In a generation of football players who see financial gain and public notoriety as contract stipulations, at least one player seems to be breaking the mold.
The 2012 season is ancient history, and off-season questions have begun. One of those questions surrounds offensive lineman Ramon Foster who is about to become an unrestricted free agent. Juries are hung as to whether or not Foster would be willing to re-sign with the Pittsburgh Steelers, knowing tenured veteran Willie Colon and first round draft pick David DeCastro sit above him on the depth chart.
Foster, who made his NFL debut with Pittsburgh as their third tight end in place of an injured David Johnson on September 27th of 2009, started all 16 games for the Steelers in 2012, mostly at right guard in place of DeCastro before moving to left guard to replace Colon as DeCastro returned. In his four year career since signing with Pittsburgh as an undrafted free agent, Foster has been a participating member of the Steelers roster in 57 of 64 possible games, starting 42 of them at both right and left guard positions. His starting experience confirms concerns Foster would sign elsewhere to continue to start.
When Foster spoke to the media on New Year's Eve, exploring options seemed to be the last thing on his mind.
"The friendship part, it would be tough if I wasn’t here, that’s just a part of the business. I hope I am here."
As aging vets Casey Hampton and Max Starks, and free agent targets Rashard Mendenhall and Mike Wallace have been outspoken on their expired contracts, and opinions of the Steelers intentions regarding; the top topic of Foster's comments revolved around the future of the offensive line in Pittsburgh, and his intention to be a part of it.
"We have a lot of talented and special players on the line. You have all dynamics, smart guys and tough guys, every type of dynamic in the room. I want to be a part of a line like that. Barring injuries, it could be a really special line."
Like Starks, Foster acknowledges the Steelers investment in Colon and DeCastro. He also recognizes Pittsburgh's intent to act on those investments, leaving no predetermined playing time for Foster. However, unlike Starks, Foster seems willing to continue to play the selfless role he has played since college where he played guard and right tackle. Foster realizes the opportunities that injuries provide, and invites his role as insurance for the Steelers success by not suggesting a demand for continued starts or league best salaries. He only talks about his desire to see the entire offensive line succeed, however he fits into it.
"We can be really good. We have a lot of top-quality picks and young guys. I think the average age in our room now is 25 years old. We have depth. We just have to get everybody healthy this offseason and see how everything transpires."
When the time comes for teams to make offers to unrestricted free agents, other teams would be foolish to not consider Foster if addressing their own offensive line issues. Likewise, Foster would be foolish to not seriously consider them; but as it stands right now, Foster is focused primarily on improving on the Steelers disappointing 8-8 record, especially their record within the AFC North.
"We split 3-3 in division play. We have a higher standard than that here. To come up short, it’s definitely not something that we were looking forward to."
Foster was expected to meet with Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin on Tuesday, most likely to discuss his future in Pittsburgh. Free Agency begins in March, and by then we will know the outcome of that meeting. Judging by Foster's comments, his departure is unlikely to come at his own hand.
Foster played the 2012 season on a $1.26 million dollar, restricted free agent tender. According to CBA regulations, the minimum salary the Steelers can offer him for 2013 is $715,000. While Foster may not demand playing time at contract negotiations, he may demand a guaranteed portion of his new contract to insure his spot on the roster through the length of his contract.
In a year the Steelers front office will be restructuring and pinching every penny, Foster appears to be one free agent the Steelers may be able to retain on the cheap. From his positional flexibility to his personal humility, Foster has definitely proven himself worthy to represent the "Steeler Way".