The Steelers are open to negotiations with their players until the start of the regular season, and this time they took it right up to the deadline.
But because they were able to sign Brett Keisel on Monday to a five-year contract that will bind him to the team through the 2013 season, it was worth the effort.
Keisel, who came to the team as a seventh-round draft choice in 2002 (the 242nd overall pick), has been a starting defensive end since 2006, and this contract ensures he will have played all of his best years with the Steelers.
"I am extremely happy for a lot of reasons," said Keisel shortly after signing the deal. "One I have the opportunity to play my entire career with one team. Two, this team, I can't say enough about how I feel about it. I genuinely love and appreciate the players I play with and have gotten a great relationship with the players too. To be able to stay here and be a part of hopefully more Super Bowls was a dream of mine and it's surreal that it's going to happen."
Keisel loves what the Steelers have done during the offseason keeping the core of players together, including Hines Ward, Heath Miller and James Harrison.
"The people that we have down in that locker room you can't put a price tag on it," said Keisel. "In this league a player can go and make a bunch of money with a team and be miserable. Fortunately for us we have great ownership around here who knows when we have something good and want to keep as many guys as they can and keep that nucleus together."
After initially making the team as a rookie because he showed he was capable of being a dynamic special teams player, Keisel was on injured reserve with a shoulder injury for all of the 2003 season. Starting in 2004 and through Super Bowl XL at the end of the 2005 season, Keisel was a force on kickoff coverage. So frightening to opponents was the sight of his 285 pounds at top speed smashing into the wedge that the Seattle special teams coach feared for his return unit in the days leading up to that Super Bowl.
Following that season, Kimo von Oelhoffen saw that the team had plans to elevate Keisel into a starting defensive end spot, and so he signed a free agent contract with the New York Jets.
Since joining the starting lineup, Keisel has been a dependable contributor to a defense that by 2008 was the best in the NFL and he wouldn't want to be playing for any defensive coordinator in the league right now than Dick LeBeau.
"He told me this morning you are stuck with me for another couple of years," said Keisel. "I told him, 'A couple, I just signed for five years. It better be at least five years.' I hope he is here as long as I am here. I really love the guy."
Keisel posted 5.5 sacks in 2006, which still is his single-season high, but numbers never have been a complete reflection of what he contributes to the unit. Solid against the run and versatile enough against the pass that he has been used both as a rusher and in coverage, Keisel is one of those players whose value can transcend statistics.