The Pittsburgh Steelers have re-signed backup fullback Jon Witman to a three-year $3.2 million contract, choosing to keep him over starter Tim Lester.
Witman began the 1998 season as the Steelers' starting fullback, but gave way to Lester six weeks into the season after Lester returned from a shoulder injury. After the season, running back Jerome Bettis said he would be very unhappy if the team didn't re-sign Lester, his best friend and team blocker.
Steelers director of football operations Tom Donahoe said that after talking to Lester's agents, Lamont Smith and Peter Schaffer, Witman was the more "signable" of the two fullbacks. The deal all but assures that Lester will not return to the Steelers.
"Everyone is trying to say it is one versus the other," Donahoe said.
"We don't look at it that way. We try to sign as many of our guys as we can. Some are easier to sign than others. Some are more willing to sign than others. We talked to Tim's guy early, and he didn't act like he wanted to talk. We were talking to Jon and it worked out."
Bettis has not yet said what he thinks.
"I'm sure he's not happy," said Schaffer. "Jerome feels Tim is the best blocking fullback in the NFL, not to take anything away from Witman."
Lester, 30, is considered the better blocker but the Steelers consider Witman, 26, better at running and receiving.
Witman's style of play may better suit the offense that new coordinator Kevin Gilbride is installing. The Steelers have used Witman not only at fullback, but also on the wing near the line of scrimmage.
© 1999 SportsLine USA, Inc. All rights reserved