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Steelers Steelers acquire tight end

Bruener's days numbered with Riemersma signing?

Thursday, March 20, 2003

By Ed Bouchette, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

Mark Bruener's days with the Steelers might be drawing to a close after they signed tight end Jay Riemersma yesterday to a three-year deal worth almost $4 million.

Riemersma has spent his six years in the NFL catching passes for the Buffalo Bills. Two years ago, he was fifth among tight ends in the league with 53 receptions. The Steelers have tight ends on their roster, but they're mostly used as blocking sleds. They haven't had a real threat at the position since Eric Green rumbled through the secondary in the early 1990s.

Bruener, their starter since his rookie season in 1995, has had season-ending surgery each of the past two years. He had a microfracture in a knee in a game Dec. 1 in Jacksonville, an injury that required surgery and is considered a difficult one for an athlete. He had rotator cuff surgery in 2001.

Riemersma received an $850,000 signing bonus on a contract worth $3.95 million. Earlier this month, the Steelers re-signed tight end Jerame Tuman to a three-year, $3.3 million contract with a $600,000 signing bonus.

Even though Bruener's contract runs through 2006, the Steeelers could clear $250,000 in room under their salary cap if they released him now or $2.05 million if they release him after June 1. If they do it sooner rather than later, he would not count under their salary cap next year. If they wait until after June 1, he would count $1.8 million against their cap in '04. He is scheduled to be paid a $2.05 million salary this season.

The Steelers also re-signed another of their veteran tight ends, Matt Cushing, last week.

"I think obviously Pittsburgh has approached me with a need they feel," Riemersma said during his visit with the Steelers yesterday. "I think there's a need just because they contacted me and I'm excited to be here."

Riemersma, who turns 30 in May, has caught 85 passes in the past two seasons and 204 in six seasons with the Bills after they drafted him in the seventh round from Michigan in 1997. Buffalo lists him as 6 feet 5, 252 pounds.

After refusing to take a pay cut in 2001, Riemersma had a falling out with Bills President Tom Donahoe, the Steelers' former director of football operations. Buffalo released him Feb. 27 to save his $3.5 million salary for 2003.

"Let's just say me and the old boss who was around here didn't get along too well," Riemersma said.

The Bills also have changed the way they use tight ends, deploying them more as blockers than receivers and relying on wide receivers to catch the ball. The Steelers might be evolving the other way toward their tight ends. After all, their offensive coordinator, Mike Mularkey, is a former NFL tight end and later coached them.

Last season, tight ends had only 18 of the team's 350 receptions. They caught only 24 passes in 2001. Riemersma never caught fewer than 25. Bruener, considered one of the best blocking tight ends in the league, caught 26 passes as a rookie in 1995 and then never caught more than 19. He has 135 receptions in eight seasons.

"That's been kind of my mainstay for a while now, I kind of made a reputation for being a pass-catcher," Riemersma said. "That's kind of what I bring to the table so hopefully that'll happen.

"I'm just excited to be out here, and the opportunity to visit with the staff, the coaches and everybody I've been in contact with here has just been fantastic. Obviously, the facilities are great, the team is great, the tradition is great, and I'd love to be part of it."

Riemersma visited only Tampa Bay and the Steelers since he became a free agent.

"I wanted to go to places that have a need and are part of winning programs," he said. "Obviously, you guys know a lot about winning around here."

NOTES -- The Steelers will have three players on teams in NFL Europe when that season begins April 5-6: OL Dave Costa (Scotland), WR Darcey Levy (Amsterdam) and WR Dallas Davis (Amsterdam). More than 200 NFL players have been allocated to the six-team NFLEL and will leave for Europe next week unless war in Iraq forces a change in plans. "We are monitoring developments," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said, "but at this point there has been no change in our plans to go forward with the NFL Europe season as scheduled." The league also has three teams in Germany and one in Spain. The league runs through the World Bowl June 14 in Glasgow, Scotland.

Ed Bouchette can be reached at ebouchette@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3878.

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