Former All-Pro linebacker Jason Gildon was released Wednesday by
the Pittsburgh Steelers in a long-expected move that creates $3.65
million of salary cap room for the team.
Gildon, who will be 32 next month, learned weeks ago he would be
traded or released. The Steelers also told him not to attend last
month's minicamp or their ongoing voluntary coaching sessions,
though he has worked out by himself at the team's practice complex.
Gildon, the team's all-time sacks leader, was the last player
remaining on the Steelers' roster from the team that lost to Dallas
in the Super Bowl in January 1996. However, the six sacks last season represented the fewest for Gildon since 1997, when he registered 5½, but he still has an average of 10 sacks per year over the past six campaigns.
Pittsburgh will recoup enough to sign its draft choices, and possibly rework the contract of starting quarterback Tommy Maddox, who has been promised an upgraded deal. The Steelers will count about $1.3 million against their 2004 cap for Gildon and $2.6 million against the 2005 spending limit.
"Jason has been a very productive player and team leader for us
the past 10 years," coach Bill Cowher said in a statement.
"Unfortunately, in this system, some very difficult decisions have
to be made."
Gildon, 31, is expected to attract good interest from other teams. His age and the fact he essentially played his entire career in the 3-4, where he mostly played moving forward and was rarely asked to drop and cover, could somewhat limit the number of teams that pursue him. But even if he is simply employed as a situational passer rusher, Gildon still has some value in the league.
Green Bay, Baltimore, Houston and Cleveland are among the franchises said to have at least some curiosity level regarding Gildon, who has been working out regularly at the Steelers' complex, and is said to be in excellent physical condition. Gildon starred in all 16 games in 2003, the seventh consecutive season in which he did not miss a start, and totaled 50 tackles and six sacks.
Gildon knew his 10-year Steelers career was effectively over
when they signed his former backup, Clark Haggans, to a $10.2
million, four-year contract on March 6. Haggans will slide into
Gildon's starting position at left outside linebacker.
"It's part of the business, and I understand that," Gildon
said recently. "But it's kind of disappointing because of how long
I've been here."
Haggans is five years younger than Gildon and has been
productive in a backup role, getting 6½ sacks in 2002.
Pittsburgh also may try to sign linebackers James Farrior and Kendrell
Bell to contract extensions before the season starts.
Gildon was disappointed the Steelers didn't offer to bring him
back at a much-reduced salary, as they did with running back Jerome Bettis. Bettis agreed to a salary cut from $3.6 million to $1
million after losing his full-time starting job last season.
A third-round choice in the 1994 draft, Gildon was representative of the kind of hybrid defender the Steelers have favored at linebacker under Cowher, a former defensive end in college who could stand up and play in a two-point stance.
Gildon played in the January 1996 Super Bowl against Dallas and became a starter in 1996, twice making the Pro Bowl. He has 77 sacks in his career -- 3½ more than previous Pittsburgh record-holder L.C. Greenwood. Hall of Famer Joe Greene is third with 66 sacks.
In addition to his sacks total, the former Oklahoma State standout has 527 career tackles, two interceptions, 17 forced fumbles and 10 recoveries. He has played in 158 games and started in 126 of them.
Information from ESPN.com's Len Pasquarelli and The Associated Press was used in this report.