snapper Warren, lineman Wallace also back

| Wednesday, March 12, 2014, 10:57 a.m.

The Steelers are bringing in safety Mike Mitchell to be an impact player, and in more ways than one.

His personality — he's an aggressive hitter — meshes with the Steelers' identity, and he would seem to be a good fit for a defense that long employed Ryan Clark, a safety with a similar mindset.

But Mitchell's biggest contribution might be his ability to get to the quarterback, be disruptive when he does and get loose footballs bouncing into the Steelers' hands, a rare occurrence the past two seasons.

While Mitchell's $25 million, five-year deal is the most expensive for an unrestricted free agent during the Kevin Colbert era, it's a back-loaded and cap-friendly contract that guarantees him only $5.25 million.

And should the Steelers decide after two seasons they made a mistake in signing the former Oakland Raiders second-round pick, they'll face $3.8 million in dead money — about $10 million less than LaMarr Woodley had when he was cut Monday.

The Steelers, uncommonly busy on the signing front to date, locked up backup offensive lineman Cody Wallace with a three-year contract and long snapper Greg Warren with a one-year deal Wednesday. They also announced the re-signing of safety Will Allen, who reached a one-year agreement last week.

Warren, one of the Steelers' five most-tenured players, will be back for his 10th season.

Wallace's return makes it unlikely the Steelers will bring back Fernando Velasco, who is healing from a late-season Achilles injury. Velasco filled in well for 11 games after center Maurkice Pouncey injured a knee in the season opener.

Some of the Steelers' 20-plus free agents were on the move, too.

The Arizona Cardinals announced they signed running back Jonathan Dwyer to a one-year contract Wednesday night. The Cardinals lost former Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall to retirement earlier this week.

Tight end David Johnson, limited by injuries to 75 snaps the past two seasons, signed a two-year deal with the San Diego Chargers. Defensive lineman Al Woods signed a two-year, $5 million deal with the Tennessee Titans, according to the Tennessean.

Woodley announced on Twitter he'll visit Oakland on Thursday, and receiver Emmanuel Sanders began a Florida tour, stopping in Jacksonville en route to Tampa Bay.

The Steelers are counting on the 26-year-old Mitchell injecting some sacks and turnovers into a secondary that produced few of either last season outside of Troy Polamalu's five forced fumbles.

Starting 13 of 15 games for Carolina's No. 2-ranked defense, Mitchell had four sacks, four interceptions, three quarterback hits, four QB hurries and two forced fumbles.

By comparison, all of the Steelers safeties combined had two sacks, four interceptions, one quarterback hits, 11 QB hurries and six forced fumbles.

Mitchell flew to Pittsburgh on Tuesday night, then underwent a physical Wednesday before signing a contract that includes base salaries of $750,000 in 2014, $2 million in 2015 and $5 million over each of the following three seasons, plus a $500,000 roster bonus this year and a $2 million roster bonus next March.

His salary cap hit will be $2.2 million in 2014, $4.95 million in 2015 and $5.95 million each in 2016, '17 and '18.

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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