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Foote signing ends Steelers' free-agent flurry

| Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The signing of linebacker Larry Foote to a three-year, $9.3 million contract Monday could be the last significant free-agent signing for the Steelers — at least for a while.

"We haven't closed the door on anything, but I would just say we're refocusing on the draft," director of football operations Kevin Colbert said yesterday after agreeing to talk only on the condition that questions pertain to free agency.

The shifting of the Steelers' focus comes after they were unusually aggressive during the first part of free agency.

Pittsburgh, which is normally quiet at this time of year, have signed five free agents — including former Steelers Foote and wide receiver Antwaan Randle El.

"What we wanted to do was add competition and depth," Colbert said.

The Steelers appear to have done that by acquiring Foote, Randle El, safety Will Allen, wide receiver Arnaz Battle and offensive tackle Jonathan Scott.

They added depth on defense and at wide receiver and appear to have upgraded their kick coverage units.

The signing of Foote, who started for the Steelers from 2004-08, may have been as surprising as it was significant.

The Steelers released Foote, 30, less than a year ago at his request. The 6-foot-1, 239-pounder signed a one-year deal with Detroit so he could help rebuild his hometown franchise and showcase himself as an every-down linebacker.

Foote returned to the Steelers even though he will have to accept a lesser role, at least initially, than he had in his final five seasons with the team.

"I'm just here to add depth and help us win," said Foote, adding that playing for a winning team again loomed large in his decision to return to Pittsburgh. "I'm quite sure I'm going to play. The amount, I don't know. Right now (Lawrence) Timmons and (James) Farrior are the starters. I'm glad to be back, and the football part will take care of itself."

Foote's return gives the Steelers flexibility at linebacker similar to what they had in 2008, when they essentially had five starters for four positions.

Foote could spell Farrior, who is entering his 14th NFL season, at inside linebacker. Foote also play alongside his close friend if the Steelers use Timmons some at outside linebacker in 2010.

The money the Steelers gave Foote, who got a $1.8 million signing bonus, raises questions about whether he is viewed as an eventual replacement for Farrior, who turned 35 in January.

"Don't start wasting your paper about me replacing Farrior," Foote said. "I'm here to rejuvenate him. Him being here was a big reason why I wanted to come back."

Said Colbert about Foote's role with the Steelers, "He'll provide great competition."

The Steelers are looking to add additional competition, though they will try to find it more through the draft, which is less than six weeks away, than free agency.

If the Steelers do nothing else during free agency, it will still be considerably more than they do in most years.

Last year, they signed just two free agents, and neither cornerback Keiwan Ratliff nor wide receiver Shaun McDonald made an impact for them in 2009.

Colbert said the Steelers didn't go into free agency with the goal of signing a set number of players.

"However, there were players available that we felt could help us, and we were able to make a deal," Colbert said. "Really, that's what it boils down to."

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