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Bettis rejects latest Steelers offer

February 15, 1997

PITTSBURGH (AP) _ All-Pro running back Jerome Bettis became a free agent Friday, even after the Pittsburgh Steelers thought they met his demand for a four-year contract worth $3.3 million annually.

The Steelers were led to believe Bettis wanted to be paid comparable to Seattle’s Chris Warren, who made $3.3 million last season. The only running backs earning more were Barry Sanders of Detroit and Emmitt Smith of Dallas.

The Steelers’ first two offers to Bettis, made by negotiator Dan Ferens and team counsel Art Rooney II, were below that figure. But a third offer by Rooney, the son of team president Dan Rooney, for $13.2 million over four years came several hours before the free agency signing period began Friday.

The deal included a signing bonus of about $3.5 million, but it was rejected by Bettis’ agent, Lamont Smith.

Signing Bettis is the Steelers’ top off-season priority, and they apparently want to conclude his negotiations before opening serious talks with any of their other 11 free agents.

The Steelers have little hope of re-signing All-Pro linebacker Chad Brown, who will likely make $4 million a season elsewhere, perhaps Carolina. They have also not made a formal offer to Pro Bowl cornerback Rod Woodson, who is coming off what they consider to be his worst NFL season.

If the Steelers re-sign Woodson, it will likely be for much less than the $3.4 million he was paid last season. He returned in 1996 after missing all but two games in 1995 due to a serious knee injury.

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