Free Agency Rewind with Mike Mitchell

It's the time of year that everyone assumes players love, that they look forward to and count down the days like kids counting down the days to Christmas.

But it's not always like that at the start of free agency. Often times soon to be free agents don't always want to leave a team and move on, for one reason or another.

For a while last year, safety Mike Mitchell was that guy.

Mitchell, originally drafted by the Oakland Raiders in the second round in 2009, signed a one-year deal with the Carolina Panthers in 2013. He enjoyed the season, so much so he wasn't thrilled when he knew he wasn't going to be re-signed and would become a free agent last offseason.

"To be totally honest I was not excited about it," said Mitchell. "I am a loyal guy and Carolina had given me the opportunity to come in and be a true starter for the first time in my career. I really wanted to stay there. I met some good guys I am really close with, Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis. The position coach there, Steve Wilks, was great. It was a place I wanted to stay.

"But, as we got to the point where we realized I was hitting free agency, and testing the market, then I was a little more excited. It was a chance to get to see what my worth was, what other teams across the league thought about me."

And so, when free agency began on March 11, 2014, Mitchell was ready. He sat back and waited for the phone to ring, to hear news. It didn't take long. On the first day of free agency, just a short time in, his phone rang and on the other end it was his agent telling him the Pittsburgh Steelers were interested in signing him. Mitchell didn't hesitate for a minute.

For someone who knows and understands the history of the NFL, an offer from the Steelers was a no-brainer.

Top photos of Pittsburgh Steelers safety Mike Mitchell.

"Pittsburgh came in day one," recalled Mitchell. "The type of guy I am, I am a big football fan, and it was really a quick decision. When they came in, because of the franchise they are, the owners they are, the coaches we have, the players we have, the opportunity was too good to pass up. I took a little less to come here because of everything else that is so great about this organization. It's a cool thing to say we have six Super Bowls, the most in the National Football League. There is no other team that can say that. To be in an organization and situation like this is exciting and I am happy to be here for sure.

"Plus, to know that it's the Steelers, not trying to knock any other team, but I don't know if I would have been as excited if it were some other teams. The fact that it was Pittsburgh and I was going to be coached by Dick LeBeau and Carnell Lake. To play with a Hall of Famer like Troy (Polamalu) and Pro Bowler like Ike Taylor and have those guys to learn from, the opportunity was too good to pass up. I felt the love from them. This is a place I immediately felt like this is where you want to be and hopefully finish your career."

Basically, this is how it went down. Free agency started at 4 p.m. ET, and by 5 p.m., Mitchell made his decision.

"I think I was tweeting something around 5 o'clock," said Mitchell. "It didn't take us long. I'm not a stupid guy at all. When Pittsburgh comes knocking, you don't ignore them. I was pretty excited about it." 

The next day Mitchell hopped on a flight and headed to Pittsburgh where he signed his five-year deal. Normally the visit comes before the deal, but not in this case.

"I took my visit after. It was different," said Mitchell. "The other guys I talked to said it's like college recruiting where you can go, try it out, come back and try another one out. For me it was like, wait, Pittsburgh wants me. Let's go and I will find out about it later. It was too good to pass up."

Mitchell admits shopping himself around a little bit might have had some benefits, but he has absolutely no regrets about his swift decision making.

"There is a part of me just for the experience wishes I took a bunch of visits and was that crazy guy who went everywhere, but I was too excited about the opportunity and was kind of happy to get it over with," said Mitchell. "I knew where I would be playing and the length of the deal I could finish up here.

"I liked it here right away. There is that transition period and the weird moment when you are meeting people. Everyone here welcomed me with open arms. I now feel like this is a team I have a big part of my hand on, I want to be one of the leaders on defense and one of the main factors when we win our seventh Super Bowl."

In the same fashion he signed with the Steelers, he wasted no time getting to work. Mitchell reported for Phase One of the offseason workouts last year, a time that is normally dominated by young players, in order to get adjusted and start to form a bond with his new teammates.

"It's rare for a guy who was going into his sixth year to be there then," said Mitchell. "It was like man, you are old because I am looking at Shamarko (Thomas), Rob Golden, and I was thinking man I feel like the old guy. It wasn't until guys like Will Gay and Ike (Taylor) started to come in that I started feeling like I am not the oldest guy here.

"It was good to get to know guys. Because of my nature I tend to be a hard working guy. I try to lead by example. I can be verbal, but I try to show people my work ethic. I think the transition was easier because guys saw I was a hard worker. If you are a guy that talks a lot and doesn't work hard, it's hard for guys to like you. I talk a decent amount, but I work hard, and guys welcomed me with open arms. It starts at the top with Mr. (Dan) Rooney and trickles all of the way down and that made my transition easier."

There was some anxiety though, especially as he waited to get to know the guy he would be teamed with in the defensive backfield, strong safety Troy Polamalu. He got a text from Polamalu, as well as Cam Heyward and Ike Taylor when he signed welcoming him, but working together was going to be another thing.

"I was extremely nervous when I knew Troy and I were going to be practicing together," said Mitchell. "He is older than me and I had the opportunity for him to be my favorite safety growing up so it was weird to know I was going to be in the same secondary with him.

"You see him on the field and you think he is nothing but a warrior, that he is a crazy madman. Then you hear how soft his voice is. The first time I actually talked to him on the phone I was thinking that was a prank call, there is no way that was actually him. Then I met him and he is just a really cool dude. He has a competitive side like me, but has his normal side like I do. We call him 'Baby Jesus' in his day-to-day life, but when he drops his hair he is a football player."

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