Larry Foote played a lot of football as a starting inside linebacker for the Steelers the past five seasons, and in a strange twist, his search for more playing time will cause them to release him.
Foote said he wants to continue his career as a starting linebacker where he can play more often and asked the Steelers to accommodate him. After finding no offers in a trade over the weekend of the draft, sources on the club say they plan to release him sometime after this weekend's minicamp, which Foote will not attend.
They were going to release him this morning, then decided to wait as they pursue last-ditch efforts to trade him.
"It was my doing," Foote told the Post-Gazette. "I wanted to go. They were trying to trade me.''
Foote has one year left on his contract that was scheduled to pay him a salary of $2,885,000 in 2009. There was much speculation leading up to the Super Bowl that the Steelers might release him or ask him to take a reduction in pay because of that salary and because 2007 first-round draft choice Lawrence Timmons is behind him. Foote indicated during Super Bowl week that he would not take a pay cut.
He thought last year Timmons might take his job. Today, he sounded as if he were sure of that.
"It's nothing personal," said Foote, who turns 29 on June 12.
"James Farrior never slows down, and Timmons came in and I can't grow here any more. They turned me into a two-down linebacker last year. I was stuck in a role.
"I love the team, I love winning, but you can't keep being unhappy. It got to the point where they were not giving me a chance.''
Foote did not attend the team's first two voluntary workouts last week. His agent, Ken Kremer, said last week that Foote was working out in Detroit and planned to attend this weekend's minicamp. Kremer also said there had been no contract discussions between him and the Steelers.
Foote said his agent was calling teams to try to place the linebacker elsewhere. There were reports during the week preceding the Super Bowl that Foote wanted to play for his hometown Detroit Lions if he were released and he told both Detroit newspapers as much today.
Coach Mike Tomlin said shortly after the season that he wanted to keep Foote around and had no plans to release him, but it would be hard for Tomlin not to start his first-round pick of 2007, especially given how well Timmons played last season.
Foote's release or trade also would create the salary cap room of his $2,885,000 less the amount paid to his replacement.
Foote, a fourth-round draft pick from Michigan in 2002, has been a starter at inside linebacker since 2004 and has not missed a start during those five seasons.
During the final days of the Steelers spring workouts in June 2008, Foote wondered how long he would remain a starter after Timmons was placed behind him on the depth chart.
"I don't think it's competition," Foote said nearly a year ago. "I really think it's just a matter of time until they throw him in there, just because of the politics of the game -- and it looks like he can play."
Yet Foote did hold off Timmons all last season. Foote started all 16 regular-season games and three in the post-season. Timmons replaced him in their nickel defense on passing downs.
Foote finished fifth on the team with 86 tackles, his fewest since he became a starter. He led the team in tackles in 2005 with 123 and followed with 118 in 2006. Timmons, although not starting a game in his second season, had 71 tackles in 2008. His five sacks ranked fourth and he also intercepted a pass and returned it 89 yards against New England.
"My time might be winding down at that position,'' Foote said last June. "It's just a matter of when the coaches throw [Timmons] in there.''
Apparently, Foote felt that time was now.