By BOB LABRIOLA
They got one more done before the deadline.
The Steelers have signed starting center Justin Hartwig to a new four-year contract that will bind him to the team through the 2012 season. With one season left on his previous deal, Hartwig could have become an unrestricted free agent in March 2010.
"It's a great feeling," said Hartwig. "I just go to work every day and do my job and let these things take care of themselves. Fortunately it did, and it was right before the start of the season. I feel blessed to hopefully finish my career with the Steelers. It's a great organization, and I'm glad I'm going to be a part of it for a few more years to come."
The team has a policy of not negotiating contracts once the regular season begins, and that makes Thursday, Sept. 10, the deadline because that's when the Steelers host the Tennessee Titans in the 2009 opening game.
Hartwig signed a two-year deal when he came to the team in 2008 after being released by Carolina, and he won a training camp battle for the starting center spot over incumbent Sean Mahan. Signed as an unrestricted free agent in 2007 from Tampa Bay, Mahan proved unable to deal with the bigger nose tackles in the AFC, which caused the Steelers to look for an alternative.
"You just don't know what is going to happen," said Hartwig. "I was released just a year ago from another team and fortunately things turned around for me here in Pittsburgh. It's good to know you are going to be in a certain place for an extended period of time. I was going into the year thinking I was going to be a free agent again in five months. It is nice to know I'm going to be here for longer that. I am just happy to be a part of the organization."
Hartwig, who will be 31 on Nov. 21, started all 19 games at center for the Steelers last season. He was part of an offensive line that had to overcome several changes in personnel, some by design and other caused by injury.
Chris Kemoeatu replaced left guard Alan Faneca, who left via free agency, and Hartwig won the battle for the center job over Mahan. But before September was over, injuries had claimed both Marvel Smith and Kendall Simmons, and so the Steelers ended up with different guys at left tackle and right guard as well.
Hartwig hopes stability will help the unit this season.
"As an offensive line you have to have five guys working as one, and you have to have continuity along that front," said Hartwig. "When there are guys in and out every year it can make things difficult. We have been fortunate enough to have the same group of guys from last season together and going into this season. Hopefully we play for several more years together."
So far this offseason, the Steelers have negotiated new contracts with Brett Keisel, James Harrison, Kemoeatu, Starks, Essex, Keyaron Fox, Hines Ward, Heath Miller, Charlie Batch, Andre Frazier and now Hartwig.