Discounting their 2014 draft picks and prospective undrafted players, the Pittsburgh Steelers have just 27 players signed past this season.
And six were selected during last year's NFL Draft.
PITTSBURGH -- No. 1 running back Le'Veon Bell, a rookie last season, is under contract through the 2016 season. And backup LeGarrette Blount is signed through 2015, so the top backs are in the fold for at least two years.
Fullback Will Johnson has just one year remaining, but the running back spots aren't a priority until this time next year. Unless, of course, there are injuries. If the Steelers backfield remains healthy, Bell and Blount could be the best one-two combination the club has had in quite a few seasons.
Bell finished strong last season, once he got healthy and the Steelers offense improved around him, to run for 860 yards and eight touchdowns in 13 games. He also had 45 receptions for 399 yards and fumbled just once in 244 attempts. Bell ran for 578 yards and five scores during the final eight games when the Steelers went 6-2.
Blount has 2,711 yards rushing and 20 touchdowns in four NFL seasons (4.7 average). He also returned kickoffs for the New England Patriots last season with an average of 29.1 yards on 17 attempts. Blount played on special teams as well and hasn't been much of a receiver during his career, but his power and Bell's shiftiness should give the Steelers a potent duo for at least two years.
Bell's resume is limited, just 13 games in a rookie season, but he's proven to be a hard worker so far with great potential. A good sophomore season could lead to a big payday afterward. Bell signed a four-year, $4,120,600 rookie contract befitting a second-round selection with starter potential.
Bell's signing bonus in the deal was $1,376,800, and he also had a first-year roster bonus of $97,300. Bell will make $495,000 in base salary this season, but that jumps to $779,600 next year and $966,900 in 2016. He will be an unrestricted free agent in 2017, but likely will be re-signed long before that as long as he continues to progress as expected.
Blount signed a two-year contract with the Steelers, after working with a one-year deal with the Patriots, for $3.85 million. The agreement included a $950,000 signing bonus with an average salary of $1.925 million, but Blount likely is making a smaller salary this year (possibly less than $1 million) to keep the Steelers under the cap and a larger amount in his final season in 2015.
Blount's future is tied to Bell. If Bell continues to progress as the lead back, Blount could want to go elsewhere in an attempt to secure a No. 1 spot. Johnson could be counted as a back, but he isn't in the mix with Bell and Blount. He is more of a tight end since he is a blocker and pass-catcher.
Few NFL teams use fullbacks anymore, so Johnson's options are limited. If he has the season that he and the Steelers expect, Johnson likely will be re-signed. His original deal was for three years and $1.44 million. He is set to make $570,000 this year and be a restricted free agent in 2015.
The remaining backs on the roster are Alvester Alexander, Tauren Poole and Miguel Maysonet. They signed one-year future contracts for $420,000 and will be restricted free agents next year. Any two could spend the year on the practice squad.