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Steelers sign Blount, fill need at RB

| Friday, March 28, 2014, 5:51 p.m.
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New England Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount carries the ball during the second half of an AFC Divisional playoff game against the Indianapolis Colts on Jan. 11, 2014, in Foxborough, Mass.
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The Patriots' LeGarrette Blount scores on a 2-yard run in the second quarter against the Colts in an AFC Divisional Playoff game Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014, in Foxboro, Mass.

The Steelers overcame one of their biggest hurdles to address one of their biggest needs, and now they have a proven running back in LeGarrette Blount to back up Le'Veon Bell.

Despite having only $1.352 million in available salary cap space, according to the players' union, the Steelers came away Friday with the last remaining accomplished running back in free agency by signing Blount to a $3.85 million, two-year contract.

The deal, announced by the Steelers after Blount underwent a physical and toured the team's South Side complex, includes a cap-friendly $950,000 signing bonus, according to figures to be filed with the NFLPA.

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin made it clear during the annual NFL meetings in Orlando, Fla., this week that securing an experienced running back was a priority, and he preferred to do it by Friday.

“Obviously, we needed to add depth in that area,” said Tomlin, who added the 6-foot, 250-pound Blount's resume “speaks for itself.”

That resume includes a 1,000-yard rookie season with Tampa Bay in 2010, 2,711 career rushing yards and 20 touchdowns in four seasons, nine career 100-yard games and two of the NFL's best games last season, against Buffalo (189 yards, two TDs) and Indianapolis (166 yards, four TDs).

The Steelers couldn't finalize a deal when free agent Maurice Jones-Drew visited for two days last week. After Jones-Drew reached terms with Oakland on Thursday night, Blount became even more valuable to the Steelers because there were few other options available at a position at which they badly needed help.

Blount becomes the fifth player to sign with the Steelers during an uncommonly busy free agent signing period for them, joining safety Mike Mitchell, wide receiver Lance Moore, linebacker Arthur Moats and defensive lineman Cam Thomas.

Blount, who is 27, arrived in Pittsburgh late Thursday, met with Tomlin and offensive coordinator Todd Haley and reached the deal before the close of business Friday.

He gives the Steelers an effective power runner to support Bell, who is coming off a strong rookie season in which he had 860 yards rushing and 399 yards receiving. However, they started 0-4 last season, in part, because they had no running game with Bell injured for their first three games. And when backup Jonathan Dwyer left to sign with Arizona this month, the Steelers didn't have a running back with an NFL carry other than Bell.

Blount rushed for 1,007 yards as an undrafted rookie out of Oregon in 2010 but fell out after of favor two seasons later after Greg Schiano became the Bucs coach. Blount was traded to New England, and in his only season with the Patriots, he ran for 772 yards, 1 yard behind team leader Stevan Ridley, and averaged 5 yards per carry as a part-time starter.

He missed most of his 2009 senior season at Oregon after a highly-publicized incident in which he threw a punch at a Boise State player. With Tampa Bay, he was fined for being late to meetings, apparently one reason he lost his starting job to Doug Martin.

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