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Steelers get value in free agency

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Thursday, Oct. 29, 2009
 

He broke down the 82-yard run for reporters, one that resulted in his first touchdown since high school. He accepted a congratulatory handshake from Steelers' president Art Rooney II.

Linebacker Keyaron Fox, the man of the moment last Sunday afternoon, showed why he is such a valuable Steelers reserve in their 27-17 win over the Minnesota Vikings.

In a larger sense, Fox serves as an affirmation of the Steelers' team-building philosophy.

In the spring of 2008, the Steelers stayed out of the annual shopping spree that commences at the start of the free-agent signing period. Instead of targeting big-ticket free agents, they quietly signed Fox, center Justin Hartwig and running back Mewelde Moore.

To say the Steelers have gotten their money's worth - they spent less than $10 million total on the three players - would be an understatement.

Hartwig has proven to be a major upgrade over Sean Mahan at center, Moore is one of the top third-down backs in the NFL, and Fox is a significant presence on special teams as well as on the Steelers' goal-line defense.

"I say it all the time about our scouting department: They're the best in the business," inside linebacker James Farrior said.

Farrior signed with the Steelers in 2002, but he is an exception to the team's philosophy of adding complementary players - as opposed to marquee ones - through free agency.

"They stay true to the draft and allow their players to develop so they really don't need to do much in free agency," said former Washington Redskins general manager Charlie Casserly, now an NFL analyst for CBS. "Their free agency is signing their own players. In a perfect world, the core of your team is your draft choices, and then you supplement it with free agency."

The Steelers did that adroitly in 2008, particularly when they unearthed gems in Moore and Fox.

Moore had become expendable in Minnesota - Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor were ahead of him in a crowded backfield - and the Steelers were able to snap up a player that has become a major asset in their passing game.

"He's one of the best players we've got," Farrior said of Moore. "The guy moves the chains."

The Steelers announced Moore's signing March, 3 2008 - the day they officially signed quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to a new eight-year contract.

If the Moore signing slipped under the radar, so did the acquisition of Fox, who never got much of an opportunity in Kansas City because of injuries and the Chiefs' selection of Derrick Johnson in the 2005 first round.

Fox's role with the Steelers has gradually increased.

Fox and Farrior stopped Peterson short of the end zone last Sunday, setting the stage on a key goal-line stand by the Steelers. Playing for the injured Lawrence Timmons near the end of the game, Fox returned an interception for the touchdown that sealed the Steelers' victory.

That play came despite Fox not practicing much recently in the team's dime defense.

"I was a little bit rusty at first," Fox said, "but it all came back."

The same can be said of the return the Steelers keep getting from their 2008 free-agent signings.

Additional Information:

Bang for their buck

The Steelers hardly broke the bank during the free-agent signing period in 2008. Here is a look at the three players they signed.

Justin Hartwig, C - Has started 26 consecutive games for the Steelers.

Keyaron Fox, ILB - Leads the Steelers with 12 tackles on special teams.

Mewelde Moore, RB - Has 171 rushing and receiving yards combined and a touchdown.

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