PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers, normally one of the quietest teams in NFL free agency, suddenly are one of the busiest.
The Steelers made two surprise moves by re-signing safety Ryan Clark and bringing back wide receiver Antwaan Randle El on Tuesday -- one day after adding two backups who excel on special teams, safety Will Allen from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and wide receiver Arnaz Battle from the San Francisco 49ers.
Before the free-agent signing period began, Steelers director of football operations Kevin Colbert said the team's offseason priorities were to bring back Clark, nose tackle Casey Hampton and kicker Jeff Reed. They retained all three, re-signing Hampton to a three-year, $21.3 million contract and placing the franchise tag on Reed, which assures him of making $2.8 million next season.
Clark had an up-and-down 2009 as the Steelers went 9-7 and didn't make the playoffs after winning the Super Bowl during the 2008 season. With star safety Troy Polamalu missing most of the season because of two knee injuries, Clark struggled in coverage at times. Displaying a bit of late-season frustration, he criticized Steelers fans for being more demanding than those in other cities.
"Coach (Mike) Tomlin talked with me about being a nomad, a journeymen ... but if I finish my contract here, that's eight years in the same place, and that's an accomplishment," Clark said Tuesday. "I didn't want to leave. My neighbors didn't want me to leave. They didn't want to get new neighbors."
Bringing back Randle El -- and signing Battle -- suggests the Steelers might not be counting on former second-round draft pick Limas Sweed next season. Sweed was taken off the active roster late last season for reasons not fully explained by the Steelers, who still haven't commented on the move. Sweed met with team officials Tuesday.
"We talked about being the No. 3 receiver," Randle El said. "I'm focused on being the No. 3 receiver, and that's what I want to be. Certainly, If Hines or Santonio (Holmes) goes down, of course, being (lined up) outside. ... It's a great situation. I have some history here."
Despite being a disappointment in Washington, Randle El caught at least 50 passes in each of the last three seasons; the most receptions he had with Pittsburgh were 47 as a rookie in 2002.
Allen, who lost his starting job in Tampa Bay, and Battle, whose playing time at wide receiver was reduced in San Francisco, should upgrade the Steelers' deficient special teams. Pittsburgh's four kickoff-return touchdowns allowed last season led the NFL.
"That's what I'm good at, that's what they saw in me," Allen said. "I'm a good safety and a good special-teams player."
Allen is a former Bucs special-teams captain, but he missed half of last season with a thumb injury.
Battle played in San Francisco under new Pittsburgh special teams coach Al Everest. Battle could make as much as $3.9 million in three seasons; Allen's deal would pay him as much as $4.4 million if he plays three seasons for the Steelers.
Before the free-agency period began, the Steelers declined to tender offers to fullback Carey Davis and former starting right guard Darnell Stapleton.
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press