Steelers sign 2

March 15, 2006

The Steelers made two moves yesterday to secure two new starters on defense when they signed end Brett Keisel and safety Ryan Clark to four-year contracts.

The team also is close to an agreement with their No. 2 tight end Jerame Tuman.

Keisel, a backup since the Steelers drafted him in 2002, will start at right defensive end. He will replace Kimo von Oelhoffen, who yesterday signed a three-year, $9.2 million contract as a free agent with the New York Jets.

Keisel signed a contract that will pay him $13.1 million, including a $3.29 million signing bonus.

Clark, 26, started at safety for the Redskins the past two seasons and will replace Chris Hope as the Steelers' starting free safety. The Steelers will pay him $7 million, including $1.65 million signing bonus. The Steelers tried to re-sign Hope, a starter the past two seasons, but he balked at their offer and is looking elsewhere.

Clark was giddy yesterday when he talked about signing with the Steelers. "It's a wonderful day. I was at the airport, swinging my Terrible Towel. I was with a team with a great fan base, but now -- they're going to hate me for this -- I'm with a team with an even better one. "The beauty of it is, I'm coming to a team that's already great. I'll just try to fit in and be part of this great organization."

Clark, at 5 feet 11, 205 pounds, is virtually the same size as Hope. Clark had three interceptions last season and, depending on which Redskins count is right, 57 or 72 tackles. Lining up next to safety Sean Taylor, Clark called the defensive signals, something he will do for the Steelers next season. He started 36 games at free safety for LSU. He signed as an undrafted free-agent rookie in 2002 with the Giants, who waived him in the '03 season.

"You want to come to a winner, a proven winner," Clark said. "Just the camaraderie and intensity they play with and the love the city and the organization have for the team. You see guys smiling and having a good time, Hines Ward blocking people and enjoying it. They enjoy what they do and enjoy playing for coach Cowher and enjoy playing for each other. That's something you want to be a part of at any level of competition."

Keisel, 27, did not start a game in his four seasons with the Steelers, who drafted him in the seventh round from Brigham Young University in 2002. But he played more often each season after he spent '03 on injured reserve, and he made a high percentage of plays. He had three sacks last season and a forced fumble and added two more sacks in the playoffs, both coming in the AFC championship game in Denver. He also forced a fumble by the Broncos.

"I feel great," Keisel said. "I'm sad my boy Kimo is not going to be here. He's one of my mentors. I owe a lot of my grown to him, Aaron Smith and coach [John Mitchell]. I'm excited about the opportunity, to show what I can do and to stay in Pittsburgh." At 6-5, 285, Keisel is an inch taller and about 15 pounds lighter than von Oelhoffen.

"The coaches have a lot of belief in this guy," said Eric Metz, his agent. "He's a young, upcoming player who hasn't started a game yet. He's looking forward to proving their faith in him is correct."

The Jets gave von Oelhoffen a $3.2 million signing bonus as part of his deal.

"It's a little bittersweet for Kimo because he loved it in Pittsburgh," agent Mark Bartelstein said. "He loved playing for coach Cowher and the Rooneys. This was just a great opportunity that opened up and he couldn't pass it up. He had nothing but good memories there and he appreciated everything the Steelers have done for him and his relationship there." The Steelers yesterday also entertained tight end Aaron Shea, a free agent from the Browns, but no deal was reached as they closed in a contract to bring back Tuman.