While Steelers cornerstones Le’Veon Bell, Lawrence Timmons and Markus Wheaton are all in contract years, the only free agent-to-be the team is negotiating an extension with is guard David DeCastro, reports Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The Steelers and DeCastro were reportedly making progress in talks as of Wednesday, but Bouchette writes that a deal isn’t close. The deadline for an agreement is the start of the season, which leaves the two sides just over a month to find common ground.
The 26-year-old DeCastro has established himself as one of the core pieces of the Steelers’ offensive line since the team used a first-round pick on him in 2012. DeCastro has started all but one game over the the last three seasons, and he’s coming off a year in which he earned Pro Bowl and All-Pro selections for the first time. DeCastro, whom Pro Football Focus has graded as one of the league’s 20 best guards three years running, is on the Steelers’ books this season for $8.07MM. That’s the cost of the fifth-year option that was included in the 24th overall pick’s rookie deal.
Considering the turbulent year Bell has endured, it’s not surprising that the Steelers aren’t negotiating with him. The star running back is currently preparing to appeal the four-game suspension the NFL handed him in July for a violation of its substance abuse policy. If Bell loses the appeal hearing, which is scheduled for Aug. 18, it’ll mark his second suspension since last season. Bell sat out two games then thanks to an arrest for marijuana possession and DUI, and he missed the final eight contests of the year after tearing his MCL and PCL on Nov. 1. It perhaps didn’t help Bell’s cause that the Steelers’ offense showed well without him, finishing with the eighth-best yards-per-carry average in the league.
Timmons, meanwhile, is about to conclude the $48MM contract he signed with Pittsburgh in 2011. The Steelers have restructured that deal three times, leaving the 30-year-old with an unpalatable $15.1MM cap hit this season. A 2007 first-rounder, Timmons has spent his entire nine-year career in Pittsburgh – where he has racked up 33 sacks (five last season) – but 2016 could be his swan song with the Steelers.
Wheaton, 25, put up a whopping 17.0 yards per catch on 44 receptions and added five touchdowns in 2015. Previously, he amassed a career-high 53 grabs in 2014, though both his YPC (12.2) and TD total (two) were much less impressive. Wheaton is due to collect just over $1.67MM this year, but if he continues to post strong production, a significant raise will come – whether from Pittsburgh or someone else. The fact that Martavis Bryant will miss the entire season because of a suspension could lead to more opportunities and better numbers for Wheaton, who garnered a combined 166 targets over the previous two years.
Unlike the aforementioned players, wideout Antonio Brown isn’t in a contract year, though the elite-caliber weapon would like a deal more in line with his production. After tying for the league lead in receptions (136), finishing second in yards (1,834) and scoring 10 times last season, Brown is slated to earn $6.25MM this year and $8.71MM in 2017. He’s just 18th among receivers in average annual value, but Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert isn’t about to rip his contract up in favor of a richer one.
As was the case last year, the Steelers could advance Brown $2MM of his salary for 2017, notes Bouchette. They would then have the option of awarding him a new contract after the season. Doing that would enable the Steelers to maintain their long-held policy of not negotiating new accords with players who have more than one year remaining on their deals. Quarterbacks are the only exception to that rule, and Ben Roethlisberger is already locked up through 2019.
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