AFC North: Art Rooney II

PITTSBURGH -- Steelers players from multiple eras -- including this one -- attended Chuck Noll's funeral on Tuesday morning in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh.

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John Heller/AP PhotoNFL commisioner Roger Goodell and former Steelers CB Mel Blount embrace before Tuesday's funeral service for Chuck Noll in Pittsburgh.
Former Steelers greats such as Joe Greene, Franco Harris and John Stallworth were there. So were current players such as Ben Roethlisberger, Maurkice Pouncey and Ike Taylor.

Commissioner Roger Goodell represented the NFL at the service that lasted just over an hour and turned out to be the simple goodbye that Noll, who passed away Friday at the age of 82, would have wanted.

Make that demanded.

Dan Rooney, Art Rooney II, Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin also attended the funeral with Rooney II, the Steelers' president, joining Greene as one of the pallbearers.

No players spoke at the service but a handful of them talked afterward about what Noll meant to them and his legacy:

Hall of Fame defensive tackle Joe Greene played for the Steelers from 1969-81 and was Noll's first-ever draft pick.

"I used to be very, very bad-tempered with officials and Chuck said, ‘You know Joe, those guys have families and kids and they probably don't like you talking to them like that,' and I stopped doing it. He just had a way of sharing information with you that was long lasting. There's not many days that go by when I don't think back on something that Charles Henry Noll said. Anytime I was around Chuck it was a learning experience. Just an outstanding person."

Offensive tackle Jon Kolb played for the Steelers from 1969-81 and then coached under Noll with the Steelers from 1982-91.

"I got to coach with him also for 10 years and he made the point to coaches that the game is about the players. We're here to help the players prepare. That was what he wanted to do and I believe just from the talks I had with him, he didn't just want to prepare for the moment and the season but preparation for life, which is not the norm."

[+] EnlargeJohn Banaszak
Keith Srakocic/AP PhotoJohn Banaszak recalls the opportunity Chuck Noll provided for him as a Steelers' defensive lineman.
John Banaszak played defensive tackle and defensive end for the Steelers from 1975-81.

"I was an undrafted rookie free agent and there were 17 draft choices in front of me, but Chuck gave me an opportunity and a chance to make that football team and I took advantage of it. I think whether or not I would have played seven years or I would have been (cut) two weeks into (his first) training camp he would have had a very big impact on me anyway. I learned that whether you're in business or you're a football coach or a football player, fundamentals are the essential parts of being successful. He stressed that regularly."

Tight end Mike Mularkey played for the Steelers from 1989-91 and coaches tight ends for the Tennessee Titans.

"You like to be around guys that like playing football and want to do it the right way. That's all he ever asked of his players, and I just told that to my guys in my (meeting) room this past week. He's the best coach I was fortunate to play for but I've gotten more from Chuck off the field about how to do things the right way. Family was important and a balance in life was important, and he showed that every day in his life. I hate to be here under these circumstances but I'm glad I got a chance to be here."

• Read more: A collection of memories from Steelers who played for or coached with Noll.
PITTSBURGH -- The tears that made it hard for Maurkice Pouncey to talk Thursday afternoon also cut short what should have been a celebratory news conference.

Emotion choked the Pittsburgh Steelers center, and it emanated from the day last September when a teammate crashed into his right knee and left Pouncey in the kind of pain that made him wonder if he would ever walk well enough to play football again -- or at least at a high level.

What also had to overwhelm Pouncey: Steelers chairman Dan Rooney, team president Art Rooney II, general manager Kevin Colbert and coach Mike Tomlin all attended the official announcement of the five-year contract extension he signed nine months after tearing several ligaments in his right knee, including his ACL.

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David Dermer/Diamond Images/Getty ImagesMaurkice Pouncey is the only center in NFL history to make the Pro Bowl in each of his first three seasons.
Their presence as much as the new deal that could be worth as much as $44 million, affirmed to Pouncey that he is a Steeler.

And there is a difference between that and playing for the Steelers.

“It’s true love here,” Pouncey said shortly after the Steelers concluded organized team activities. “I’ll do anything for this team and I’m ready to lead us to where we’ve got to get back to.”

The Steelers concluded that Pouncey is one of the keys to them re-establishing themselves as perennial Super Bowl contenders following consecutive 8-8 seasons.

They made a bold move with the contract that is now the most lucrative for a center in the NFL.

They also made the correct move in locking up Pouncey long-term after the Jaguars had raised the ante at the position by signing Alex Mack to a five-year, $42 million contract (the Browns later matched it to retain Mack).

Pouncey is the only center in NFL history to make the Pro Bowl in each of his first three seasons. His teammates respect him so much that they voted Pouncey a captain last season, not much more than a month after he had celebrated his 24th birthday. And Pouncey is the kind of player you build around on the offensive line, especially if your goal is to maximize Ben Roethlisberger's remaining seasons as a top-tier quarterback, something that Colbert has stated.

Questions have been raised about Pouncey and whether the 2010 first-round pick is prone to injury. But he had missed just three regular-season games prior to 2013.

And the injuries he suffered in the Steelers’ season opener were a result of nothing more than rotten luck, as friendly fire took Pouncey out after right guard David DeCastro whiffed on an attempted cut block.

The Steelers are obviously comfortable with Pouncey’s injury history as well as where he is from a health standpoint nine months after hurting his right knee. Pouncey’s teammates, meanwhile, were nothing short of ecstatic about his new deal.

And not because Pouncey is likely to pick up the next couple of dinner tabs.

“He worked his butt off so we’re glad to have the team commit to him like that,” Steelers left guard Ramon Foster said. “We’re more excited than he is about it.”

Just not as emotional.

“I was just telling coach (Tomlin) it seems like five years all over again, and I’m ready to start this path and help this team get back to where we need to,” said Pouncey, who turns 25 the day before the Steelers report to training camp. “This is really an awesome feeling and words can’t really say enough about it.”
PITTSBURGH – An agreement between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Pittsburgh-Allegheny Sports & Exhibition Authority will result in the addition of 3,000 seats to Heinz Field for the 2015 season.

And taxpayers won’t have to pick up the bill for it.

The Steelers will increase their annual payments on the lease that runs through 2031 by $2.1 million, according to the team. That will pay for a bond that will allow the Steelers to add more seats as well as a high-definition scoreboard to the stadium that the team has played in since 2001.

The Steelers will levy a $1 surcharge on tickets starting in 2015 to help pay for the renovations, team president Art Rooney II said in a statement released by the team.

Talks between the Steelers and the SAE, which is run by the city and Allegheny County, over stadium expansion on Pittsburgh’s North Shore lasted more than a year and had been contentious.

“After a lot of work and discussion by all parties, I am thrilled that an agreement with the Pittsburgh Steelers has been reached that will allow for improvements at Heinz Field without taxpayer dollars being used,” Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto agreed.

“I am pleased that this project at Heinz Field is being completed without any public dollars, which are increasingly scarce,” Peduto told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

Heinz Field seats just over 65,000 people, and the Steelers have sold out every home game since 1972.

“With approximately 3,000 new seats being added, we will be able to provide many of our waiting list fans the opportunity to become season ticket holders,” Rooney said in a statement.
PITTSBURGH -- Ryan Shazier posed with a No. 50 Steelers jersey presented to him by team president Art Rooney II Friday afternoon.

There was a potential problem and it had nothing to do with the shirt per se that Shazier and Rooney held up as photographers snapped pictures in the Steelers’ media room.

The No. 50, however, previously belonged to former Steelers linebacker Larry Foote.

[+] EnlargeRyan Shazier
AP Photo/Jay LaPreteRyan Shazier started at Ohio State as a true freshman. Will he impress the Steelers enough this summer to start as a rookie?
Foote played his college ball at Michigan and Shazier is an Ohio State product.

The question, asked in a light vein, of whether he was OK taking a number that had been worn by a Michigan man left Shazier a tad flustered.

But what emerged from his latest stop in what has been a whirlwind since the Steelers made him the 15th overall pick of the draft is that Shazier has long been comfortable in whatever he is wearing.

That is especially true of his own skin.

Shazier overcame childhood taunts while growing up in South Florida, and he continues to have the last laugh over those who teased him when Alopecia, a condition in which the immune system attacks hair follicles, robbed him of his hair.

“I was probably the only little kid walking around with a bald head,” Shazier said. “It was tough because kids are mean. I just embraced it. I feel like if you didn’t like me for who I am, it’s a problem with you. I feel like it’s my signature now. I love having Alopecia. Having a bald head actually saves me a lot of money.”

Shazier will cost the Steelers a few bucks, especially if he comes anywhere close to living up the effusive praise that general manager Kevin Colbert and coach Mike Tomlin lavished on him Thursday night.

Reaction to the Steelers picking Shazier has been mixed at best, and it has little to do with the player who piled up 143 tackles, including 22 for losses, and six sacks in 2013 and is only 21 years old.

Many fans wanted the Steelers to take a cornerback or wide receiver in the first round. When they went in a different direction some wondered why the Steelers didn’t try to trade down in the first round and still get Shazier.

There actually is a very good reason why the Steelers stayed where they were: the Cowboys were ready to pick Shazier if he made it past the Steelers.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said Shazier, UCLA outside linebacker Anthony Barr, Pitt defensive tackle Aaron Donald and Notre Dame offensive tackle Zack Martin had been targeted by Dallas for its first-round pick.

The Cowboys would have picked between Shazier and Martin but the Steelers did not provide them with that option, and they drafted Martin.

“My dad said that people were hinting to him that the Cowboys were going to draft me with the next pick,” Shazier said. “I’m happy that the Steelers drafted me. I can’t wait to go to Heinz Field and go out there and play in a Steelers jersey.”

The real work for Shazier starts next week when the Steelers hold rookie minicamp.

It will be the first look the Steelers get at Shazier and the rest of the first-year players on the field. And Shazier will be among those who feel utterly lost at times because the 6-foot-1, 237-pounder is learning a new and complex system.

But if Shazier, who played as a true freshman at Ohio State, makes steady progress during offseason practices he will go to training camp with a good chance of winning a starting job.

Such progress will start after his feet touch down and are back firmly planted on the ground.

“It’s just amazing to be in a great city like this with the greatest franchise,” Shazier said of getting drafted by the Steelers. “The plan is to come here and get a seventh [Super Bowl] trophy.”
PITTSBURGH -- Several Pittsburgh Steelers applauded the NBA for imposing a lifetime ban on Donald Sterling in the wake of the racist comments the league says the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers made in a recorded conversation.

The controversy, which transcended sports, prompted players such as defensive end Cameron Heyward to express how much they appreciate playing for the Rooney family, which has owned the Steelers since their inception in 1933.

Beachy
Beachum
"I’m very blessed and humbled to be part of an organization that values their workers," Heyward said on Tuesday, shortly before NBA commissioner Adam Silver announced the Sterling ban. "It’s just an unfortunate situation with what’s going on out there. A lot of organizations can learn from it and just grow from it."

Steelers left tackle Kelvin Beachum said Silver did the right thing in taking a hard line against Sterling.

"I think it was needed," Beachum said. "What [Sterling] did was not right and was very disappointing. If I was a player for him I would be very disappointed to know that my owner spoke like that, especially being of African-American descent."

When asked if the controversy showed the contrast between Sterling and Steelers chairman emeritus Dan Rooney, Beachum chuckled.

"It’s not even a comparison," the third-year veteran said. "Ever since I’ve known the Rooneys they’ve been cordial. You never hear anything that’s negative in any way. Any man that can come up and shake your hand and talk to you and have a great relationship with you, and you know genuinely that’s how he feels, that’s a great thing. I’ve had that with [Dan Rooney and Steelers president Art Rooney II]."

Dan Rooney is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and he has long been at the forefront of promoting diversity in the NFL. He pushed for a requirement enacted in 2003 that requires teams to interview at least one minority candidate when hiring a general manager or head coach, and it is commonly known as the Rooney Rule.

Veteran wide receiver Lance Moore played the previous nine seasons in New Orleans before signing with the Steelers last month.

He said he is fortunate to have played for an owner like Tom Benson in New Orleans and now for the Rooney family.

“Tom Benson did things the right way. He made sure his players were taken care of, and the players in turn played hard for him,” Moore said. “The Rooneys, from the short time I’ve been here as well as what I’ve heard about them, they are awesome. They are all about their players and their organization and doing things the right way.”
PITTSBURGH -- Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's contract status has been a topic of interest because he has two years left on the $102 million deal he signed in 2008.

That is the same number of years Roethlisberger had remaining on his rookie contract when he and the Steelers agreed to the deal that made him the highest-paid player in franchise history.

That nothing has happened as far as a new contract -- and that nothing is imminent -- has generated a little anxiety among some Pittsburgh Steelers fans.

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Mark Konezny/USA TODAY SportsSteelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has two years remaining on his contract.
What hasn't changed, however, is that the two most important factors to a new deal getting done are still in place: Roethlisberger wants to play his entire career in Pittsburgh, and the organization wants the 10-year veteran to retire as a Steeler.

"There's been ongoing [contract] discussions for quite awhile," Ryan Tollner, Roethlisberger’s agent, told ESPN.com. "I think from the time we did the first extension there was sort of a plan moving forward. There's a plan in place, but both sides are pretty committed to doing that privately and not having it be something that's discussed in the media."

That is how the Steelers operate, whether it is with their franchise quarterback or a player who helps fill out the roster. But Steelers president Art Rooney II and general manager Kevin Colbert have each said the organization is committed to Roethlisberger playing his entire career in Pittsburgh and maximizing the remaining years he has left in him.

As for Roethlisberger’s desire to play for just one team his entire career, Tollner said, "It's always been critical to him. From day one he's always admired players that could play with one organization and retire with that organization. That's an underlying goal that always drives him, that he would always be a Steeler."

The Steelers can lower Roethlisberger's cap hit -- it is just under $18.9 million in 2014, according to ESPN Stats & Information -- but they also can wait to get a new deal done because they already have done the bulk of their free-agent shopping and get more than $8 million in cap relief after June 1.

Whether that means the Steelers sign Roethlisberger to a new contract this summer, before the start of the 2014 season, or even next year remains to be seen. Tollner wouldn't predict when or if a new deal would get done, but he said, "I think there's mutual respect on both parties."

CB Chris Owens visited Steelers

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PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers hosted veteran cornerback Chris Owens for a visit this week, according to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Caplan.

Owens played 13 games last season, recording 58 tackles and 2 sacks. The 5-foot-9, 180-pounder also broke up three passes.

Owens played 12 games for the Browns before hurting his knee. The Dolphins signed the fifth-year veteran in December after the Browns released Owens following an injury settlement, and he played one game for Miami.

Owens has played for three NFL teams, including the Falcons, who took him in the third round of the 2009 draft, six picks ahead of former Steelers cornerback Keenan Lewis.

The Steelers need to add depth at cornerback and Owens, 27, would fit the profile of the kind of player they are looking to sign.

In other Steelers’ news:
  • ESPN.com Panthers writer David Newton reported that wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery's two-year deal with Carolina could be worth as much as $5 million. Good for Cotchery, but that price proved to be too far out of the Steelers’ range. Team president Art Rooney II told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that despite the loss of Cotchery and other free agents he is “happy with the progress” the Steelers have made. “I’m satisfied with the progress we've made in general to this date, the signings we've made,” Rooney said. "We have more work to do. It's early in the game as far as preseason preparations. I'm happy with the progress we've made so far.”
  • The Steelers were well represented at Notre Dame Pro Day on Thursday. Both general manager Kevin Colbert and coach Mike Tomlin attended the workout for Irish draft prospects, according to Yahoo Sports’ Eric Edholm. Notre Dame nose tackle Louis Nix III and defensive end Stephon Truitt could be targets for the Steelers early in the draft.
PITTSBURGH -- Mike Mitchell made a solid first impression during his introductory news conference on Thursday, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are hoping the safety who is counted on to replace Ryan Clark makes an equally impressive impact on the field.

Mitchell, who represents one of the bigger investments the Steelers have made in free agency, moved seamlessly between confidence and humility while delivering several pointed messages.

Mitchell said his best football is in front of him and that if it doesn't work out in Pittsburgh it won’t be because of a lack of effort.

[+] EnlargeMike Mitchell
Crystal LoGiudice/USA TODAY SportsMike Mitchell believes his personality and physical style of play will mesh well with the Steelers.
“I work extremely hard,” Mitchell said to an audience that included Steelers president Art Rooney II as well as his parents. “I can say this with the utmost confidence: If you put me in a room with anyone, I think he’s going to die first when it comes to working out. I just have that work ethic and tenacity.”

Mitchell sounded a lot like Clark, and there are notable similarities.

Like Clark, Mitchell is of the belief that hard hits and intimidation are still the essence of football no matter how much NFL commissioner Roger Goodell tries to emphasize safety.

He also uses perceived slights to drive him, and in Mitchell's case they range from getting overlooked by the alpha college programs to the criticism he received during the four seasons he spent with the Raiders.

“I play with a very big chip on my shoulder, and just because you went to LSU and I went to Ohio (University) you’re no better than me, and I look forward to proving that every single Sunday,” Mitchell said.

It is probably just a coincidence that Mitchell invoked Clark’s alma mater when discussing his approach to football. The two could probably have a heck of debate about who was overlooked more, Mitchell coming out of high school outside of Cincinnati, or the undrafted Clark coming out of college.

All that really matters to the Steelers is that Mitchell, 26, can play like a younger Clark and complement Troy Polamalu in the secondary.

All signs point to him doing just that – and at a more than reasonable price considering only $5.25 million of the $25 million contract that Mitchell signed this week is guaranteed.

Mitchell put everything together after leaving Oakland for Carolina, and he thrived when he got a chance to start on a regular basis for the first time in his career.

Mitchell intercepted four passes and forced two fumbles in the one season he played for the Panthers, also recording 3 sacks and 74 tackles.

That stat line suggests a varied skill set that defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau is sure to put to good use in 2014.

Mitchell chatted up LeBeau at the Steelers’ practice facility before the news conference that general manager Kevin Colbert and coach Mike Tomlin could not attend because they were at Oklahoma State’s pro day.

Mitchell could make LeBeau look a lot smarter this fall if his ball skills transfer from Carolina, and if he is indeed correct that he has yet to play his best football.

“Every year I feel like I’m getting smarter, taking care of my body better,” Mitchell said. “I look very much forward to helping (the Steelers) get back to being that dominant defense that they’ve been.”

Steelers fans apparently feel the same way.

Mitchell said he added close to 10,000 Twitter followers after tweeting on Tuesday night that he had signed with the Steelers.

The “warm feeling” he said he received from Steelers fans isn’t the only reason why Mitchell checks his Twitter account on a regular basis.

Mitchell, who was such an unknown that even ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. had to scramble for information to discuss after the Raiders made him a surprise second-round pick in 2009, actually embraces the dark side of social media.

The more blistering the criticism the better when it comes to Mitchell, who will apparently find an edge wherever he can and use it to his advantage.

“Those type of things are what motivates me and helps me get out of bed in the morning,” Mitchell said.

The 6-foot, 210-pounder also finds motivation while walking past the library where the Steelers' six Lombardi Trophies are displayed.

“This is definitely a life-changing experience,” Mitchell said. "I know what the franchise is about, and the way that they play football here I really think fits my personality, it’s very hard-nosed. I can't wait to get to work."
PITTSBURGH -- The good news for the Steelers in regard to the salary cap extends beyond 2014.

NFL ESPN Insider Adam Schefter reported Friday that the cap will jump from $123 million to $133 million this year, and such a spike would leave the Steelers roughly $5.75 million over the cap with less than two weeks to get in compliance with it.

The spending ceiling could exceed $150 million by 2016, something that bodes particularly well for an organization that has to sign its quarterback to another long-term contract.

The Steelers don’t appear to be in any hurry to sign quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to a long-term deal. But if they buy into projections of the cap making much more than incremental increases over the next three years it could accelerate their plans in regard to Roethlisberger.

Roethlisberger has two years left on his contract, which is the time when the Steelers usually sign their quarterback to a new deal. The Steelers have every intention of doing that with Roethlisberger as everyone from team president Art Rooney II to general manager Kevin Colbert has said they want Big Ben to play his entire career in Pittsburgh.

The timing couldn’t be better for the Steelers to sign Roethlisberger sooner rather than later.

His cap hit for 2014 is a projected $18.9 million, and the Steelers could lower that number with a new deal while also not having to backload what would probably be at least a five-year contract for Roethlisberger.

They could give Roethlisberger a hefty signing bonus and healthy base salaries in the first three years of the deal with the cap expected to rise in large chunks from now until 2016. That would allow them to pay their franchise quarterback without putting themselves in a precarious cap situation near the end of his deal by backloading it or later restructuring it, something they have done with Roethlisberger’s current deal.

However the Steelers proceed with Roethlisberger the unexpected spike in the salary cap is huge for the organization in 2014 -- and beyond.

Free agency a part of Steelers' plans

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PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers plan to be more active in free agency than in past years, and that was the case even before a report by ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter that the salary cap will rise from $123 million to $130 million.

Steelers president Art Rooney II said the organization hasn’t adjusted its plan based on the extra $4 million that teams are expected to have under this year’s salary cap.

That plan apparently includes the Steelers filling some holes through free agency, something the team should have more flexibility to do once the salary-cap ceiling for 2014 is officially announced.

“We’ll have our eyes open to see if there’s somebody that can come in and help us get better,” Rooney said Saturday morning on 970 ESPN. “There’s always interesting prospects out there in terms of the unrestricted market. There’s certainly some areas we’re going to try to address this offseason.”

Rooney said the Steelers are already well into the process of getting in compliance with the salary cap by March 11. He said the team has talked with agents of Steelers players about restructuring contracts and new deals for priority free agents.

“I would say it’s kind of like putting a jigsaw puzzle together,” Rooney said. “The only difference is the size of the pieces can change on you from one day to the next. It is a little complicated. I think we have enough options that we’ll get done what we need to get done.”

Rooney is in Indianapolis for the NFL scouting combine, and he has sat in on the individual player interviews that are a significant component of the combine.

Rooney said he is confident the Steelers will get a good player with their first-round pick, No. 15 overall, given the strength of this year’s draft.

He did not offer any hints as to whom the Steelers will take with their first pick in the draft.

“It’s kind of like going to a great restaurant with a great menu,” Rooney said. “There are a lot of things on the menu, and it’s hard to pick just which one you’re going to take, but that’s what this process is about.”
Here is the latest edition of the Steelers' mailbag. Any questions that I received but did not answer here are at the top of the list for next week. Great questions again, and please keep them coming. Send to @ScottBrown_ESPN with hashtag #steelersmail.

PITTSBURGH -- Art Rooney II said it succinctly.

The Steelers president also said it best in regard to Jerome Bettis' fourth bid to gain entrance into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

It's time.

Amen to that.

It can be argued that the more pertinent question when it comes to Bettis and the Hall of Fame is this: Why hasn't “The Bus” pulled into Canton, Ohio, already?

Bettis retired after the 2005 season as the fifth-leading rusher in NFL history with 13,662 yards. He is now sixth on that list, and all of the players in front of him who are eligible for the Hall of Fame are in it.

This should be the year that Bettis, one of 15 modern-day finalists for the Hall of Fame, joins them in football immortality.

Full disclosure: Bettis, who will be among those voted on Saturday, is an NFL analyst for ESPN. However, I was given the freedom to make a case for or against him getting into the Hall of Fame.

I frankly don't know of a credible argument I could make against Bettis.

He was one of the most productive running backs in NFL history. He was also unique.

Bettis may have been the best big back of all-time, and he was anything but a plodding, pile pusher.

Bettis' quick feet were as critical to his success as his sheer bulk -- his playing weight was listed at 255 pounds -- and power. He averaged 3.9 yards per carry, which is just a tick below what Hall of Famer Curtis Martin averaged during his career.

Bettis' value transcended the six consecutive 1,000-yard seasons he posted after the Steelers heisted him from the Rams in the greatest trade in franchise history. It also went beyond his ability to grind out the clock when the Steelers were protecting a fourth-quarter lead.

Bettis made those around him better because of the respect he garnered for playing through the pain that is a daily companion for a workhorse back -- and doing so with a smile.

Bettis was also so beloved by teammates that they wanted to win for him as much as for themselves, particularly at the end of his career.

The desire to get Bettis to the Super Bowl in 2005 helped fuel a stirring postseason run that the Steelers capped by beating the Seahawks for their first world championship since 1979.

Bettis called it a career after getting the one thing that had eluded him -- in his hometown of Detroit, no less -- and now it's time for him to receive an honor that has been equally as elusive as a Super Bowl title.

There are plenty of other people stating his case -- from Rooney, who is anything but prone to hyperbole, to Bill Cowher, who coached him, and Mike Tomlin, who coached against him.

Typical of the support Bettis' latest Hall of Fame bid has received is what Franco Harris said.

“Why he isn't in there, I have no clue,” Harris told Steelers.com. “Should he be in there this year? Absolutely. You are talking about a great football player. I am hoping that he will be able to join me in the Hall of Fame this year.”

Bettis has been gracious about his omission from the Hall of Fame, and he is at peace with the argument he made for inclusion in it during a career that spanned from 1993-2005.

“The way I look at it is I can't be selfish in that why am I not in now?” Bettis said. “I think when my timing is there I'll be in.”

As Rooney said, it's time.

The next big thing: Steelers

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The Steelers have 21 unrestricted free agents and team president Art Rooney II dropped a pretty strong hint last week about which one tops their list as far as trying to re-sign. Rooney cited outside linebacker Jason Worilds when asked during a conference call with season-ticket holders about the Steelers' top priorities regarding their own free agents.

Worilds came into his own in 2013 after underachieving through his first three seasons. He led the Steelers with eight sacks and dominated at times after settling in at left outside linebacker for the injured LaMarr Woodley. The 2010 second-round pick is in now in a position to cash in, and he has a lot of leverage with the Steelers given Woodley's uncertain future in Pittsburgh. ESPN's Mike Sando lists Worilds No. 22 on his list of “must-sign” free agents Insider and second among 3-4 outside linebackers.

Look for the Steelers to make every effort to re-sign Worilds before he hits the open market on March 11 and even consider using one of the tags that would prevent him from becoming an unrestricted free agent.

Reinforcements for a defense that slipped from first in 2012 to No. 13 in yards allowed will come more from the draft than free agency. The Steelers have already been linked with Notre Dame's Louis Nix II, the best nose tackle in the draft, and they could also strongly consider a safety at No. 15 overall, such as Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.

That is not to say the Steelers won't use their first pick in May on an offensive tackle or a tall wide receiver such as Texas A&M's Mike Evans or Florida State's Kelvin Benjamin.
PITTSBURGH -- Fans wondering what is ahead for the Pittsburgh Steelers are not the only ones.

Foote
"We've been calling around, shooting some text messages trying to figure out what's the move and Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin and Mr. (Art) Rooney (II), I'm assuming right now they're just trying to figure this out because I haven't heard a peep about who's going to be back," veteran inside linebacker Larry Foote said on 93.7 The Fan on Wednesday. "Right now we don't know."

Foote said he hopes the Steelers don't "blow up" the roster since having a quarterback the caliber of Ben Roethlisberger gives them a chance to rebound from consecutive 8-8 seasons. But Foote is also realistic that turnover is inevitable given the age of some of the players on defense and the juggling the Steelers have to do in regard to the salary cap.

"I'm quite sure some big guys are going to have to take less money," Foote said. "(Brett) Keisel, I don't think he's going to get what he wants or what he deserves because we're pressed up against the cap. Ryan Clark will have to come back cheaper. They've got to understand it's not personal, it's the cap."

Keisel and Clark are both scheduled to become unrestricted free agents on March 11. Clark has said he would sign elsewhere before accepting a drastic pay cut to return to the Steelers for a ninth season.

No matter what roster turnover takes place, Foote said he thinks the Steelers will enter next season as the favorites to win the AFC North because of the way they finished the 2013 season and they have Roethlisberger.

"We've got the best quarterback in our division -- hands down," Foote said.

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