Pittsburgh — Larry Foote quickly realized how much he disliked losing.
The inside linebacker is returning to the Pittsburgh Steelers, signing a $9.3 million, three-year contract Monday after a disheartening season spent with Detroit.
Foote started when Pittsburgh won the Super Bowl during the 2004 and 2008 seasons, but asked for his release and subsequently signed a one-year contract with his hometown Lions because he knew the Steelers planned to make Lawrence Timmons a starter.
Foote started in Detroit, but told friends with the Steelers last season that he wearied of losing as the Lions went 2-14.
“I’m begging — I want to get back to a winner,” Foote said while visiting the Arizona Cardinals last week. “And I’m more comfortable in a 3-4 (defense).”
Foote knows the Steelers’ system and provides flexibility at a position where defensive co-captain James Farrior is 35. If the Steelers incur any injuries, Foote could start inside and Timmons — a 2007 first-round draft pick — could move outside.
“I’m here for depth,” Foote said Monday. “I’m here to back up those guys, James and Lawrence, and help contribute to the team. I accept that role.”
Foote, a former Michigan player who will be 30 in June, preferred to remain a starter and recently visited with the Redskins and Cardinals. He said he was ready to sign with Arizona, but did not work out terms and wound up back in Pittsburgh. He started every regular season game for the Steelers from 2004-08.
The Steelers almost never bring back players once they have left the organization but, this month, they have signed both Foote and wide receiver Antwaan Randle El. Randle El played for Washington from 2006-09 after spending his first four NFL seasons with Pittsburgh.
“I didn’t think it would happen, but I’m glad to be back,” Foote said.
It’s not a coincidence the Steelers chose to bring back two players who were popular in the locker room and were viewed as team leaders. Steelers management felt the team that went 9-7 last season and missed the playoffs lacked some of the locker room chemistry and character that their most recent teams did, and the hope is Randle El and Foote will help restore it.
“My relationship with the people, the brotherhood there,” Foote said of his reasons for returning to Pittsburgh. “The winning, the community — I had seven years there, and I’ve never spent that much time outside Michigan.”
The Steelers normally are one of the NFL’s least active teams in free agency, but they have signed six players in eight days — and only of them, safety Ryan Clark, is expected to be a starter. Clark unexpectedly re-signed with Pittsburgh after he appeared ready to sign with Miami.
The Steelers also signed safety Will Allen and wide receiver Arnaz Battle mostly to strengthen their deficient special teams and offensive lineman Jonathan Scott to provide depth along an offensive line that lacked experienced backups.
Before the NFL free agency signing period started March 5, they also re-signed nose tackle Casey Hampton to a three-year contract and designated kicker Jeff Reed as their franchise player.
Last season, Foote led the Lions with 99 tackles despite missing the final two games of the season with a foot injury, ending his streak of 94 consecutive NFL games started. He also had two sacks and forced a fumble.