The Steelers made a pair of surprise moves by re-signing safety Ryan Clark and bringing back wide receiver Antwaan Randle El on Tuesday — a day after signing two backups who excel on special teams, safety Will Allen from the Buccaneers and wide receiver Arnaz Battle from the 49ers.
There's more, too: They're also bringing in offensive tackle Jonathan Scott, who played the last two seasons in Buffalo under new Steelers offensive line coach Sean Kugler. Scott started eight games last season but wasn't given even the lowest tender offer to stay with the Bills.
Before the free agent signing period began, Steelers director of football operations Kevin Colbert said the offseason priorities were to bring back Clark, nose tackle Casey Hampton and kicker Jeff Reed. They retained all three, re-signing Hampton to a $21.3 million, three-year contract and placing the franchise tag on Reed, which assures him of making $2,814,000 next season.
Clark, who didn't want to leave Pittsburgh but initially couldn't work out terms, signed a $14 million, four-year contract only a day after visiting the Miami Dolphins. Clark reopened talks with the Steelers after deciding he preferred to stay in Pittsburgh rather than switch franchises.
Clark had an up and down season as the Steelers went 9-7 and didn't make the playoffs after winning the Super Bowl during the 2008 season. With star safety Troy Polamalu missing most of the season with two knee injuries, Clark struggled in coverage at times and, displaying a bit of late-season frustration, criticized Steelers fans for being more demanding than those in other cities.
Randle El is coming back four seasons after leaving Pittsburgh to sign a $31 million, seven-year deal with the Redskins. He was released despite being Washington's second-leading receiver last season with 50 receptions, although none were for touchdowns.
Randle El, who threw a TD pass on a gadget play during the Steelers' Super Bowl win over Seattle in February 2006, agreed to a three-year deal. The Steelers drafted him on the second round in 2002, but he left for Washington as a free agent after the 2005 season.
Bringing back Randle El — and signing Battle — suggests the Steelers may not be counting on former second-round draft pick Limas Sweed next season. He was taken off the active roster late last season for reasons not fully explained by the Steelers, who still haven't commented on the move.
Randle El figures to be the Steelers' No. 3 receiver, although he could be pressed for that job by second-year receiver Mike Wallace, who had six touchdowns among his 39 catches as a rookie.
Despite being a disappointment in Washington, Randle El caught at least 50 passes each of the last three seasons; the most receptions he had with Pittsburgh were 47 as a rookie in 2002.
Allen, who lost his starting job in Tampa Bay, and Battle, whose playing time at wide receiver was reduced in San Francisco, should upgrade the Steelers' deficient special teams. Their four kickoff return touchdowns allowed last season led the NFL.
"That's what I'm good at, that's what they saw in me," Allen said. "I'm a good safety and a good special teams player."
Allen is a former special teams captain for Tampa Bay but missed half of last season with a thumb injury.
Battle played in San Francisco under new Steelers special teams coach Al Everest. He could make as much as $3.9 million in three seasons; Allen's deal would pay him as much as $4.4 million if he plays three seasons for Pittsburgh.
Before the free agency period began, the Steelers declined to tender offers to fullback Carey Davis and former starting right guard Darnell Stapleton.
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