NFL

Steelers say free agents Starks, Hampton still in the mix

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The Canadian Press
4/22/2013 5:12:02 PM
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PITTSBURGH -- Maybe Max Starks and Casey Hampton aren't quite done with the Pittsburgh Steelers after all.

General manager Kevin Colbert said Monday the team has not "shut the door on anybody," including the two veterans who have a combined four Super Bowl rings between them.

Starks started all 16 games at left tackle in 2012 while Hampton did the same at nose tackle. Both players became free agents last month and remain on the market. The Steelers have already targeted their replacements -- Marcus Gilbert for Starks and Steve McLendon for Hampton -- but for a team that's already lost a handful of starters to free agency or contract terminations, having some familiar faces might help.

Colbert insisted there is no rush and any movement would most likely happen after this weekend's NFL draft.

"They could sign a contract today and end up behind a first-round draft pick," Colbert said. "We'll see where things stand on Monday."

Age would be a significant concern for Hampton, who will turn 36 the week before the 2013 season opener against Tennessee. The five-time Pro Bowler split playing time with McLendon last season but could be more effective in a reduced role. Starks proved to be the mainstay on an offensive line that couldn't stay healthy in 2012 but the 31-year-old could choose to go another route and compete for a starting job elsewhere.

Yet the Steelers, perhaps more than any other team in the NFL, make it a point to take care of their own. The team re-signed running backs Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer, linebacker Larry Foote, offensive lineman Ramon Foster and wide receiver Plaxico Burress.

Most notably Pittsburgh matched the offer the New England Patriots made to restricted free agent wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders. The signing inched the Steelers closer to the salary cap but Colbert believes it was the right thing to do at a position already hurt by the departure of Mike Wallace, who left Pittsburgh for Miami last month.

Colbert indicated there's a chance the Steelers could work out a longer-term deal for Sanders before training camp begins in July, just as the team did with Antonio Brown last summer.

Pittsburgh, coming off an 8-8 season that saw the franchise miss the playoffs for the first time since 2009, stayed relatively quiet in free agency, bringing back cornerback William Gay and tight end Matt Spaeth. Gay, who played for the Steelers from 2007-11 before spending a year in Arizona, will get a chance to compete for the starting cornerback spot that came open when Keenan Lewis signed with New Orleans.

"William is a nice fit for where we want to be in 2013," Colbert said.

Spaeth, meanwhile, will provide some depth at tight end while Pro Bowler Heath Miller overcomes a serious knee injury.

The Steelers also have a need at running back after Rashard Mendenhall left for the Cardinals. Former New York Giants back Ahmad Bradshaw has already visited Pittsburgh but has yet to sign. Then again, the Steelers don't have a lot of money to throw around. Pittsburgh is tight against the $123 million salary cap but will free up around $5.5 million on June 1 as part of the decision to cut offensive lineman Willie Colon.

Most of that money will be used to sign the team's eight draft choices, though Colbert said there's "still a chance" the Steelers could bring in someone if they're not able to adequately address specific needs in the draft.

Colbert and coach Mike Tomlin offered little detail on the off-season recovery of several players, including Miller and 2012 third-round pick Sean Spence, who missed all of last season after tearing three knee ligaments in the final exhibition game. Tomlin allowed everything is "going according to plan" and that some players could be back before others but gave no specifics.

Max Starks (Photo: Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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