Ben Roethlisberger

Steelers Put Le’Veon Bell Talks On Hold

The Steelers are putting negotiations with star running back Le’Veon Bell on hold while the team continues to navigate free agency and prepare for the draft, per Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com. GM Kevin Colbert indicated that his club will resume talks with Bell’s reps “eventually,” and he hopes Bell will report to training camp.

Colbert added, “We’re not intentionally ignoring [Bell’s contract]. More urgent business needs to get taken care of. We will reassess where that is. He’ll reassess where his interests are as well. I anticipate us continuing that process once we get through the free agency period and maybe even through the draft. The draft can change things on both sides.”

We heard several weeks ago that Pittsburgh was getting closer to meeting Bell’s asking price, but obviously the team has not gotten there yet. Bell, of course, was hit with the franchise tag for the second consecutive season earlier this month, and while he will receive a healthy $14.544MM if he plays out the 2018 campaign under the tag, he is still looking for long-term security at a rate that the Steelers do not seem to be willing to pay.

Nonetheless, both Fowler and Mark Kaboly of TheAthletic.com (Twitter link) believe it is unlikely that the Steelers rescind Bell’s franchise tag. If they did, it could leave Bell in a tough position, as many teams have already spent their free agent budget, and even those that have not done so would probably be just as unwilling as the Steelers to satisfy Bell’s contract demands. Therefore, Bell may have to simply sign the franchise tender at some point prior to the start of the season. He has indicated previously that he will not attend training camp if he does not get a multi-year deal to his liking, even though his early-season performance in 2017 was not up to his usual standards, perhaps because he also skipped last year’s training camp.

Colbert’s comments that the team cannot divert its attention from free agency right now may raise some eyebrows given the Steelers’ small amount of cap room, but Kaboly tweets that Pittsburgh may not be done in free agency if a player it likes unexpectedly becomes available.

The Steelers also have several other in-house matters to resolve. Colbert said that the team could still extend Ben Roethlisberger‘s contract this offseason, which was mentioned as a possibility last month (Twitter link via Fowler). Big Ben’s current deal keeps him under club control through 2019.

Also, Kaboly tweets that no decision has been made with respect to Bud Dupree‘s fifth-year option, which must be exercised by May 3, but Fowler tweets that Colbert seems open to exercising it.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Steelers To Talk Extension With Ben Roethlisberger

Ben Roethlisberger says he wants to play for at least three more seasons and the Steelers are on board with that. On Wednesday, team president Art Rooney II told a small group of reporters that he will eventually have a conversation with Big Ben about extending his deal beyond 2019. Ben Roethlisberger

[RELATED: Le’Veon Bell Discusses Contract Situation]

We haven’t had a long conversation about that other than him saying he is interested in playing beyond his contract,” Rooney said (via ESPN.com’s Jeremy Fowler). “That’s good news to me, and certainly his play this year makes you feel like he does have a few years left. All that is great in terms of the contract. We’ll address that at the right time. But bottom line is we’re excited that’s the way he feels and we’ll continue to work with him and hopefully get a couple more rings with him.

Roethlisberger turns 36 in March and has flirted with retirement in the past, but he is still playing football at a high level and wants to add a third ring to his collection. In 2017, Roethlisberger had a 64.2% completion rate with 28 touchdowns and a 92.4 quarterback rating. He finished stronger than he started with 348 yards and three touchdowns per contest over his final seven games.

Since entering the league in 2004, Roethlisberger owns a career 135-63 record in the regular season.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Ben Roethlisberger To Play 3 More Years?

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has privately told teammates that he wants to play for at least three more seasons, according to Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.Ben Roethlisberger (vertical)

The 35-year-old Roethlisberger indicated following Sunday’s Divisional Round loss that he plans to return for the 2018 season, an important disclosure given that he reportedly mulled retirement prior to the 2017 campaign. Coming off a season which was largely in line with his career norms (64.2% completion rate, 28 touchdowns, 92.4 quarterback rating), Roethlisberger sounds as though he’s eager to continue his career through at least next year, and potentially beyond. He’s under contract through 2019, with cap charges of $23.2MM in each season.

Roethlisberger’s relationship with offensive coordinator Todd Haley has reportedly been the source of some strain, and Ian Rapoport of NFL.com reported Sunday that the rapport between the two Steelers “in in as bad of a place as it’s been in years.” Haley’s contract is now expired, per Bouchette, and it’s unclear if he’ll return to Pittsburgh in 2018 after failing to “build support among key players” on the club’s offense. If Haley leaves the Steelers, quarterbacks coach Randy Fichtner would represent a “strong candidate” to become the team’s next offensive coordinator.

Appearing on his local radio show on CBS Pittsburgh this morning, Roethlisberger seemed to refute any concerns regarding Haley. “There’s always issues in a competitive field,” said Roethlisberger, noting that the reported rift is “perceived as a bigger deal” than reality might warrant (Twitter links via Aditi Kinkhabwala of NFL.com). “You might butt heads at times, it doesn’t mean you have any personal problems.”

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Ben Roethlisberger Plans To Return In 2018

Speaking after today’s Divisional Round loss to the Jaguars, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger told reporters that he plans to continue his NFL career in 2018.Ben Roethlisberger

“I don’t know everybody’s contract situation, but I know the guys up front are signed, and that’s good for me,” said Roethlisberger. “So I look forward to next year with those guys.”

Roethlisberger, 35, mulled retirement prior to the 2017 campaign, and further reports indicated he could consider hanging up his cleats again this offseason. But following a season which was largely in line with his career norms (64.2% completion rate, 28 touchdowns, 92.4 quarterback rating), Roethlisberger sounds as though he’s eager to return in 2018.

As Roethlisberger alluded to, Pittsburgh’s starting offensive line is signed through at least 2018. But one of Roethlisberger’s key weapons — running back Le’Veon Bell — is a pending free agent and has threatened to retire if he’s franchise-tagged for a second consecutive season. Changes could theoretically occur on the Steelers’ coaching staff, as well, as Roethlisberger’s relationship with offensive coordinator Todd Haley is said to be especially strained.

The Steelers don’t have much of a succession plan to replace Roethlisberger for the long term, as neither backup Landry Jones or 2017 fourth-round pick Joshua Dobbs are considered realistic starters. As such, Pittsburgh has been eyeing 2018 draft-eligible quarterbacks closely, per Mike Garafolo of NFL.com (Twitter link), and could select a passer in this year’s draft.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Steelers Notes: Brown, Bell, Haley

Antonio Brown is likely to play in the Steelers’ divisional round contest against Jacksonville this afternoon, as ESPN.com’s Adam Schefter reports, although Schefter adds that Brown’s injured calf is not close to being fully healed. The league’s top wideout, who is one month removed from the partially torn left calf muscle that forced him to miss the final two games of the regular season, will go through pregame warmups to test the calf, but as Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports tweets, every expectation is that Brown will play and will play regularly. Brown was forced to miss Friday’s practice because of an illness, but he was a full participant in practices on Wednesday and Thursday, and Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette tweets that Brown’s illness will not impact his playing status [Twitter update: Brown is active, per Schefter].

Now for several more notes on the AFC North champions:

  • His idle threats notwithstanding, no one expects Le’Veon Bell to retire or sit out the 2018 season if he is hit with the franchise tag for the second straight year, least of all the Steelers themselves. As Ian Rapoport of NFL.com reports (video link), the Steelers are indeed expected to put the franchise tag on Bell, which has been a foregone conclusion for some time now. As Rapoport observes, Pittsburgh has historically refused to cede to the demands of players who threaten to sit out, and he does not expect the club to change it standard operating procedure for Bell. If Bell does play 2018 under the tag, he will have earned roughly $26.5MM over the 2017-18 seasons, while he would have earned $30MM if he signed the long-term deal the Steelers offered him last year. Nonetheless, we will still need to wait to see what the future holds before we can say for sure whether that was a wise financial move for Bell.
  • We heard at the end of December that the relationship between Ben Roethlisberger and OC Todd Haley is strained, but Rapoport goes one step further, saying that the relationship “is in as bad of a place as it’s been in years.” Nonetheless, Roethlisberger has thrived under Haley’s leadership, which puts the Steelers in something of a bind. Haley’s contract expires at the end of the season, so Pittsburgh will need to decide whether it wants to bring him back and hope he and Big Ben can put aside their personal differences since the on-field product has been so good, or whether it wants to move on. Of course, the decision could be made for the Steelers if Roethlisberger makes good on his threat to retire, or if offensive line coach Mike Munchak gets a head coaching job elsewhere and brings Haley with him, which Rapoport says is a distinct possibility.
  • Speaking of Munchak, who has already interviewed with the Cardinals for their head coaching job, we heard this morning that he could be a dark horse candidate for the Giants’ HC vacancy.

La Canfora’s Latest: Jets, Panthers, Steelers

While Josh McCown hasn’t yet announced whether he’ll continue his career in 2018, those close to him believe the veteran quarterback will return for another season, according to Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com. McCown, who is currently on injured reserve after breaking his hand, posted arguably the best campaign of his career while starting 13 games for the Jets this year. Given that he’ll be entering his age-39 season, McCown won’t command a long-term contract, and could theoretically make sense as a bridge quarterback for a number of clubs. When he does hang up his cleats, McCown is expected to generate interest as a coach.

Here’s more from La Canfora as Week 16 comes to a close:

  • Speaking of the Jets, it would qualify as “shocking” if Gang Green doesn’t release defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson prior to next season, per La Canfora. Wilkerson has been in the news for all the wrong reasons in recent weeks, and he isn’t expected to play for New York again this season despite being fully healthy. Missed meetings and other off-field offenses have led the Jets’ coaching staff to become “fed up” with Wilkerson, and there’s almost no chance the club will opt to pay him $17MM in 2018. Still, Wilkerson is expected to generate interest if he hits the free agent market next spring.
  • Although reports of a $2.5 billion price for the Panthers may have been exaggerated, sources still expect the Carolina franchise to garner at least $2 billion, as La Canfora writes. Although the NFL will require full cooperation as the league investigates claims of harassment against owner Jerry Richardson, the league won’t be able to tell Richardson to whom he can sell his team. Because Richardson isn’t keeping the club in his family, he has the right to sell to whomever he chooses.
  • The relationship between Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and offensive coordinator Todd Haley has become strained, per La Canfora, who adds Roethlisberger has asked for a “buffer” between him and Haley during games. As such, quarterbacks coach Randy Fichtner has begun coaching from the sidelines (instead of the press box) in order to act as that go-between. While reports of complications between Roethlisberger and Haley may have no affect, the relationship could potentially affect offseason staff plans for Pittsburgh.
  • The Patriots, Eagles, and Vikings are all expected to lose members of their staff this offseason as coaches leave for promotions with other clubs, according to La Canfora. New England, Philadelphia, and Minnesota are three of the most successful teams in the league in 2017, and coordinators such as Josh McDaniels, Matt Patricia, Jim Schwartz, Frank Reich, John DeFilippo, Pat Shurmur, and George Edwards could all be on the move.

AFC Notes: Peyton, Fuller, Big Ben, JuJu

Peyton Manning has taken a few years off from the game after his Super Bowl farewell in 2016. However, he’s been widely speculated to move into a team president type role as soon as he fills like jumping back into the industry, and there should a wide amount of interest in his services.

As part of his Friday column, Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated mentioned that Manning would likely be on the top of the list for any team with an opening at the head of their football operations. He spoke to a source on the Broncos current staff who said that, “There’d honestly be no one better.” 

Breer expressed that while the former Colts and Broncos signal caller doesn’t have any front office experience, he’s been preparing for the position for years as a player, specifically shadowing the actions of current Broncos football czar, John Elway. As a player, Manning always kept tabs on the draft, free agency and many of the other aspects that go into leading an NFL franchise. While there’s nothing like firsthand experience in that atmosphere, Manning has clearly demonstrated his vast knowledge of the game in the way he revolutionized the quarterback position during his time in the league.

“He’ll be extremely successful in anything he chooses to do because of the person is, how smart he is and how hard he works,” said one personnel man who worked with him in Indy. “He’ll be extremely well prepared, have done research on the job and have an understanding of what the job entails. 

Breer speculates that the Browns would likely be clamoring to bring Manning aboard to lead their football operations, among pretty much any other front office needy franchise.

  • The Texans have been without big play threat Will Fuller for the past two weeks and head coach Bill O’Brien doesn’t expect that to change in Week 13, reports Sarah Barshop of ESPN.com (Twitter link). The 2016 first round pick missed the opening part of the year with injury too, but sandwiched an outstanding run of games in which he scored six times in four contests. Barshop does note that the O’Brien didn’t entirely rule out the possibility of Fuller making a return in the final few weeks of the regular season.
  • The Steelers are in a much different spot than the Giants at this point in time, but veteran QB Ben Roethlisberger opened up to Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette to discuss how he empathizes with the situation Eli Manning is going through right now. “It sparks the reality that that could be me,” Roethlisberger said. “They could do that to me next year or whenever, who knows? It’s eye-opening that you have to take every play, every game, don’t take it for granted, take it for what it is because you never know when you’re done.” However, while Big Ben and Eli were taken in the same draft and both have multiple Super Bowls to their credit, the Steelers signal caller doesn’t believe that the only team he’s ever known would treat him in the same way. “I don’t, and I don’t mean to talk negatively about the Giants, especially I know the Steelers and Giants are very close and are family, too. But I don’t think they would, I think they would handle it differently.” These are interesting comments considering Roethlisberger expressed some reservations about continuing to play this past offseason, and even though he’s recovered nicely from a unusually slow start, the fact that he’s thinking about these career questions shouldn’t be overlooked.
  • On the field, Pittsburgh is expected to have rookie wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster back in the lineup for the team’s Monday night affair against the Bengals, according to Josh Alper of Pro Football Talk. The 21-year-old sat out last week’s victory over the Packers with an ankle injury, but returned to practice in-full on Thursday. He’ll likely continue to operate in the slot with Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant playing more on the boundaries.

 

 

AFC North Notes: Steelers, Big Ben, Ravens

Following yesterday’s five-interception against the Jaguars, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger offered a concise report of his performance. “Maybe I don’t have it anymore,” Roethlisberger told Aditi Kinkhabwala of NFL.com (Twitter link). While Roethlisberger could have been hoping for levity after a brutal loss, the comments do call into question just how much longer Roethlisberger will play, especially given that he’s contemplated retirement on multiple occasions. As Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk writes, the idea of forfeiting bonus money could have swayed Roethlisberger into continuing his career in 2017, but that concept will continue in the next few years. If Roethlisberger hangs up it after this season, for example, he’d owe the Steelers $12.4MM in bonus money (of course, Pittsburgh isn’t obligated to collect that total).

Here’s more from the AFC North:

  • Ravens running back Terrance West is expected to miss time after suffering a calf injury on Sunday, but he won’t facing a lengthy absence, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (Twitter link). West, 26, had been splitting carries with Javorius Allen and Alex Collins, and had managed 39 rushes for 138 yards and two touchdowns this season. With West sidelined, Allen figures to see even more work (he toted the ball 21 times on Sunday) while Collins could also see increased usage. But Baltimore may need to add a running back, as Allen and Collins are the only healthy runners on the roster. Practice squader John Crockett is a candidate for promotion.
  • Tyler Boyd will also be out for a few weeks, as the Bengals receiver sprained his MCL in Week 5, tweets Rapoport. Boyd, who is facing a possible legal situation and was mysteriously a healthy scratch in Week 2, has been almost completely phased out of Cincinnati’s offense this season. The former second-round pick has been targeted only nine times, and managed just six receptions for 43 yards.
  • The Ravens will be without yet another offensive lineman for the next several weeks, as guard Matt Skura suffered a sprained MCL and will miss two-to-four games, reports Jeff Zrebiec of the Baltimore Sun (Twitter link). Skura, who has started three games for the Ravens this season, will likely give way to rookie Jermaine Eluemunor at right guard. Baltimore has already lost front five players Marshal Yanda, Alex Lewis, and Nico Siragusa to injury.
  • Free agent safeties Harold Jones-Quartey and Malik Smith, plus offensive tackles Korren Kirven and Victor Salako, worked out for the Browns, per veteran NFL reporter Howard Balzer (Twitter link). Of that foursome, only Jones-Quartey has NFL experience, as the 24-year-old started 12 games for the Bears in 2016.

AFC North Notes: Browns, Brown, Ben

The Browns lost to the rebuilding Jets and are now 0-5 and, more importantly considering where this franchise stands in the NFL, 1-20 since their new power structure began its tenure. Consistent reports of friction between this team’s decision-making parties have come out of Cleveland, and Jimmy Haslam‘s patience may be wearing thin. The Sashi Brown/Paul DePodesta/Hue Jackson arrangement has yet to produce results, and Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk notes a league source predicted a major shakeup could come in the event of a Jets defeat. That happened, and the Browns benched starting quarterback DeShone Kizer for 2016 practice squad promotion Kevin Hogan in the process.

Haslam developed a deserved reputation for being impatient, abandoning previous regimes since taking over the Browns. But this one’s unique effort — placing an even greater premium on draft picks, at the expense of short-term results — has been allowed to persist thus far. However, Florio adds the perception by some around the league is the Browns’ obsession with draft picks doubles as a way for management to preach patience for future success — not unlike an MLB team stockpiling cornerstone high school talent and waiting several years for it to surface in the majors — while avoiding immediate responsibility for the on-field product.

With the Browns set to face the Texans and Texans before a Vikings tilt in London. A Patriots date follows that. Florio notes the London game could double as a Jackson firing window while adding the team could take the route the Lions did recently by firing GM Martin Mayhew and keeping coach Jim Caldwell. That would mean siding with Jackson over Brown. For his part, Jackson said postgame there was “no wavering support” from ownership, per Mary Kay Cabot of cleveland.com (on Twitter).

This franchise’s recent history points to a change happening soon. Here’s more from the AFC North.

  • Regarding Cleveland’s quarterback decision, Jackson did not say who he plans to start in Week 6. The second-year Browns coach indicated (via Nate Ulrich of ohio.com, on Twitter) he needed to watch film to decide between his second-round pick and Hogan, a Chiefs 2016 fifth-round who didn’t make the Kansas City roster out of camp last year. So instead of a Kizer-Deshaun Watson matchup next week, it could be Hogan in command. The Stanford product completed 16 of 19 passes for 194 yards and two touchdowns today compared to Kizer’s 8-for-17, 94-yard, one-INT line.
  • Antonio Brown‘s outburst last weekend wasn’t solely motivated by frustrations on the field, with CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora reporting the All-Pro wide receiver was upset by the Steelers‘ decision to remain in the tunnel for the national anthem instead of allowing players to make protest choices individually. Brown has strongly considered kneeling in protest during the anthem, but Ben Roethlisberger helped steer the team toward the stance of remaining in the entrance tunnel as a group during the anthem. Big Ben missing his top target for a would-be touchdown against the Ravens struck a chord with Brown, per La Canfora, who reports the wideout believed Roethlisberger’s decision not to locate him on that play was related to the two’s anthem-based argument. After a loss to the Jaguars today, Brown was diplomatic, saying (via Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com) Roethlisberger was going to “bring the best out of us this week.”
  • Myles Garrett limped off the field in the fourth quarter of the Browns’ 17-14 loss but said he did not re-aggravate the high ankle sprain that kept him out for four weeks, Cabot tweets. The No. 1 overall pick described his ankle as merely being “very sore.”

AFC Notes: Hopkins, Big Ben, Colts, Chiefs

Both the Texans and No. 1 wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins would like to reach a long-term deal this summer, and odds are that it will happen, suggests John McClain of the Houston Chronicle (on Twitter). Hopkins, due to make $7.9MM as a fifth-year option player this season, became all the more important to the Texans’ cause for 2017 after No. 2 receiver Will Fuller suffered a broken collarbone Wednesday. Fuller’s multi-month absence could mean even more opportunities for Hopkins, who easily led the Texans in both targets and receptions in each of the previous two seasons. Despite having to catch passes from middling or worse quarterbacks throughout his career, Hopkins has a history of terrific production. Thanks to his output thus far, the 25-year-old looks poised to become one of the NFL’s highest-paid wideouts in the coming weeks.

More from the AFC:

  • Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is keeping all options on the table beyond 2017, including retirement and playing a few more years. “I hope (to play multiple future seasons), but I’m only going to focus on this year,” Roethlisberger revealed Wednesday (via Chris Adamski of the Pittsburgh-Tribune Review). Whether the 35-year-old sticks around will depend somewhat on how much of a beating his offensive line allows him to take this season. “If those guys up front are playing as well as they have been playing, getting sacked (a career-low) 17 times in (2016) — it might keep me around a little longer,” he said.
  • With 2015 first-round pick Phillip Dorsett and free agent signing Kamar Aiken, the Colts have a pair of notable receivers behind starters T.Y. Hilton and Donte Moncrief. However, the unheralded Chester Rogers has emerged as Indy’s likely No. 3 wideout, according to Kevin Bowen of the team’s website. As an undrafted rookie last year, Rogers accrued 34 targets and 19 catches in 14 games (two starts), and he averaged 14.4 yards per catch. Both Dorsett and Aiken bettered Rogers’ counting stats in 2016, but the second-year man has nonetheless turned into a “virtual 12th starter for the Colts,” writes Bowen.
  • Defensive tackle Roy Miller‘s contract with the Chiefs is a one-year, $1.4MM pact that could be worth up to $2.5MM, tweets Ian Rapoport of NFL.com. The deal includes $300K in guarantees.