I know there is likely tons of confusion about the tenders the Steelers have offered Willie Colon, William Gay, Matt Spaeth, Dennis Dixon and Tony Hills, so I hope this post clears up your confusion. I will go player by player and explain each. These 5 players are the only free agents the Steelers have with 5 or less accrued seasons.
Willie Colon - Colon has 5 years accrued and his scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent. The Steelers placed a 1st round tender on him just in case the labor issues are extended and both sides agree to use the 2010 free agency rules that made 4 and 5 year players restricted free agents. This happened to Colon last year and he missed out on being an unrestricted free agent and received no contract offers from other teams. The Steelers would have had the opportunity to match any offer or would of received a 2010 1st round draft pick from the team that signed him. It is highly unlikely that the 2010 free agency rules will be applied in 2011, but just in case, the Steelers again tendered him at a 1st round level and would pay him around 2.773 million if he was deemed restricted. Colon would then likely stick on the 2011 roster if that came to fruition. In all likelihood though, Colon will be unrestricted and likely sign with another team.
William Gay - Gay has 4 years accrued and sits in the same situation as Colon does. He is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent, but just in case the Steelers tendered him as if he might be restricted. It is unknown right now the exact level he was tendered at, but I assume it was the lowest level for a 4th year player, meaning the amount would be in the neighborhood of $1.275 million for one season. If he were to then get a contract offer from another team, the Steelers have the right to match or receive a 5th round draft (the round he was drafted in) as compensation from the team that signs him. Like Colon, it is highly unlikely 4th year players will be restricted. If however he is, Gay would likely stick on the roster one more season. Gay was also tendered in 2010 at the lowest level as a 3rd year restricted free agent. He received no contract offers in free agency and of course signed his one year tender.
Matt Spaeth - Spaeth, like Gay, is also a 4th year player and was likely tendered at the lowest level. That means should he somehow become restricted the amount would be around $1.275 million. He would still likely have to compete for a roster spot should that happen. Once again though, I think Spaeth will end up unrestricted and might end up playing elsewhere in 2011 if he gets an offer.
Dennis Dixon - Dixon has only 3 years accrued and without a doubt should end up as a restricted free agent. Although we do not know the level tendered at, I assume it once again was a low level tender meaning around 1.2 million a season. If he were to get a contract offer from another team, the Steelers will have the right to match the offer or receive a 5th round draft (the round he was drafted in) as compensation from the team that signs him. In all likelihood now it appears that Dixon will be back to compete for a roster spot as the #2 or #3 quarterback spot.
Tony Hills - Hills is in the same boat as Dixon as he only has 3 accrued seasons in the league and the Steelers likely tendered him at the lowest level and the same amount of around 1.2 million. Should Hills get an offer elsewhere (unlikely) the Steelers can match or receive a 4th round draft pick (the round he was drafted in) as compensation from the team that signs him. Hills will likely be back now in camp fighting for a roster spot.