Steelers sign Keisel, Clark to fill holes on defense
The Pittsburgh Steelers on Tuesday night addressed one sudden opening on their starting defensive unit and another void that the team essentially decided to create.
Four-year veteran defensive end Brett Keisel, an unrestricted player who drew interest from several other teams in the opening days of free agency, re-signed with the team. And the Steelers signed unrestricted free-agent safety Ryan Clark, who was a starter for the Washington Redskins the last two seasons.
Both players signed four-year contracts. Clark's deal is worth $7 million and it includes a signing bonus of $1.7 million. Keisel signed a $13.1 million deal that included a $3.29 million signing bonus.
Although he didn't start a single game for the Steelers in his first four seasons in the league, keeping Keisel onboard was one of Pittsburgh's biggest offseason priorities. The Steelers coaches feel the former Brigham Young standout is a future star in their 3-4 defensive front.
Retaining him became an even bigger priority Tuesday when the Steelers lost 12-year veteran end Kimo von Oelhoffen to the New York Jets as a free agent. Keisel will now step into the starting job at right end for the Super Bowl champions, filling the void created by von Oelhoffen's departure.
"I'm sad my boy Kimo is not going to be here," Keisel said. "He's one of my mentors. I'm excited about the opportunity, to show what I can do and to stay in Pittsburgh."
A seventh-round choice in the 2002 draft, Keisel's development was slowed by injuries in the past. But the onetime special teams contributor became a regular in the Steelers' defensive line rotation in 2005. In 13 games, he posted 13 tackles, but the coaches were most impressed by the three sacks Keisel generated as a backup. Keisel, 27, added five tackles and two sacks in the playoffs.
Clark, 26, will replace free safety Chris Hope in the Pittsburgh secondary. Hope has not yet signed with another team, but the Steelers are apparently not inclined to go to the financial lengths that it might take to retain him. Hope began visiting with other teams this week.
A four-year veteran, Clark played strong safety for the Redskins, but will line up at free safety in the Pittsburgh secondary, teaming with Pro Bowl strong safety Troy Polamalu. In 13 games last season, Clark had 72 tackles, three interceptions and four passes defensed. The Steelers like his tackling ability and feel he has more than enough range to make the move to free safety in their scheme.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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