Larry Foote asked to be released last year because he didn't want to be a backup. And the Steelers obliged because Foote was scheduled to make $2,885,000 in 2009, a steep price for a backup.
Less than a year after their split, Foote has returned to the Steelers as a backup at inside linebacker and, in his words, to help "rejuvenate" his friend James Farrior. But he is also coming back at a price not far below what he would have made last season if he had stayed.
Foote, 29, signed a three-year, $9.3 million contract Monday that included a $1.8 million signing bonus. He is the fifth unrestricted free agent to be signed by the Steelers in eight days. Coupled with his base salary, Foote will earn $3.9 million in 2010, though he would count only $2.7 million in salary in an uncapped year.
Foote would have counted $3,932,500 against the salary cap in 2009 if he had not been released in May. He signed a one-year contract with his hometown Detroit Lions.
"In my heart I'm a Steeler and, when I left last year, they told me I'd always be one," Foote said. "I just didn't think I was going to be back here."
Foote visited two other teams last week -- the Washington Redskins and Arizona Cardinals -- but in each instance he was allowed to leave without signing a contract. That did not happen with the Steelers, who signed him shortly after he passed a physical in the morning.
Foote also turned down a one-year, $3 million offer to return to the Lions.
"It's all about winning in this league and having fun," said Foote, who played against his former team last season when the Steelers beat the Lions, 28-20, Oct. 11 in Detroit. "I know the coaches here and the guys here that I love and the community and town. Seeing the [Terrible] Towels and the black and gold ... it was a weird feeling being on that [opposite] sideline and seeing those towels."
Foote's return comes one week after the Steelers signed former receiver Antwaan Randle El to a three-year, $7 million contract. But, like all the other unrestricted free agents signed since last Monday, Foote is not projected to be a starter and was told he will back up Timmons at his old spot.
However, the Steelers are looking at Foote as insurance in case Farrior, who turned 35 in January, continues to show more signs of decline in training camp.
"Don't start wasting your paper about me replacing Farrior," Foote said. "I'm here to rejuvenate him. If I'm here I want him to be here, no doubt about it. Him being here was a big reason why I wanted to come back. I'm just here to give depth and help us win somehow, someway.
"I'm quite sure I'm going to play. The amount I don't know. Right now Timmons and Farrior are the starters. I'm glad to be back and the football part will take care of itself."
Director of football operations Kevin Colbert said Foote's contract "fit within our structure" and that the coaches will decide if he is a starter or backup.
"Larry has been here before; he knows what to do," Colbert said. "He'll provide great competition."
Foote started 16 games for five consecutive seasons with the Steelers and the first 14 games last season with the Lions. He missed the final two games with a foot injury, ending his consecutive start steak at 94 games.
After playing in three AFC championship games and winning two Super Bowls with the Steelers, Foote said it was harder than he expected to play on a losing team such as the Lions, who won two games in 2009 just one season after becoming the first winless team in 32 years in the National Football League.
"You can't really explain it until you go through it," Foote said. "You talk about dog days, especially being a competitive person and losing. But I made some good relationships over there also. It was good going home and playing there. I just thank God I'm back and I didn't sign a longer deal [with Detroit]."