Antonio Brown

Steelers Notes: Brown, Bell, Timmons, Jones

The Steelers have a number of to-do items on their offseason docket, and today general manager Kevin Colbert addressed the media with a focus on what Pittsburgh plans on doing over the next few months. Let’s take a look at the highlights from Colbert’s press conference, courtesy of Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

  • Stating that he wants both wide receiver Antonio Brown and running back Le’Veon Bell to remain Steelers for life, Colbert said the club has opened extension talks with Brown, the only player with whom Pittsburgh has discussed a new deal, according to Dulac. Brown is signed through 2017 with a cap charge of roughly $13.6MM, while Bell is an unrestricted free agent but will likely be retained via the franchise tag. Colbert specifically called reaching a new contract with Brown an offseason “priority,” although a recent report indicated that talks between the two sides will move slowly.
  • Re-signing veteran linebacker Lawrence Timmons could also be in the cards for the Steelers, but negotiations with Timmons won’t be as cut-and-dry as talks with Brown and Bell. “Would you like to have him stay? Absolutely,” Colbert said. “Does it all fit? We can make it work, but at what cost? He’s never been a free agent. I’d like to see him finish his career here and he would too.” Timmons, 30, has spent a decade in Pittsburgh, and is coming off a 78-tackle, 2.5-sack season.
  • The Steelers aren’t counting on former second-round cornerback Senquez Golson, who has missed his first two seasons in the NFL with injury, for anything more than potential depth. “I’m a little more apprehensive,” said Colbert. “Just from sitting out two years, where you haven’t played at all, it’s not real easy to just step out there and catch up.” As such, Colbert said Pittsburgh could consider selecting a cornerback in this year’s draft.
  • Because Golson is a question mark, the Steelers could be open to re-signing cornerback Justin Gilbert, who was released last week, tweets Dulac. Gilbert has become a massive draft bust since being selected eighth overall in 2014, and played only 11 defensive snaps last season. He’s still just 25 years old, however, and would make for an interesting (if uninspiring) depth peice.
  • Despite reports of a possible retirement, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is expected to return in 2017, and the Steelers hope to re-sign backup signal-caller Landry Jones, as well, as Dulac writes. “We’d like to have Landry stay in the mix,” Colbert said. “Will we add a guy? Absolutely. When? It’s hard to say. Sooner or later we will have to address that.” If Pittsburgh doesn’t view Jones as the long-term replacement for Roethlisberger, the club could look to draft a QB at some point.

AFC Notes: Smith, Tyrod, Cutler, Steelers

Already under police investigation for an alleged domestic violence incident that took place last Saturday, Raiders pass rusher Aldon Smith is now on the NFL’s radar, writes Jerry McDonald of the Bay Area News Group. “We are looking in to the matter,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy told McDonald in an email Tuesday. Smith has been serving a substance abuse suspension since November 2015 and has a chance to gain reinstatement in March, but the league could push back its decision or even hand him an indefinite ban as a result of his latest off-field issue, per McDonald.

Elsewhere in the AFC…

  • If the Bills move on from quarterback Tyrod Taylor, they should sign soon-to-be released Bears signal-caller Jay Cutler to replace him, opines Bill Barnwell of ESPN.com in a piece focusing on potential offseason moves in the AFC East. Tony Romo or Jimmy Garoppolo are more appealing choices, Barnwell acknowledges, but he doesn’t expect the former to sign in Buffalo (if the Cowboys cut him) or the Patriots to trade the latter within the division. If those two are unattainable, the draft could be an option, though Barnwell argues that the Bills shouldn’t reach for a QB with the 10th overall pick. That would leave Cutler as the most logical solution. Not only would he come on a short-term deal, but he’d reunite with new Bills offensive coordinator Rick Dennison. Cutler played under Dennison in Denver and has spoken highly of him in the past.
  • Speaking of Taylor, the Browns’ hiring of his former quarterbacks coach, David Lee, increased the passer’s odds of ending up in Cleveland, contends Mary Kay Cabot of cleveland.com. Taylor, who’s on the Browns’ “radar,” played under Lee in Buffalo the past two seasons and fared respectably in his first 29 games as a starter. The former Baltimore backup would replace Robert Griffin III, whom Cabot expects the Browns to release before his roster bonus is due March 11.
  • The Steelers’ contract talks with wide receiver Antonio Brown and linebacker Lawrence Timmons don’t figure to move quickly, tweets CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora, who expects running back Le’Veon Bell to be their biggest priority. Unlike Brown, who has another year on his deal, both Timmons and Bell could become free agents next month. Bell is clearly the more valuable of the two, of course, and the Steelers will place the franchise tag on the runner if they’re unable to re-sign him.

Steelers In Talks With Brown, Timmons

A report earlier this month stated that the Steelers and wide receiver Antonio Brown had already begun contract extension talks, but Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports hears that those discussions just began Monday. The Steelers have also opened dialogue with linebacker Lawrence Timmons, La Canfora adds (Twitter link).

Lawrence Timmons (vertical)

Unlike Brown, who has another year on his contract, the Steelers are in imminent danger of losing Timmons. The soon-to-be 31-year-old could depart the organization via free agency as early as next month, but Pittsburgh clearly wants to re-sign the longtime stalwart.

Timmons is fresh off his 10th NFL season, all of which have been spent in Pittsburgh, and continued to fill the stat sheet with 114 tackles, 2.5 sacks, two interceptions and a forced fumble in his sixth straight 16-start season. Timmons, who hasn’t missed a game since 2009, also played 92.9 percent of the Steelers’ defensive snaps, though Pro Football Focus wasn’t impressed with his work. The site placed him just 70th in overall performance among 87 qualified linebackers.

On the other hand, there’s no arguing with Brown’s production. The 28-year-old is arguably the league’s top receiver, having earned his third consecutive first-team All-Pro nod in 2016. Brown has matched or exceeded 100 catches, 1,200 yards and eight touchdowns in each of the past four seasons, and he could become the league’s highest-paid wideout as a result. He’s due to make $4.71MM salary and count $13.618MM against the Steelers’ cap in the final year of his contract in 2017, but there’s optimism he and the club will hammer out a new deal before training camp. Unsurprisingly, then, Pittsburgh has told rival teams that it’s not making Brown available via trade.

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Rival Clubs Asked About Antonio Brown Trade

Several NFL clubs recently asked the Steelers if wide receiver Antonio Brown was available via trade, but those inquires were met with an emphatic “no,” according to Mike Freeman of Bleacher Report.Antonio Brown (vertical)

[RELATED: Steelers Open To Re-Signing James Harrison]

While rival teams were likely just doing due diligence, there was at least some reason to think Pittsburgh might be open to dealing Brown given his recent pattern of — as Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin deemed them — “little annoyances.” Brown infamously broadcast a portion of Tomlin’s post-game speech on Facebook Live last month, while Ben Roethlisberger and former Steeler Heath Miller have reportedly addressed problems with Brown in the past.

Still, Pittsburgh doesn’t figure to part with Brown anytime soon, and Freeman writes that any potential trade would require a minimum of a first-round pick (though it’s unclear if Freeman is reporting or speculating here). Indeed, the Steelers have opened extension talks with Brown after previously following their policy of not negotiating with players who have more than one year left on their contract. At present, Brown is signed through 2017, and will earn a base salary of $4.71MM and carry a salary cap charge of ~$13.6MM.

Brown, 28, earned his third consecutive first team All-Pro nod in 2016 after putting up 106 receptions for 1,284 yards and 12 touchdowns.

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Steelers, Antonio Brown Begin Extension Talks

The Steelers and superstar wide receiver Antonio Brown have opened contract extension talks, reports Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com. Brown is set to enter the final year of his deal in 2017, though he and the Steelers are optimistic about reaching a new agreement well before training camp, a source told Fowler.

Antonio Brown

The 28-year-old Brown is fresh off his fourth straight 100-catch campaign and could push to become the NFL’s highest-paid receiver as a result. A.J. Green of the division-rival Bengals currently paces the league’s wideouts in annual salary ($15MM), while Super Bowl-bound Falcons standout Julio Jones leads the pack in guaranteed money ($35.5MM). Without an extension, Brown will play 2017 on a $4.71MM salary and count $13.618MM against the Steelers’ salary cap.

An extension is clearly the goal, though, as Brown told ESPN’s First Take on Friday that he’d like to spend the rest of his career in Pittsburgh (Twitter link via Fowler). That came after Steelers president Art Rooney II said Tuesday that Brown is “certainly a player that we would like to have on the team for a while.” Rooney also brushed off Brown’s behind-the-scenes issues – including his decision last month to broadcast head coach Mike Tomlin‘s fiery speech after the Steelers’ divisional-round win over the Chiefs on Facebook – as “little annoyances.”

It’s easy to see why the Steelers are willing to put up with “little annoyances” from Brown: Since they selected him in the sixth round of the 2010 draft, the 5-foot-10, 181-pounder has hauled in 632 receptions and 50 touchdowns in just 101 games. Brown has also exceeded the 1,100-yard plateau five times – including a ridiculous 1,834-yard showing in 2015.

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Steelers Expect Ben Roethlisberger To Return

Although quarterback Ben Roethlisberger hinted last week that he may have thrown his last NFL pass, Steelers president Art Rooney II expects the five-time Pro Bowler to return in 2017.

Ben Roethlisberger

“I talked to Ben and we had a good conversation,” Rooney told reporters, including Joe Rutter of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, on Tuesday. “I think he’s at that stage in his career that those are thought I think you have. I personally expect that he’ll be back, but that’s going to be his decision.”

With the offseason approaching, the Steelers unsurprisingly want an answer from the 34-year-old Roethlisberger sooner than later, per Rooney, who noted that “if he decided to retire, that would modify our plans greatly.” Even if Roethlisberger comes back for a 14th year, the Steelers seem intent on drafting a quarterback – something they haven’t done since they selected pending free agent Landry Jones in the fourth round in 2013.

“In terms of just going forward, look, I think the quarterback position is a position you have to make sure you have some depth there, and we haven’t drafted a quarterback for several years, and we’re probably due to look at the position,” stated Rooney.

Pittsburgh is slated to pick seven times – including 30th overall – in this year’s draft, which might feature one of the worst quarterback classes in recent memory. But regardless of who lines up under center for the Steelers in the coming years, he’ll likely have superstar wide receiver Antonio Brown in the fold as his No. 1 target. While Brown has caused some issues behind the scenes, the four-time 100-catch man is “certainly a player that we would like to have on the team for a while,” per Rooney. Brown is scheduled to enter a contract year, but the Steelers could make him the league’s highest-paid wideout via an extension sometime this offseason.

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AFC North Notes: Browns, Steelers, Ravens

Should the Browns‘ newly assembled power structure consult the team’s franchise player about a plan for the No. 1 overall pick, Joe Thomas would not use it on a quarterback. Going into his 11th year, the perennial All-Pro left tackle would rather see his team use the selection to bolster the pass rush.

I think you need to get a pass-rusher,” Thomas said on the Dan Patrick Show today (via Pat McManamon of ESPN.com). “… You gotta be careful reaching for a quarterback at No. 1 because if they fail, they don’t help your team at all. Whereas if you pick a defensive lineman and maybe they don’t live up to the hype, you can still find a place to get him on the field and to have an impact. We need guys that can come in and start and that can contribute.”

Thomas, who has two years left on his Browns deal and will turn 33 during the 2017 season, said in the past the Browns need to identify a franchise quarterback. There isn’t a better spot to do that than the No. 1 pick. But this quarterback class — fronted by Deshaun Watson, DeShone Kizer and Cleveland-area product Mitch Trubisky — has divided scouts. The Browns have been reportedly coveting Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett at No. 1 and considering a Watson pick at No. 12. But obviously, the versatile Clemson talent is no lock to be there when Cleveland’s second first-round window opens, given quarterback prospects’ rises as drafts near.

Here’s more from northeast Ohio and some other regions housing AFC North franchises.

  • Jamie Collinsfour-year, $50MM extension will pay $37.5MM in its first three years before containing no guaranteed money during the 2020 season, Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald tweets. Collins will also receive a $5MM signing bonus as part of the deal (per Howe, on Twitter) which includes $26.5MM guaranteed.
  • Negotiations between the Ravens and UFA nose tackle Brandon Williams have not yet begun but are expected to commence before he hits the market, Mike Preston of the Baltimore Sun notes. Even before Zach Orr‘s retirement, Williams was set to be the top priority, per Preston, for a Ravens team that’s lost numerous talents in free agency in recent years. It’s a big year for free agent defensive tackles, with Dontari Poe and Kawann Short residing as impending UFAs.
  • The Ravens tied up some loose ends on their coaching staff today, per the Baltimore Sun’s Jeff Zreibec (on Twitter). Chris Hewitt will take over new Bills DC Leslie Frazier‘s position as secondary coach, and Mike MacDonald will assist him, Zreibec tweets. Craig Ver Steeg, a nine-year Ravens offensive assistant, will coach quarterbacks, will slide over from skill-position assistance to helping QBs coach/OC Marty Mornhinweg with the signal-callers, Zreibec notes (on Twitter). Drew Wilkins will serve as the assistant defensive line coach. Each of these staffers’ assignment changes represents an internal promotion.
  • The Steelers could determine another year with Ladarius Green is too risky, Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette notes. Green will enter his sixth season after experiencing a disastrous fifth, playing in just six games. However, he averaged 50.7 yards per game and made several big plays when healthy. But concussion issues dogged Green to the point Mike Tomlin said a decision needs to be made about the tight end. “I don’t have an assessment, long-term, of where he is,” Tomlin said. “I think that’s one of the chief medical decisions and questions that we have to have moving forward, in terms of guys getting an assessment of their overall health and what it means for 2017.” A Green cut will cost the Steelers $3.56MM in dead money while saving the team barely $2MM. Green said earlier this week he does not intend to retire.
  • Antonio Brown‘s constant desire for targets has rubbed many teammates the wrong way, but his occasionally selfish ways aren’t viewed as detrimental to the team, Gerry Dulac of the Post-Gazette writes. Ben Roethlisberger has told the All-Pro wideout to “shut up” multiple times on the field, and since-retired tight end Heath Miller told Brown to “stop complaining about not getting the ball” at a 2015 practice. However, Dulac notes Brown not a problem in the locker room. This could be a key point as Brown’s payday looms.

Latest On Antonio Brown Extension Possibility

When the Steelers restructured the contract of Antonio Brown prior to the 2016 campaign, the club promised Brown that it would extend an offer of a new deal at the conclusion of the season. That agreement is reportedly still in place, and as such, Brown is poised to “cash in,” according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (Twitter links), who adds that Brown has a chance to become the highest-paid wide receiver in the NFL.Antonio Brown (vertical)

[RELATED: Pittsburgh Steelers Depth Chart]

Last August, Pittsburgh converted some of Brown’s 2017 base salary into a signing bonus (meaning Brown received more money immediately), but also changed some of Brown’s 2016 base salary into a bonus in order to reduce the salary cap effects. All told, the moves increased Brown’s 2016 cap charge by about $500K. The transaction was largely a show of good faith, as the Steelers did not want to violate their rule of not extending players with more than one year left on their contract.

That internal team precedent won’t come into play this offseason, however, as Brown is only signed through the 2017 season. At present, he is set to earn a base salary of $4.71MM and carry a cap number of $13.618MM. An extension would presumably lower that cap charge, but could also make Brown the most highly-compensated pass-catcher in the league. On an annual salary basis, that honor currently belongs to the Bengals’ A.J. Green ($15MM). In terms of guarantees, the Falcons’ Julio Jones leads the way with $35.5MM.

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Steelers To Franchise Le’Veon Bell, Want To Extend Antonio Brown

We heard last month that the Steelers were expected to put the franchise tag on Le’Veon Bell this offseason, and Ian Rapoport of NFL.com reported today that Pittsburgh will indeed franchise their star running back.

Le'Veon Bell (Vertical)

The tag will be about $12.3MM for running backs, and after the Steelers use it on Bell, the two sides will have a few months to work out a long-term contract. If they cannot, Bell could play out the 2017 season under the tag and be eligible for free agency again next offseason.

There are complications to a multi-year deal, of course. Bell has a history of off-field trouble, having been been suspended in each of the past two seasons, and he sustained knee injuries in 2014 and 2015. But when he’s on the field, he’s one of the most dynamic playmakers in the game, both as a runner and as a receiver. Despite missing four games this season, Bell ranked first in the NFL in touches per game (28.0) and scrimmage YPG (157.0), and he was second in rushing YPG (105.7). From Weeks 4-16–Bell was suspended for the first three weeks of the season and was rested for the team’s meaningless Week 17 contest–he led the NFL in touches (336) and scrimmage yards (1,884).

It appears that the Steelers are comfortable with Bell’s health and they seem to believe that his off-field issues are behind him, as a long-term deal is considered likely at this point. While Bell is unlikely to reach Adrian Peterson’s record-setting $14MM/year deal, he stands an excellent change of netting an eight-figure annual salary.

Per Rapoport, the Steelers also want to extend wide receiver Antonio Brown, who is under club control for one more season. Brown’s exceedingly club-friendly deal will pay him just $4.7MM next year, quite a bargain for arguably the best receiver in the game. But with substantial raises for Bell and Brown on the horizon, Pittsburgh will need to make some tough decisions elsewhere.

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Steelers To Restructure Antonio Brown’s Deal

The Steelers and Antonio Brown on the verge of agreeing to a restructuring of his contract, a source tells Adam Schefter of ESPN.com (on Twitter). That deal is expected to be completed shortly. Brown was due $6.25MM this year and will now earn ~$10.25MM, a source tells Mike Garafolo of NFL.com (on Twitter). The Steelers are also promising to give Brown a true extension after the 2016 season (link).Antonio Brown (vertical)

Brown has two years left to go on his current deal and has been pushing for an extension. The Steelers, meanwhile, have been insistent that they won’t negotiate right now. Brown did not get the big pay bump he truly wanted, but he did get a small concession to keep him happy over the next year. The Steelers, citing team policy, have told Brown that they will not start discussing a new deal with him until he is one year away from free agency.

Brown is considered to be one of the very best wide receivers in the NFL. However, because of the team friendly deal he signed years ago, he is ranked 18th among wide receivers in terms of average annual compensation ($8.4MM/year). Last year, Brown tied for the league lead in receptions (136), finished second in yards (1,834), and scored ten touchdowns.

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