Steelers stick to script with sensible free-agent signings

Locking up Darrius Heyward-Bey and Robert Golden to three-year contracts was an easy decision. Both are quality role players, great locker room pieces and core special teamers. Mike Tomlin trusts and appreciates both of them. They are like family sedans. The team knows what to expect from these sensible options.

Otherwise, expect the Pittsburgh Steelers to tread carefully in the first days of free agency. They will look to take care of their own, but until proven otherwise, taking big swings in the open market typically isn't the Steelers' style.

James Farrior signings don't happen every year for this franchise, even if I've pegged them to a big fish this year.

Of course, a high-impact defensive back will be tempting. But from what I'm hearing, at least early on, players such as Sean Smith and Eric Weddle will be out of the Steelers' price range. A player's market would have to fall to Pittsburgh. That means combing the second-tier markets or bargain-bin spring sales.

This is a team with about $10.7 million in cap space, and though it can create more -- restructuring Lawrence Timmons' $15.1 million cap number or cutting Cortez Allen ($4.4 million salary) is a start -- the Steelers aren't exactly well-positioned to splash into the first week of the new league year.

The Steelers feel there's enough corner and safety depth in the draft to do proper damage.

Here are a few things we know about the Steelers' plans.

  • There's mutual interest in reaching a contract extension with veteran corner William Gay.

  • Safety Will Allen likely won't return.

  • The team is open to Bruce Gradkowski's return as Big Ben insurance, but they'd have to see him throw first. Gradkowski missed all of last year with shoulder issues. The Steelers like carrying three quarterbacks, so Gradkowski and Landry Jones could co-exist.

  • Don't rule out nose tackle Steve McLendon returning, possibly on a multi-year deal that makes sense for both sides. Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt are bookend studs on the line, but as of Wednesday there's not a starting-caliber nose tackle on the roster.

As for offensive linemen Kelvin Beachum and Ramon Foster, both players want to return but that's hardly a guarantee, depending where the money falls. There could be healthy markets for both players -- not outrageous money, but steady coin. In Beachum's case, the Steelers would likely want a team-friendly deal since they have Alejandro Villanueva playing capable football.

There's help available for the Steelers if they are willing to spend. Here's to thinking any signing will be complementary, with the priority on display Monday: Re-signing mid-level players and continuing to develop them.

And don't sleep on the Golden signing. The Steelers value his work as a third safety in a defensive subpackage that helped the defense late in the year. Watching the Week 15 win over Denver helps illustrate this.