Kemoeatu, Steelers agree to $20M deal

Updated: February 28, 2009, 2:31 AM ET
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

Torn between money and loyalty to the team that drafted him, Steelers guard Chris Kemoeatu faced the toughest decision of his young life Friday and chose to remain loyal to Pittsburgh.

Considered the top guard in the unrestricted free agent market, Kemoeatu agreed to a five-year, $20 million contract with the Steelers. Included in the deal is nearly $6 million in guarantees.

The New York Jets were offering Kemoeatu more money, but the fact the Steelers won Super Bowl XLIII and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is a big fan of his, Kemoeatu decided money would not govern his decision.

His San Francisco based agent, Ken Vierra, had to navigate his client though the tough decision. The Jets were offering more on a year-to-year basis and much more in guarantees. At one point, the Steelers, sensing Kemoeatu might leave, were going to pull out of the talks, but Vierra and Kemoeatu kept calling the Steelers out of loyalty.

Kemoeatu was a sixth-round choice of the Steelers in 2006 and has started 18 games during his pro career. He is known for his intensity and hard hitting along the line.

Losing Kemoeatu would have left the Steelers with former undrafted free agent Darnell Stapleton as their only experienced guard. Stapleton also was a first-year starter last season.

The Jets wanted Kemoeatu as the replacement for right guard Brandon Moore.

Kemoeatu was a Steelers sixth-round pick in 2005, likely dropping in the draft because of a 2003 incident in which the former Utah lineman kicked an UNLV player in the face while his helmet was off. Kemoeatu had been suspended for the first half of that game following an on-field dispute with a San Diego State player the week before.

Anthony Smith, the safety who unwisely guaranteed a victory over the then-unbeaten Patriots in 2007, became an unrestricted free agent Friday after the Steelers didn't tender him a contract.

The Steelers gave up quickly on Smith, whose career in Pittsburgh declined rapidly after he was a third-round pick from Syracuse in 2006. He angered coach Mike Tomlin not only by guaranteeing the Steelers would beat the Patriots a season later, but by getting beat for two touchdowns during New England's 34-13 victory.

Senior writer John Clayton covers the NFL for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this story.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer