I wanted to hold off commenting on the re-signing of defensive end Brett Keisel until the actual terms of the deal were released. My initial reaction to the news several days ago was one of relative shock. I thought for quite some time that Keisel would be one of the prominent mainstay veterans that wouldn't be retained for the 2010 season and beyond. Instead of Keisel, I thought it was more likely that Justin Hartwig, Ryan Clark, Casey Hampton or Jeff Reed would be offered extensions before Keisel. That said, I thought the wild card in the situation might be Keisel's willingness to accept less money than he might otherwise earn on the open market after becoming a free agent at the end of this coming season.
So, what are the terms of Keisel's extension?
Keisel was offered a 4-year extension that will keep him with the Steelers through the 2013 season. Keisel was schedule to earn $3.25 million in 2009. The new deal pays him a total of $18.888 million over the course of the next five season, for an average of $3.78 million per year. Keisel also received a $5 million dollar signing bonus which will be prorated over 5 years at a salary cap hit of $1 million per year.
Bottom line? That's not much dough to keep around a high-energy, great locker room guy who will at worst be a very, very good reserve linemen for the next half decade.
So what does the signing mean? Well, at first, before seeing the terms of the deal, I was concerned that the Steelers might be veering away from their organizational philosophy of not overpaying for past performance to players who've likely passed their prime physically. I'd say Keisel, who turns 31 this year, is neither over the hill nor still in his absolute prime. There was of course the re-signing of James Farrior to a long-term deal when he was past the age of 30. Same for Hines Ward. Farrior and Ward, however, got larger deals than did Keisel. That's fitting considering their contributions to the team compared to Keisel's.
Ward and Farrior are also the heart and soul of the team. It made sense to pay for that extra something that both players undeniably give the organization. For Keisel, it might be a bit harder to justify paying top dollar for, even though he reportedly is as good as it gets in the locker room and a fine player himself. The Steelers didn't have to pay top dollar though to re-sign Keisel because he didn't demand it. I believe this is why the organization tends to do these contract extensions a year before they expire rather than after. By doing them a year early, the organization is able to see which players are interested in staying in Pittsburgh for a reasonable price before the pressures of outside offers roll in to tempt players to move on. It's a good litmus test of character and loyalty to the franchise - in Keisel's case to a team that drafted him as a 7th rounder and stuck with him early on while he developed. And it's a good way for the organization to save some precious salary cap space by not having to push the upper boundaries of what they offer to players.
What's great about this signing to me is that it suggests that players are perhaps sacrificing a bit more money to remain with the NFL's most successful franchise. I was personally shocked that Heath Miller was signed so early in the process considering the potential labor issues looming in the future. But he was, and for a price that likely was quite a bit lower than what he might have garnered elsewhere after this season. Miller seemingly wanted to remain with the Steelers.
Now Keisel has inked a deal for what I feel is probably a bit less than his going rate. Not as big a discrepancy as the contracts signed by Max Starks' or Miller - I think those two players really left money on the table. But still, I think wanting to remain with such a well run, successful franchise like the Steelers factored in to Keisel's decision as well.
What a beautiful thing if that trend is indeed true. And what an even more beautiful thing if it were to continue in to the future as the futures of other key Steelers players are eventually discussed and determined.