Free-agent Steelers mull unsettled future
FORT WORTH, Texas -- Cornerback Ike Taylor doesn't like contemplating his uncertain NFL future, but he realizes Super Bowl XLV could be his last game in a Steelers uniform.
"I don't want to leave Pittsburgh. It's been like home to me," said Taylor, a fourth-round draft pick in 2003 who has made 65 consecutive starts and never missed a game due to injury. "But I've definitely got to be smart about my decision, because this is a rare opportunity I have to be in this situation at this time."
While more high-profile free agent cornerbacks such as Nnamdi Asomugha and Champ Bailey missed the playoffs and were named to Sunday's Pro Bowl, Taylor is preparing for his third Super Bowl appearance since 2005. Taylor is attempting to join Steelers Hall of Famer Mel Blount and a select group of players to become the only cornerbacks to start and win three Super Bowls. Blount, of course, won four.
Taylor is one of several unrestricted free agents on the Steelers roster, but he's the only starter with the requisite six seasons to take his talents on the open market.
Other unrestricted free agents include nose tackle Chris Hoke, defensive end Nick Eason, running back Mewelde Moore, offensive lineman Trai Essex and linebacker Keyaron Fox.
Tackle Willie Colon, who missed the season on injured reserve, is a five-year veteran who will be a restricted free agent again in 2011 if a new collective bargaining agreement isn't in place after March 3.
Outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley, a second-round draft pick in 2007, has completed his original four-year contract. However, the Steelers can retain Woodley for another year because he's a restricted free agent.
"I would have liked to have gotten it done. I don't have control over that," Woodley said about not getting a new contract entering the final year of his deal, as the Steelers normally do with key starters. "If I'm going into this season worried about my contract, then I'm not focused on going to the Super Bowl and I'm not focused on this team."
The only way the Steelers can keep Taylor is to use the franchise or transition tag on him by early March, with hopes of signing him long term. Last year, the cornerback tag was $9.566 million, based on the average of the top five salaries at that position.
"Honestly, we have not had any discussion about next year," Steelers director of football operations Kevin Colbert said Monday when asked about Taylor's impending free agency. "When you get this deep into the playoffs, you fall behind on a lot of things because everybody's focusing on the task at hand. I can't really say anything about potential free agency."
Wide receiver Antwaan Randle El and safety Chris Hope raised their free-agent value with strong performances in Super Bowl XL, signing with the Washington Redskins and Tennessee Titans, respectively. However, Taylor's reputation as a lock-down corner who's also strong against the run is already established.
"It's definitely a unique situation," Taylor said. "I feel like I'll be rewarded regardless of where it is. Teams know what I can do. Since '05, I've been matched against the league's best receivers."
Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu and Taylor entered the league together. They were roommates as rookies and have been starters together the past six seasons.
"I can't imagine not playing together," Polamalu said last week. Asked how well the two have worked in tandem, Polamalu replied, "Well enough to make it to three Super Bowls."
Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau -- who still holds the NFL record of 171 consecutive games at cornerback -- praised Taylor during his Hall of Fame induction speech in August.
"It'd be hard for me to underestimate the contribution that Ike has made because he's always there," LeBeau said of Taylor, who has appeared in 92 consecutive games. "That's a great record of durability and dependability."
The Steelers aren't as deep at cornerback as they are at Woodley's outside linebacker spot, where they drafted two players among their top four selections and were confident enough to release fourth-round pick Thaddeus Gibson.
If Taylor isn't retained, William Gay, Keenan Lewis or Crezdon Butler would likely replace him.
"Given the opportunity, whenever I can make a play, that's what I try to do," Taylor said. "I think I've been doing a pretty darned good job."
Coach Mike Tomlin, on last season's high-scoring game between the Steelers and Packers:
"I don't feel good about 37-36 personally. We were fortunate enough to get a win, but what happened in Heinz Field in '09 is going to have no bearing on what happens in this stadium. So many of the components of those teams are different."
Tomlin, on how taking the Steelers to two Super Bowls in four seasons has contrasted with his expectations when he took the job:
"It's probably about two Super Bowls too short of my vision."
Linebacker James Farrior, on how good the Packers' offense looks on turf:
"I'll go back to the days of probably St. Louis when it was the Greatest Show on Turf."
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, on the benefits of having played in two Super Bowls:
"It can be overwhelming. You get off the plane, and you've got helicopters, you've got police and media and then (a news conference). If you're not used to it, it can be overwhelming. I think it helps a little bit to at least have some prior knowledge and experience with it."
Roethlisberger, on Brett Keisel's beard:
"The beard has its own Twitter page. It's got a Myspace page. It's got a Facebook page. And it's got its own T-shirt. So, I mean, it's its own entity."
Keisel, on his beard:
"The beard is why we're here. It's unleashed Super Bowl powers on our whole team, and hopefully, it can win us one more."
Receiver Hines Ward, on the Steelers playing at the Dallas Cowboys' home stadium and possibly winning their seventh title there:
"It's kind of ironic. The two organizations that have had their wars over the years."
Super Bowl prep eases jury duty in Fort Worth
FORT WORTH, Texas -- Super Bowl is the excuse why some potential jurors aren't needed in Fort Worth this week.
Tarrant County court officials have delayed some trials, citing the crush of fans expected leading up to Sunday's game in nearby Arlington.
Judge George Gallagher says part of the Main Street area will be the football field for ESPN, which is broadcasting from tourist-popular Sundance Square. A downtown parking area normally used by jurors will be staging areas for the sports network.
Tarrant County typically summons about 6,000 potential jurors each week. Officials say the number usually summoned will be cut in about half.
Gallagher says jurors will still be needed for cases that could not be rescheduled.
The Steelers arrive in Texas
The Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers arrive in North Texas for Super Bowl XLV on Monday January 31, 2011.
A look at key Steelers players who will become free agents after Super Bowl XLV, pending the outcome of the new collective bargaining agreement:
Player -- Pos. -- Free-agent type
Willie Colon -- T -- Restricted
Nick Eason -- DE -- Unrestricted
William Gay -- CB -- Restricted
Trai Essex -- OL -- Unrestricted
Keyaron Fox -- LB -- Unrestricted
Chris Hoke -- NT -- Unrestricted
Anthony Madison -- CB -- Restricted
Mewelde Moore -- RB -- Unrestricted
Ike Taylor -- CB -- Unrestricted
LaMarr Woodley -- LB -- Restricted
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