Staley may be attractive to teams pushing for playoffs

Updated: December 4, 2006, 8:33 PM ET
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

Finally cutting ties with the player who might best exemplify why the Pittsburgh Steelers dabble so infrequently in the veteran free-agent market, the team on Monday evening released tailback Duce Staley, ending his disappointing three-year tenure with the club.

 Duce Staley
Staley

The 10-year veteran, signed as an unrestricted free agent in 2004 after playing the first seven years of his career with the Philadelphia Eagles, played just one snap on offense in the first 12 games of 2006.

Because of injuries and the fact Pittsburgh hosts the Cleveland Browns on Thursday night, the Steelers needed to quickly add some reinforcements.

Pittsburgh signed wide receiver Lee Mays and defensive back Chidi Iwuoma, both of whom have been with the Steelers in the past. The Steelers also placed rookie wide receiver Willie Reid, a third-round draft pick from Florida State, on injured reserve. Projected as a return specialist this season, Reid spent much of his rookie year nursing a foot sprain and appeared in only one game.

A standout special teams performer who was surprisingly waived by the Steelers in preseason this year, Iwuoma likely will dress for Thursday night's game.

Staley, 31, might be of some interest to another team for the playoff stretch run, but his lack of playing time in 2006 and the perception that he has lost a half-step may work against him.

The Steelers signed Staley to a five-year, $14 million contract in 2004 amid much fanfare. Staley was seen as heir apparent to Jerome Bettis as starting tailback. Pittsburgh, which organizationally prefers to build through the draft, rarely makes such a commitment to a veteran free agent.

In his first season with the team, Staley split time with Bettis and rushed for 830 yards and one touchdown on 192 carries. But in 2005, speedy youngster Willie Parker supplanted Bettis as the starter. Bettis stayed on as the short-yardage and goal-line back, and Staley was all but forgotten, appearing in only five games and logging just 38 carries.

The former South Carolina star was a back who seemed always on the cusp of a big-time breakout year, but who suffered several setbacks because of injuries. Still, in his seven seasons with the Eagles, Staley posted three 1,000-yard rushing seasons, and was viewed as a very good all-around back. His best year was in 1999, when he ran for 1,273 yards.

In 114 career games, including 75 starts, Staley carried 1,430 times for 5,785 yards and 24 touchdowns. He also had 287 receptions for 2,587 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Senior writer Len Pasquarelli covers the NFL for ESPN.com.