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Pittsburgh Steelers: Catching up on off-season moves

The Pittsburgh Steelers have had a busy off-season.

The Steelers have made multiple signings on both the offensive and defensive fronts. In addition, the team is also working with what they have, re-signing players and extended offers.

Players that will be returning to the Steelers are James Harrison, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell.

Harrison signed a new two-year contract back on March 1. The terms of Harrison’s deal were not disclosed.

Harrison has many accolades in a Steelers uniform. He has spent his entire career- minus one season- with the Steelers. He holds the franchise record for most sacks, and will continue to add more to his 79.5 number.

In the 2016 season, Harrison featured in 15 regular-season games, starting seven. Harrison recorded 53 total tackles, five sacks, two forced fumbles, one pass deflection and one interception.

“It was easy,” said Harrison. “That is what both parties wanted and we were able to come to an agreement. It’s home. It’s the only place that I really wanted to be. It’s where my family is. It’s a great organization. I want to get a Lombardi. I want to get another Super Bowl. That is the biggest thing I want to accomplish. The other thing would be, I want to prove anybody wrong that doubts me.”

As for Brown, his contract was for five years, and worth close to $73 million.

Brown, who had one year left on his old contract, started in all 15 regular-season games he appeared in during the 2016 season. Brown recorded 106 receptions for 1,284 yards. In addition, Brown scored 12 touchdowns, leading a young group of wide receivers. On the ground, Brown rushed the ball three times for nine yards, not scoring any touchdowns.

“It means everything,” said Brown. “It’s the team that gave me an opportunity from Day 1. You put the helmet on you have the chance to do something special. I am extremely thankful. You have to have a vision. You have to think positive things for yourself. You have to continue to dream. This is one of the things I dreamed about five, six years ago. I want to continue to dream and be motivated and continue to grow. I can tell you the work that goes in pays off. Working smart, working hard, always being ready when the opportunity presents itself.”

Bell didn’t get so lucky. The running back was the target for the Steelers franchise tag.

Appearing in 12 games, which he started all of, during the 2016 season, Bell rushed for 1,268 yards on 261 carries. He scored seven touchdowns on the ground and two in the air. As a receiver, Bell caught 75 passes for 616 yards. In 2016 he fumbled the ball a total of four times.

“We always knew he had an awesome talent for running the ball, but I think what is most impressive is his blocking and catching the ball out of the backfield,” said quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. “He is an every down back and we can use him for every situation. I think that is what is most impressive.”

The Steelers have also brought back a familiar face with the re-signing of tight end David Johnson.

Johnson, an eight-year veteran of the NFL, was with the Steelers originally from 2009-13, and spent the last two years with the San Diego Chargers. In 2016, he returned to Pittsburgh where he appeared in 16 games, starting five. He served as a mentor for other tight ends, while catching seven passes for 80 yards. However, Johnson did not score a touchdown last season.

“I always considered myself a Steeler,” said Johnson. “I never wanted to leave. I hope I can finish my career here. It’s a special place. It’s always been like home to me, being with the coaches, the guys, the organization. It’s a great place to be. The only place I want to play.”

Also returning is defensive player, cornerback Ross Cockrell.

Cockrell just signed his restricted free agency tender on April 17. The one-year contract will be in place. The Steelers front office will have the opportunity to work with Cockrell on a long-term deal, if that’s the goal.

Cockrell was a regular starter last season, starting all 16 regular-season games he appeared in. During those games, Cockrell recorded 62 total tackles and one fumble recovery. He did not have an interception in the 2016 season.

Lastly, in terms of players being re-signed, the Steelers agreed to a two-year contract with quarterback Landry Jones.

In 2016, Jones appeared in eight regular-season games, starting two. Jones threw for 558 yards on 53 completed passes. In addition, Jones threw four touchdowns, two interceptions and was sacked a total of four times.

“It was really just wanting to be back here,” said Jones. “It wasn’t a tough decision. This place is familiar to me and I am thankful I have an opportunity again to have a job and have a spot to come back to. It was the best decision for me and (my wife) Whitney and our family. If all things were equal, I wasn’t going to go anywhere. That was where my mindset was. I think it is the way people treat you around here. It is a business, but at the same time the Rooneys treat you great, all of our coaches treat you great. It’s just a great place to be.”

“He has a very good understanding of our offense,” said Head Coach Mike Tomlin. “He is a good communicator. It’s part of the functions of being a backup quarterback, the talking of schematics and the seeing of what is on the field and the communicating of such. He has grown in a lot of ways in that area in the last several years.”

Welcome, newbies

As for new players, the Steelers made signings on the defense and offense.

The Steelers announced that defensive end Tyson Alualu would be a new member of their team, back on March 21. Alualu has spent his entire career, which started in 2010, with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Alualu recorded 38 total tackles last season, while also notching 3.5 sacks and one pass deflection.

“As soon as you walk in the building you get a sense from talking to the people, it’s real genuine,” said Alualu. “Just a place that loves to win, so I would love to be a part of that. Just excited about this opportunity. I don’t think I could have left without signing a deal here, just wanting to be a part of something special. I am thankful to the Rooneys, Coach (Mike) Tomlin, Mr. (Kevin) Colbert. Taking a chance with me and giving me the opportunity to be a part of something special. I am thankful to be here. I had some tough years in Jacksonville. I just wanted a good change. I am excited to be here.”

“That has been a part of my strength, the versatility of being able to play inside and outside,” said Alualu. “Whatever the coaches want me to play, whatever position, I am just willing to play anything to help out, help this team. They are so close to always being in the Super Bowl. I just want to be a part of that.”

The Steelers also agreed to terms with wide receiver Justin Hunter.

Hunter, who is entering his fifth NFL season, has been on the rosters of the Tennessee Titans and Buffalo Bills. In his four NFL years, Hunter has recorded 78 receptions for 1,305 yards in 47 appearances. Hunter has also scored 12 touchdowns and has never fumbled the ball.

Back on the defense, the Steelers signed cornerback Coty Sensabaugh.

Sensabaugh has appeared with the Tennessee Titans, Los Angeles Rams and New York Giants in his NFL career, which started in 2012. In his career, Sensabaugh has made 153 total tackles in his 72 NFL appearances. In addition, Sensabaugh has totaled two interceptions, scoring one touchdown.

“Just coming to something special,” said Sensabaugh. “I wanted to be part of a family here. The Steelers organization is top-notch. It’s a family atmosphere. I was talking to everybody that has been in the building. I have been a part of a couple of other organizations and this is one of the top-notch organizations. When you walk around the building and see how things are run, you see why the Steelers are in it year-in and year-out. I have played here a couple of years and the fans are ridiculous. I am excited to play for them.”

“I came here to help the team get two games better,” Sensabaugh continued. “This team made it to the AFC Championship last year and hopefully we can get over the hump this year. That’s the goal.”

Lastly, in terms of new players being signed, the Steelers added running back Knile Davis.

Davis, who is entering his fifth NFL season, has spent time with the Kansas City Chiefs, and for a short time the Green Bay Packers. Davis has a career total of 805 rushing yards, while scoring one touchdown. However, Davis is impressive on kickoff returns, amassing 1,960 yards and scoring two touchdowns.

“It’s a wonderful situation,” said Davis of signing with the team. “You have a good running back, a good coaching staff, good offensive scheme and good special teams. I think it’s a good place for me. I felt like with (Coach) Mike Tomlin and what he is doing around here, the success that they have had, and they are looking good. I think I can help out.”

 

Photo of Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell courtesy of Gregory Shamus/Getty Images.

Follow me on Twitter, @RachaelMcKriger, for all Steelers coverage.

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Rachael McKriger
Rachael McKriger writes for Pittsburgh Sporting News, Real Sports Entertainement Network, Pittsburgh Sports Castle and Politically Incorrect Sports Talk, in addition to being a copy editor at the Herald Standard newspaper. McKriger also has a freelance photography business called "McKriger Photography."
You can follow her on Twitter, @RachaelMcKriger, where you can find all of her articles. Search "McKriger Photography" on Facebook.
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