Hitting it big
Steelers DE Smith avoids holdout, signs extensionPosted: Wednesday July 24, 2002 8:15 PM
Updated: Thursday July 25, 2002 3:52 AM
LATROBE, Pa. (AP) -- Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Aaron Smith avoided a threatened holdout, reaching terms Wednesday on a five-year contract extension that makes him the latest multimillionaire on the NFL's No. 1 defense last season.
Smith, who had eight sacks last season as a pass-rushing defensive end in the Steelers 3-4 alignment, will play this season under the $1.227 million offer tendered him in February. His $24 million, five-year extension kicks in next season.
The contract includes a $5.5 million signing bonus, an amount Smith almost found difficulty comprehending.
Smith lived in a trailer while growing up in Colorado Springs, Colo., then wasn't heavily recruited for college ball, playing at Division II Northern Colorado. Despite not playing at a big-name school, he was the Steelers' fourth-round pick in 1999.
"It's hard to describe this," said Smith, who reached the deal a couple of hours before the reporting deadline. "I come from a humble background and granted it is a lot of money, but it's not going to change me. It may change the way I live a little bit, but it's not going to change me as a person."
To the Steelers, the signing means every key defensive player is locked up for at least the next five seasons -- except safety Lee Flowers, unsigned past this season.
Flowers said he's not worried -- "I'll get my money here or somewhere else," he said -- and promised he and his teammates won't be talking about money or contracts now that they're in camp.
"We're not trying to get in situations like [some teams] where players are talking about each other's contracts," Flowers said. "I don't take it personal that I'm supposed to be one of the leaders on the team and I didn't get signed first."
"We're really focused right now trying to rectify what happened last year and trying to winning a Super Bowl."
Smith's salary is now comparable to those of all-pro linebacker Jason Gildon, who has a $23 million contract, and cornerback Chad Scott, the highest-paid Steelers defensive player, who has a $25.25 million deal.
"It's important we keep this together and have the opportunity to win some championships," Smith said. "If anything, it takes the pressure off me. I don't have to worry about contract negotiations, I can just go out there and play football."
The 6-foot-5-inch, 300-pound Smith has 13 sacks the last three seasons, a large number in a scheme designed for the outside linebackers to get the sacks. He is considered a key to the Steelers pass rush, and the team did not want him missing valuable training camp time in what might have been a prolonged holdout.
"His job is to make the other team account for him, and he definitely has the ability to do that," Gildon said. "They have to account for him and that frees up guys."
The signing leaves first-round draft choice Kendall Simmons as the Steelers' only unsigned player, but he appears close to reaching terms.
Simmons, an offensive lineman, was the 30th overall pick in the April draft and the market for him apparently was set Tuesday when No. 31 pick Robert Thomas agreed to a $5.75 million deal with the Rams and No. 27 pick Mike Rumph agreed to a $6.35 million contract with the 49ers. Thomas and Rumph each got $3 million signing bonuses.
After one of the busiest and, certainly, the most expensive offseason in team history, with Aaron Smith, Alan Faneca, Joey Porter, Jason Gildon, Tommy Maddox and Amos Zereoue among those locked into new contracts, the money may have run out.
Director of football operations Kevin Colbert said there are no ongoing contract negotiations with Flowers and left tackle Wayne Gandy, whose contract also ends after this season.
Colbert also said he doesn't expect any such talks now that camp has opened.
"We feel good that we signed some of the players going into the last year of their contracts and securing a good bit of this team for more than one season and more than one run [at a Super Bowl]," Colbert said. "We have a good number of players back from last year's team and, hopefully, we can take the next step."
"But we've said all along that we can't sign everybody."
The Steelers return all but one key starter from a year ago: linebacker Earl Holmes, who was replaced by Jets free agent James Farrior. Right guard Rich Tylski signed with New England, but the Steelers have Oliver Ross, who started the second half of the season, and the first-rounder Simmons to replace him.
The Steelers take the field for the first time Thursday afternoon for the series of 14 40-yard sprints that traditionally open camp, followed by two-a-day drills Friday -- the first day the camp is open to the public.
"A lot of people are going to be hurting tomorrow," linebacker Joey Porter said. "But we'll get to see where everybody's at and how hard they worked in the offseason."
Meanwhile, right tackle Marvel Smith apologized Wednesday for his marijuana arrest, then promised that it won't be a distraction during training camp.
Smith appeared nervous and fidgety as he talked publicly for the first time since his July 12 arrest in a Tempe, Ariz., hotel room, saying he was embarrassed by what happened and, just as much, the reaction to it.
"Yeah, it's real embarrassing," Smith said. "It's an embarrassment to the entire Steelers organization and the city."
Smith denied smoking marijuana when he was taken into custody, saying, "I had nothing to do with what was going on. I was in the wrong place at the wrong time for the most part."
"I made a poor decision in regards to who I was with and where I was at the time, but I accept full responsibility and all the consequences that are going to come to me," Smith said. "I'm looking forward to putting it behind me and getting along with the season."