It had been rumored for much of the offseason that Foote, made extraneous by the emergence of two-year veteran and former first-round pick Lawrence Timmons, would either be traded or released. It is believed the Steelers attempted to trade Foote during the NFL draft last weekend.
In a strange and puzzling twist, however, team sources said that Foote will not be released until after the club's upcoming minicamp, a stance first reported by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Tuesday afternoon and subsequently confirmed by ESPN.com. Yet Foote continues to believe he has been released already and is now a free agent. It is not certain, sources close to Foote said, if the linebacker will attend the minicamp, should the Steelers not officially release him until next week.
According to the Post-Gazette, Foote said he wants to continue his career as a starting linebacker where he can play more often and asked the Steelers to accommodate him.
"It was my doing," Foote told the Post-Gazette. "I wanted to go. They were trying to trade me.''
A player is not technically released until his name appears on the league's internal transactions report, which is issued daily.
A seven-year veteran, Foote is still a productive defender at only 28 years old. But a combination of economics and the urgency to move Timmons into the starting lineup will lead to his release.
His résumé includes 110 games, and 83 starts, including two Super Bowl victories. Foote has played in all 16 games for six straight seasons and started all 16 contests each of the past five years. The former University of Michigan standout is considered a strong player against the run but usually left the field in nickel situations.
The fact that Foote was scheduled to earn a base salary of $2.885 million in 2009, a steep price to pay for a player projected as a reserve, was certainly a factor in the decision to release him. Foote had a salary-cap figure of $3.5 million for 2009. The Steelers will have his base salary of $2.885 million refunded into their '09 cap.
Pittsburgh is typically tight against the spending limit and can sorely use the funds provided by Foote's release. Last week the Steelers had to release tailback Gary Russell in order to have enough cap room to sign backup quarterback Charlie Batch.
Timmons was the team's first-round draft choice in 2007. He spent much of 2008 as the nickel linebacker and an occasional blitzer, two roles in which he excelled. It was generally considered that Timmons, who had 65 tackles and five sacks last season, was ready to break into the starting lineup.
"James Farrior never slows down, and Timmons came in and I can't grow here any more. They turned me into a two-down linebacker last year. I was stuck in a role," Foote told the Post-Gazette.
"I love the team, I love winning, but you can't keep being unhappy. It got to the point where they were not giving me a chance.''
In six seasons, Foote posted 431 tackles, 14½ sacks, three interceptions, 11 passes defensed, seven forced fumbles and four recoveries.
There were reports during the week preceding the Super Bowl that Foote wanted to play for his hometown Detroit Lions if he were released and, according to the Post-Gazette, he told both Detroit newspapers as much on Tuesday.
"Ain't no doubt about that," Foote told the Detroit Free Press. "I would love to come home. My family is here. I just bought a house here. It would be great. And just to answer critics: I'm not a veteran trying to come home and cash out on my hometown team. I'm a baller first. I wouldn't sacrifice that for nothing."
Senior writer Len Pasquarelli covers the NFL for ESPN.com.