Artie Burns

AFC North Notes: Burns, Young, Browns

Steelers CB Artie Burns, a 2016 first-round pick, was widely considered to be on the club’s roster bubble this summer, and even after he earned an $800K roster bonus at the end of July, there was still some chatter that he could be sent packing. But as Mark Kaboly of The Athletic writes, Burns has quieted those rumors with a strong training camp, and he excelled in Pittsburgh’s preseason contest against the Chiefs on Saturday. He is eligible for unrestricted free agency in 2020 since the Steelers declined his fifth-year option, and his contract year has gotten off to a great start. He now has a legitimate chance to be the team’s No. 3 corner.

Now for more from the AFC North:

  • Kaboly notes in a separate piece that the Steelers may be on the lookout for a veteran TE and/or punter on the free agent market.
  • Ravens slot corner Tavon Young may miss the entire 2019 campaign due to a serious neck injury, but Jeff Zrebiec of The Athletic says Young is still weighing his options with respect to surgery (Twitter link). Initial reports suggested that Baltimore believes Young should get surgery, which would likely allow him to return at full-strength for the 2020 season, but Young remains undecided. If he doesn’t get surgery and allows the injury to heal on its own, he could potentially return in 2019, but if the injury doesn’t heal, he may miss some of 2020. Either way, he will almost certainly open this season on IR.
  • Ravens guard Marshal Yanda is dealing with an ankle/foot injury and will not play in either of the club’s remaining preseason games, as Jamison Hensley of ESPN.com tweets. However, HC John Harbaugh expects the seven-time Pro Bowler to be ready to go for Week 1.
  • Garrett Gilbert played well in the Browns‘ preseason victory over the Colts on Saturday, but head coach Freddie Kitchens foreclosed any potential chatter of a QB2 battle by declaring that Drew Stanton will be the club’s backup QB (via Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com). Still, Cabot writes that Gilbert’s performance likely earned the AAF alumnus a spot on the roster.
  • Jaelen Strong was signed by the Browns in February, and he has played well over the past several weeks. He found the endzone in Saturday’s game, and Tony Grossi of ESPN.com suggests that the former Texans’ third-rounder is closing in on a roster spot (Twitter link).

Steelers Notes: Colbert, Tomlin, Burns, Haden

The Steelers staved off questions about Mike Tomlin’s job status, at least temporarily, by giving him a one-year extension recently. They didn’t do the same for GM Kevin Colbert, and that was apparently at his request. Colbert told reporters at training camp today that “he’s not getting an extension because he wanted to go year-to-year based on ‘personal request’ to organization,” per Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com (Twitter link). Fowler notes that Colbert is only under contract until May of 2020, and that the GM said his age could be a factor in whether or not he steps away. Colbert, 62, has been Pittsburgh’s front office head since 2010.

This is the first we’ve heard of any potential retirement for Colbert, so as Fowler points out, this is a “big development.” Steelers owner Art Rooney chimed in, saying “at this stage of the game, he’s really not looking to do any long-term planning,” per Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “We talked and we agreed he’d rather wait till after the season to talk about the contract.” Fowler noted in a follow-up tweet that Colbert indicated he could still be around for several more years, but he’s got “wiggle room” now. The Steelers have undergone a lot of change the last couple of years, and this would be another huge one.

Here’s more from Pittsburgh:

  • Tomlin’s job security has been a hot topic in recent years, and he’s one of the more polarizing coaches out there. He usually receives two-year extensions, so it was notable that this time around he only got one. When asked what he thought about that, Tomlin insisted it didn’t matter to him. “Nothing,” he told reporters, per Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com. “I really don’t think a lot about it to be quite honest with you. I focus on the task at hand, and if you do that, contractual things take care of themselves.” Tomlin has been the coach since 2007, but he’ll be under intense pressure to win in 2019. If the Steelers struggle, his seat will start getting awfully hot.
  • Tomlin’s old contract had an option year that was triggered due to hitting a certain number of wins, Dulac tweets. A source told Dulac that Tomlin’s new recently signed contract doesn’t have any similar provisions.
  • The Steelers don’t only have to worry about the contract situation of their coach and general manager, some players need to be decided on as well. Pittsburgh didn’t pick up the fifth-year option on former first-round pick Artie Burns back in May, which led to a lot of speculation that he’d be cut. Burns was due an $800K roster bonus this weekend, so a decision was always going to have to be made right around now. Burns will in fact collect the $800K and he’ll be a member of the Steelers in 2019, reports Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports (Twitter link). Burns hasn’t lived up to his draft status, but he did start six games last year and all 16 the year before that.
  • In the same tweet, La Canfora notes that the team is “working on extending” cornerback Joe Haden. Haden is entering the final year of the three-year, $27MM deal he signed after being released by the Browns back in 2017, and we heard a couple of days ago that the two sides had begun talking.

AFC North Notes: Jackson, Steelers, Bengals

The RavensLamar Jackson interest began before his junior year at Louisville. It escalated a few weeks before the 2018 draft. During a disagreement among Ravens staffers regarding quarterback preferences going into a draft that would have five QBs taken in the first round, John Harbaugh pronounced his willingness to build a new offense around the dual-threat passer.

If we draft Lamar, I’m good with that,” Harbaugh said during an hours-long discussion about Jackson (via The Athletic’s Dan Pompei, subscription required). “We can build an offense around him. We’ll play great special teams, great defense and be a ball-control offense. We’ll build a big, physical offensive line. We’ll get physical running backs. We’ll block on the perimeter. We’ll run all the elements of the college offense. We’ll do something different.”

After choosing Jackson, the Ravens rode some of Greg Roman‘s Colin Kaepernick-based concepts to a division title. Harbaugh, Roman and then-OC Marty Mornhinweg considered going back to Joe Flacco when the Ravens’ offense stalled for much of their wild-card loss to the Chargers, but each of Harbaugh’s assistants agreed Jackson gave the team the best chance to win. As for the Ravens’ 2019 offense, it will feature similar run designs to what was used last season. But Pompei adds the passing attack was considerably revamped in the offseason.

I expect this to change the way offensive football is played in the National Football League,” Harbaugh said. “Not that everybody is going to take on this style. But I expect us to create something that hasn’t been seen before. … I think we’re going to be in more elements than any team has ever been.”

Here is the latest from the AFC North, shifting first to Pittsburgh:

  • This weekend, Artie Burns is due an $800K bonus. If the Steelers are to move on from the former first-round pick who has not lived up to that billing, they would stand to limit their losses by doing so soon. Burns’ camp, however, is confident the fourth-year corner will still be a Steeler by week’s end, Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com tweets. Pittsburgh still has Joe Haden and Mike Hilton and added UFA addition Steven Nelson and third-round pick Justin Layne.
  • A hamstring injury will move T.J. Watt to the Steelers’ active/PUP list, Mark Kaboly of The Athletic tweets. The Pro Bowl outside linebacker should be expected to return fairly soon.
  • The Bengals placed Darqueze Dennard and running back Rodney Anderson on their active/PUP list. Dennard underwent offseason knee surgery, while Anderson’s college career ended after an ACL tear. The former Oklahoma running back is a candidate for the reserve/PUP list to start the season, per Fletcher Page of the Cincinnati Enquirer. Should Anderson stay on the PUP list to start the season, he must remain there for six regular-season weeks.

Release Candidate: Artie Burns

The Steelers surprised their fair share of draft pundits when they selected Artie Burns in the first round of the 2016 NFL draft, and Burns has not done much to prove his doubters wrong over his first three seasons in the league. His strongest season was his rookie campaign, when he notched three interceptions despite starting just nine games.

He could not build on that performance, though, and he struggled with coverage in 2017 and lost his starting job in 2018, appearing primarily on special teams in the second half of the season. Pittsburgh has not had great success in drafting quality corners in recent history, and as of right now, Burns looks like another example of those difficulties.

The Steelers’ decision to not exercise Burns’ 2020 option was something of a no-brainer, given that it would have been worth just shy of $10MM and would have been guaranteed for injury. And earlier this month, Ed Bouchette of The Athletic opined that the club may cut Burns before it’s required to pay him an $800K roster bonus on the first day of training camp.

However, Mark Kaboly of The Athletic suggested just a few days ago that if the Steelers haven’t cut Burns yet, they are likely to keep him around this year. Kaboly did note his belief that 2019 would be Burns’ last hurrah in Pittsburgh.

But just by looking at the financials, it would seem that Bouchette’s take on the situation may be more accurate. If the Steelers cut Burns prior to training camp, they would not only save the $800K roster bonus, but they would also create roughly $1.8MM of cap space. That is not an insignificant amount for Pittsburgh, which currently has just over $1MM of cap room. Although the team has wrapped up its 2019 draft class, it will certainly need to create more space at some point just to conduct regular business during the season, and their already small amount of space will become even smaller when the Rule of 51 is no longer applicable.

And while it may not seem wise to cut a young former first-rounder who plays a premium position just to save some cap space, the Steelers bolstered their CB corps with free agent Steven Nelson and third-round draft choice Justin Layne. The club is also higher on Mike Hilton and Cam Sutton than it is on Burns, and Joe Haden serves as the team’s No. 1 corner. So Burns is at best the sixth corner on the depth chart, which makes him a fringe player that could be cut at any time.

If he is still on the roster by the time he is due the $800K bonus, then the Steelers clearly will give him one more chance. But it would not be surprising to see him searching for a new team before training camp.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

North Notes: Packers, Rudolph, Steelers

The freedom Aaron Rodgers may or may not have to change plays at the line of scrimmage has become an issue in Green Bay, and first-year Packers HC Matt LaFleur explained the concern he has with enabling his decorated quarterback to have the kind of pre-snap autonomy he did under Mike McCarthy.

One thing we have to work through is the audible thing,” LaFleur said, via Michael Silver of NFL.com, of his conversations with Rodgers. “We’re running a system I first picked up while working with Kyle (Shanahan) in Houston a decade ago, and we’ve never really had a quarterback who’s had complete freedom to change plays at the line, because that’s not really the way the offense is set up. But, I mean, this is Aaron Rodgers. He’s had a lot of freedom to make those calls, and deservedly so. Now, how do we reconcile that, and get to a place where we put him in the best position to succeed?

LaFleur would prefer Rodgers only have one play he can check to, while the 15th-year passer would like more leeway. The former Rams and Titans OC cited the pre-snap movement he’s bringing to Green Bay as a reason for the potential constraints Rodgers will face.

We move a lot more. There’s a lot more motion. There are a lot more moving parts,” LaFleur said, via Silver. “And so if you just let the quarterback have that freedom to just get to whatever, I’m afraid it would slow our guys down. Now, he is a special talent and he’s got an incredible mind, so as we move forward throughout this process he’s getting more freedom. It’s just, where is that happy medium?

Let’s look at the latest news out of the North divisions:

  • Although Kyle Rudolph received the outcome he wanted — a four-year, $36MM Vikings extension — he acknowledged the prospect of a Patriots trade. But it’s still unclear if the teams engaged in discussions. “Obviously the speculation is going to be there because of their situation at my position and then our team’s cash/cap situation and my salary,” Rudolph said, via SI.com’s Albert Breer. “So there was kind of just a natural, like, ‘Hey, Kyle’s familiar with the offense, he played for a coach (Charlie Weis, at Notre Dame) that was a coordinator there.” After signing Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Ben Watson, then cutting ASJ and nixing the Michael Roberts trade with the Lions, the Patriots still face the prospect of not having a proven tight end during Watson’s suspension.
  • The buzz about Donte Moncrief becoming Ben Roethlisberger‘s No. 2 target continues, with Mark Kaboly of The Athletic (subscription required) calling it a “slam dunk” the former Colts and Jaguars wideout will be the Steelers’ WR2. It still figures to be a collaborative effort replacing one of this generation’s best players, Antonio Brown, but it looks like Moncrief’s offseason has him in position to lead that charge.
  • Artie Burns‘ standing in Pittsburgh is certainly not on the same level, and the Steelers face a decision on the underwhelming first-round cornerback. The team has until the third day of training camp to waive Burns and save $800K, but Kaboly notes that if the fourth-year corner has not yet been cut, the Steelers are probably planning to give him another shot. Regardless, Kaboly expects this to be Burns’ final year in Pittsburgh.

AFC North Notes: Steelers, Burns, Bengals

This could be the end of the line for Artie Burns‘ career with the Steelers, Ed Bouchette of The Athletic writes (subscription required). The cornerback is due an $800K roster bonus on the first day of training camp, but if he can’t prove himself during minicamp, he’ll likely be released before he can collect that check.

The Steelers had high hopes for Burns after he notched six interceptions in his final season at Miami, but he’s regressed in each of his pro seasons. As a rookie, Burns tied for the team lead with three picks despite starting in only nine games. In 2017, he started in every game, but wasn’t as sharp in coverage and had just one interception. Then, last year, Burns was bumped from the starting lineup and mostly appeared on special teams in the second half of the season. The Steelers already passed on Burns’ fifth-year option for 2020 and they could be on the verge of giving up on him altogether. If they cut him, it’ll be yet another draft disappointment for the team at the cornerback position. As Bouchette notes, the club’s top three corners – Joe Haden, Steven Nelson, and Mike Hilton – all came from outside the draft.

Shifting to the teams that wear orange, here is the latest from the AFC North:

  • After acting as the Raiders’ interim GM in the wake of Reggie McKenzie‘s ouster, Shaun Herock did not stick with the Jon GrudenMike Mayock regime. But the longtime Oakland exec is expected to land on his feet. Herock is on the verge of joining the Browns, Albert Breer of SI.com tweets. Although Herock spent seven years in Oakland, he worked extensively with John Dorsey in Green Bay. Herock spent nearly two decades as the Packers’ assistant director of college scouting, working directly under Dorsey (the Packers’ college scouting director for most of that span). The Packers made three Super Bowl appearances during the duo’s time running the Pack’s scouting department. Herock will join ex-Green Bay execs Alonzo Highsmith and Eliot Wolf in Cleveland.
  • Here’s a bit of a surprise – Paul Dehner Jr. of The Athletic expects the Bengals to use linebacker Preston Brown in a three-down role this year. Brown was limited by injury in 2018, and he was placed on IR in November, but the club opted to bring him back on a one-year, $4MM deal in March. There was some speculation that the Bengals would still look for an upgrade at the middle linebacker position, but it sounds like Brown is primed for a key role on defense.

Sam Robinson contributed to this post.

Steelers To Decline CB Artie Burns’ Option

The Steelers are not expected to exercise cornerback Artie Burns‘ fifth-year option for the 2020 season, as Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com tweets.

[RELATED: 2020 Fifth-Year Option Decision Tracker]

Burns turns 24 years old today, so Pittsburgh’s decision comes as an unwelcome birthday present. Had the Steelers opted to pick up his option, Burns would have been scheduled to earn $9.954MM in 2020, but that total would have guaranteed for injury only. If Burns had remained healthy but underwhelmed with his play during the upcoming season, Pittsburgh could have cut bait with no financial ramifications.

The 25th pick of the 2016 draft, Burns started 25 games during his first two years with the Steelers, posting four total interceptions during that time. Things fell apart in 2018, as Burns was benched multiple times and ultimately started only six contests. Football Outsiders charted Burns with just a 42% success rate in coverage, which would have ranked him in the bottom-third of the league had he posted enough snaps to qualify.

Burns isn’t necessarily a lock for the Steelers’ 2019 roster, as the club would incur only ~$1.3MM in dead money by waiving him in the coming months. If he does return, Burns is likely to be buried on Pittsburgh’s secondary depth chart. Joe Haden, Mike Hilton, and free agent addition Steven Nelson project as the Steelers’ starting corners, while 2017 third-round pick Cameron Sutton and rookie third-rounder Justin Layne will also compete for snaps.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

North Notes: Tate, Packers, Browns, Burns

The Lions are only one game out of the NFC North lead, but they nonetheless made the decision to trade their most productive wide receiver since Calvin Johnson to the Eagles. Golden Tate is now in Philadelphia, and some Lions staffers are “very surprised” about that transaction, Albert Breer of SI.com notes. This led Breer to wonder if there was a conflict between Tate and the Lions, and a team source informed him that wasn’t the case. Instead, the Eagles’ offer of a third-round pick for a player who was likely on his way out after 2018 was too good to pass up. Tate would have netted the Lions a compensatory pick had he left in free agency, but that selection would’ve come in the 2020 draft. Now, Detroit has an additional Day 2 pick in 2019. Tate’s departure, though, makes any Lions playoff hopes less likely.

Several of the North divisions’ teams made moves before the trade deadline. Here’s more fallout from some others, along with the latest from some other North franchises:

  • Ty Montgomery‘s fumble on Sunday in Los Angeles didn’t just prompt non-essential Packers to anonymously gripe about the mistake. Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel notes respected veterans called out the since-traded running back/return man. That, coupled with Montgomery not accepting full responsibility for his mistake and publicly expressing trust issues with teammates, signaled the Packers had to move on from the former third-round pick, per Silverstein. Montgomery stands to finish out his contract year with the Ravens.
  • The Packers were not happy about the way Ha Ha Clinton-Dix‘s 2017 season ended, with Silverstein writing Green Bay brass believed the 2014 first-round pick avoided tackles in the season finale against the Lions. This helped influence the Packers’ decision to not enter contract talks with Clinton-Dix prior to the 2018 season. While this tactic isn’t uncommon for the Packers, who let established starters Randall Cobb, Bryan Bulaga, Sam Shields and others play out their contract years before re-signing them, it led Clinton-Dix to believe he wasn’t going to be back next season. Hence, the trade to Washington. GM Brian Gutekunst, however, said (via ESPN.com’s Rob Demovsky) these trades weren’t meant as a message for the locker room.
  • As far as replacing Clinton-Dix, the Packers have some interesting options. One NFC scout told Silverstein their best choice might be to move recently added cornerback Bashaud Breeland to safety and play him in tandem with Jermaine Whitehead. Kentrell Brice served as Clinton-Dix’s safety running mate this season. A four-year Redskins starter, Breeland has not played a snap for the Packers yet. Another option, as Demovsky details, would be to play 2017 second-rounder Josh Jones. He’s worked as a special-teamer thus far. Tramon Williams could be an option as well, so Green Bay is not lacking in possible solutions.
  • The Browns named former Cardinals quarterback Ryan Lindley as their running backs coach today. This is interesting on multiple levels. The 29-year-old now-coach’s highest level of experience came as a San Diego State graduate assistant. Lindley, though, played under new Browns OC Freddie Kitchens with the Cardinals when Kitchens was their QBs coach.
  • Artie Burns did not play a snap in the Steelers‘ win over the Browns on Sunday. Mike Tomlin said he benched the former first-round cornerback because he was late for a walkthrough, but Burns said Wednesday (via Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette) he was back with the starters at practice. Coty Sensabaugh started in place of Burns in Week 8.

North Notes: Vikes, Browns, Ravens, Sutton

At Vikings OTAs this week, they placed Mike Remmers back at right tackle, per Michael Rand of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Remmers finished last season playing guard, and the Vikings used a second-round pick on tackle Brian O’Neill out of Pittsburgh. Minnesota had UFA signee Tom Compton working as its first-string right guard during OTAs, per Rand. Compton has never been a full-time starter in his six-year career, coming closest with the 2014 Redskins, who used him as a nine-game starter. Last season, the Bears started Compton in five of the 11 games he played. Minnesota lost its most effective blocker, Joe Berger, to retirement and did not make any notable additions beyond Compton at the guard spot.

Here’s more from the north:

  • The Browns have made some adjustments to their front office and scouting department, and Mary Kay Cabot of cleveland.com expects that to continue. She targets the VP of player personnel decision as a possible turnover spot. Alonzo Highsmith, Ken Kovash and Andrew Berry currently reside in that role. John Dorsey just hired Highsmith, and Cabot reports Berry is safe from a change despite being an integral part of the previous regime. The Browns promoted Kovash shortly after the Sashi Brown regime took over in 2016 after he’d previously worked as the franchise’s director of football research.
  • Converted cornerback Damarious Randall will be the Browns’ starter at free safety this season, relocating Jabrill Peppers to strong safety, per Cabot. Gregg Williams‘ deep placement of Peppers, sometimes more than 25 yards off the ball, became a constant source of discussion and derision among Browns fans, and Peppers himself may be a bit tired of the jokes. But the Browns will now place him closer to the line of scrimmage, which is similar to the role he had at Michigan.
  • Optimism exists around Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith, who saw a strong season end early in 2017 because of a torn Achilles, but Jeff Zreibec of the Baltimore Sun notes the veteran may not be ready for the start of training camp. The career-long Raven is going into his age-30 season.
  • Additional Ravens’ timelines are coming into focus as well. Defensive lineman Carl Davis, who started nine games last season, underwent surgery to repair a tear in his shoulder earlier this offseason, Zreibec reports. The former third-round pick is questionable to participate in minicamp. Offensive lineman Nico Siragusa also had an operation this offseason. The 2017 fourth-round pick missed all of last season because of ACL, MCL and PCL tears and required an additional knee surgery this year. Zreibec reports the goal for him is a training camp return. As for Alex Lewis, Baltimore’s projected guard starter opposite Marshal Yanda, he’s fully recovered from the shoulder injury that nixed all of his 2017 season, Zreibec notes.
  • The Steelers aren’t sure where to station Cameron Sutton. The 2017 third-round pick played 117 snaps as a rookie after an injury delayed his NFL debut. Pittsburgh may be planning to use him at outside or slot cornerback, or as a safety alongside Morgan Burnett, Tim Benz of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review writes. But he notes that Artie Burns and Sean Davis will still have first crack at their respective jobs, outside cornerback and the non-Burnett safety starter, with the Steelers still hoping for the high draft picks’ upside to show. Mike Hilton remains the frontrunner to be the Steelers’ slot corner, where the former UDFA fared well in 2017.

AFC Notes: Steelers, Jackson, Bills

Le’Veon Bell has recovered from offseason groin surgery. The Steelers running back has been playing pickup basketball in Los Angeles while his representatives discuss what would be a landmark extension, one that almost certainly would make Bell the NFL’s highest-paid running back. The fifth-year runner didn’t elaborate much on the process, though.

I’m good with everything, just taking it day to day for real,” Bell said, via Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com.

Attached to a $12.1MM franchise tag, Bell is the only player given the tag who did not sign his tender or agree to a long-term extension this offseason. Adam Schefter of ESPN.com noted this week the proposition of a Bell/Steelers pact “could go either way.” LeSean McCoy‘s $8MM-per-year salary is the current running back ceiling, but the 25-year-old Bell’s likely aiming to exceed that by quite a bit.

Here’s the latest from around the league.

  • One of Bell’s Steelers teammates did not have a good end to the work week. Miami Beach police arrested Artie Burns for driving with a suspended license Thursday night, Adam Beasley of the Miami Herald reports. Burns was unable to provide a driver’s license and had back tickets totaling approximately $1,000, Fowler reports (Facebook link). The cornerback was released from custody on Friday. The Steelers have not commented on the incident.
  • Jason Fitzgerald of OverTheCap (Twitter links) is a bit surprised by the size of Gabe Jackson‘s deal with the Raiders. Even with growing salaries for guards, Fitzgerald did not expect Jackson to fetch a five-year, $56MM extension with $26MM in guarantees. It could be a sign of things to come in Oakland and Fitzgerald believes that linebacker Khalil Mack will wind up as the highest-paid defensive player in the NFL by a healthy margin when that deal gets done. As we learned Thursday, Mack will probably have to wait until next year to get his extension.
  • The Bills‘ move back to a 4-3 look will benefit its personnel more than Rex Ryan‘s 3-4 did, Vic Carucci of the Buffalo News writes. In addition to Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams moving back to their natural spots inside, the Bills should have a better chance of seeing what they have in Shaq Lawson. Carucci notes Lawson never felt comfortable as a 3-4 outside linebacker — a position he’d never before played — and is a much better fit as a 4-3 end. Meanwhile, the Bills should be able to coax more from Jerry Hughes now that he’s back at end, with Carucci pointing out Ryan’s schemes at times called for the natural pass rusher to execute pass-coverage assignments. Hughes totaled 10 sacks apiece as a 4-3 end during the 2013 and ’14 seasons but combined for just 11 over the past two years.

Zach Links contributed to this report.