NFL Nation: Sean Mahan

PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers made an earlier-than-usual foray into free agency.

In the process they got younger and faster in the secondary and found a new running mate for Troy Polamalu on the back end of their defense.

The signing of Mike Mitchell -- the former Panthers safety agreed to a five-year, $25 million contract per ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter -- confirms that the Steelers weren’t just willing to address their defensive backfield through the draft.

[+] EnlargeMike Mitchell
Bob Donnan/USA TODAY SportsMike Mitchell will replace Ryan Clark in Pittsburgh's secondary.
Mitchell, who turns 27 in June, fits the profile of the defensive backs that the Steelers had inquired about prior to the start of free agency. He is young but has starting experience and will help the Steelers immediately, something they are loathe to expect out of rookies.

Mitchell spent his first four seasons with the Raiders but came into his own after signing a one-year deal with the Panthers last year. Starting on a regular basis for the first time in his career, Mitchell recorded 66 tackles while intercepting four passes and forcing a pair of fumbles in 15 games.

The 6-foot, 215-pounder will take over at free safety for Ryan Clark, and the Steelers hope they get a return from Mitchell similar to what they received from Clark after signing him to a four-year, $7 million contract in 2006.

Clark started eight seasons after signing with the Steelers as an unrestricted free agent, and he and Polamalu became close friends and played as well off one another as any safety tandem in the NFL before age starting catching up with the duo.

The Mitchell signing drops the curtain on Clark’s Steelers career though he said on ESPN’s "NFL Live" on Tuesday that he intends to keep playing.

It is also the latest move that will shape the Steelers’ secondary in 2014 and the first one that should provide stability beyond next season.

The Steelers had previously re-signed Polamalu to a three-year contract and restructured cornerback Ike Taylor's contact with the 11th-year veteran accepting a $4.5 million pay cut.

Taylor’s new deal put the Steelers around $7 million under the salary cap, allowing them to sign the biggest free agent from a financial standpoint since Mike Tomlin took over as head coach in 2007.

The Steelers generally wait until after the frenzied first wave of free agency before going shopping.

They have made exceptions as far as pursuing higher-profile free agents, and the Steelers hit pay dirt in the early 2000s when they signed center Jeff Hartings and linebacker James Farrior in back-to-back years.

Hartings, who signed with the Steelers in 2001, continued the line of excellence that the Steelers have enjoyed at center. Farrior, who signed with the Steelers the year after Hartings, blossomed into one of the best inside linebackers in the NFL and became one of the driving forces behind a run in which the Steelers won a pair of Super Bowls and played in three of them from 2005-10.

The Steelers didn’t do nearly as well in 2007 when they signed former Buccaneers center Sean Mahan to a five-year, $17 million contract. Mahan lasted just one season in Pittsburgh, and the Steelers traded him to the Buccaneers in 2008 after he lost his starting job to Justin Hartwig.

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas


The Bucs will have two new starters on offense at Buffalo today. They just announced that Sean Mahan will start at center and Maurice Stovall at wide receiver.

Mahan, who was re-signed Monday, will start in place of the injured Jeff Faine. Stovall gets the nod in place of the injured Antonio Bryant. I'm a bit surprised by that one. I thought rookie Sammie Stroughter would draw the start, but I think we still will see a lot of Stroughter.

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

  • Philip Zaroo of Mlive.com writes it was time to move on for former Cincinnati Bengals running back Rudi Johnson, who is now a Detroit Lion.

Morning take: Johnson says he had a feeling all along he would leave Cincinnati, yet has no idea why he was released. Interesting. Our guess is Johnson is taking the high road.

Morning take: Here's another similarity: Neither team has won playoff games in a very long time.

  • ESPN.com's John Clayton reports the Pittsburgh Steelers shipped center Sean Mahan to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a seventh-round draft pick.

Morning take: The Sean Mahan experiment was a disaster from the beginning in Pittsburgh. Let's see if the Justin Hartwig experiment works better.

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

Morning take: The Steelers signed Hartwig in free agency to do exactly that. The only question is what took him so long?

  • Baltimore Ravens left tackle Jared Gaither (ankle) returned to practice Monday and should be ready for the regular season.

Morning take: Finally, the Ravens got some good injury news. The inexperienced Gaither is returning just in time to get enough reps to be ready for the season opener Sept. 7.

  • ESPN.com's John Clayton reports Cincinnati Bengals receiver Chad Johnson has a partially-torn labrum, which is more severe than the shoulder sprained the team originally described.

Morning take: Johnson will have to manage this injury all season to make sure there is no re-aggravation of his left shoulder. For more insight click here.

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

Here is your one-stop shopping for the most interesting storylines in the AFC North:

  • According to multiple sources, Pro Bowl returner Joshua Cribbs and his representation recently approached the Cleveland Browns about restructuring his contract.

Morning take: Devin Hester's deal (four years, $40 million, $15 million guaranteed) with the Chicago Bears caught the attention of many, including Cribbs. Now the AFC's version of Hester is reconsidering his value.

Morning take: This is great news for Bengals fans, who can only hope Johnson's happiness lasts throughout a full 16-game season.

  • The Pittsburgh Steelers are hoping center Justin Hartwig can fill a gaping hole on the offensive line this season.

Morning take: If Hartwig proves to be an upgrade over Sean Mahan this year, which many expect, Pittsburgh's offensive line could improve.

  • Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh has yet to decide on a starting quarterback for Thursday's preseason opener against the New England Patriots.

Morning take: Baltimore should continue an AFC North tradition and flip a coin. It worked in Cleveland.

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