Keeping their priorities straight

NFL free agency doesn't click into gear until March 18, but when the Steelers season ended this week the topic of free agency was a hot one. Especially with some big-name free agents looming for the Steelers.

It came as no surprise when Coach Mike Tomlin spoke during his season-ending press conference on Tuesday that one of the biggest free agents the team has was brought up.

Bud Dupree.

"He is a priority for us," said Tomlin. "But we haven't had extensive meetings in terms of defining that. But make no mistake, Bud Dupree is a priority for us."

A day before Tomlin made that comment, Dupree stood in the Steelers locker room at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex and let his desire to come back be known, but he also understands what could happen.

"You always want to finish where you start," said Dupree. "It's part of the plan. It's a great group of guys here. We have all of the keys. There are a lot of guys on the defense who can play. But I understand it's a business."

Dupree isn't the only one on defense facing free agency. Another key starter is Javon Hargrave, who will also become an unrestricted free agent. Hargrave's hope is to stay put.

"This is the team that brought me in, gave me a chance to live my dream," said Hargrave. "I built a lot of relationships here, a lot of long-term relationships. It would be hard to leave that.

"I have seen the lows of this defense, and to see how we became is exciting. It's just hard. Being here, growing. It's been a great journey for me."

When Stephon Tuitt went down earlier this season, Hargrave was one of the players who stepped up on the defensive line, ready to go.

"We pride ourselves on that," said Hargrave. "Everybody is capable. Everybody is ready to play. We are just a tight group. Everybody has each other's back. Everyone knew what they had to do when it happened.

"I got more opportunities. I showed what I can bring to the table. Everyone else just dominated when they got the opportunity."

While Dupree and Hargrave are unrestricted free agents, Mike Hilton is a restricted free agent who wants nothing more than to remain with the black and gold.

"I would love to be here. I have said that before," said Hilton. "They know. I feel like I am a true definition of a Pittsburgh Steeler. I am a grinder. Nothing comes easy. I would love to spend the rest of my career here and I hope it works out."