JuJu Smith-Schuster

Steelers GM Kevin Colbert On Contract Status, Ben Roethlisberger

Last summer, Steelers GM Kevin Colbert indicated he did not want to enter into a multi-year extension with the team, as he prefers to take things on a year-to-year basis. Earlier this month, the 63-year-old signed another one-year contract with the club to remain in his general manager post through the 2020 campaign.

But in a meeting with Steelers beat writers today, Colbert indicated he is not thinking about quitting anytime soon. “As long as the Rooneys and the Pittsburgh Steelers want me to be a part of this organization and it’s a good thing for our family, we’ll be here,” Colbert said. “I’m not looking to ever go anywhere else again as long as the Rooneys and the Steelers are interested in me” (Twitter link via Brooke Pryor of ESPN.com).

So while Colbert may prefer the flexibility that his one-year extensions afford him, it sounds as if he will continue to lead the Pittsburgh front office for as long as the team wants him to and for as long as his personal life permits. And for good reason. Colbert joined the Steelers in 2000, was promoted from director of football operations to GM in 2010, and has helped build two Super Bowl-winning teams and 12 playoff squads over the years.

In his conversation, Colbert also discussed the status of QB Ben Roethlisberger. We heard in December that Big Ben is expected to make a full recovery from surgery to reattach three tendons in his right arm, and Colbert said today that he believes Roethlisberger’s rehab is going in the right direction (Twitter link via Pryor). The veteran signal-caller has a checkup in Los Angeles on February 21.

Colbert further indicated that the injuries that plagued JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Conner, and Vance McDonald last year would not impact their long-term availability (Twitter link via Pryor). And in other Steelers news, Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette tweets that the Steelers are expected to hire a new WR coach any day now. The team is deciding between Jerricho Cotchery and Bryan McClendon.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Steelers’ Owner On JuJu Smith-Schuster

Things didn’t go according to plan for the Steelers or JuJu Smith-Schuster in 2019. After parting ways with Antonio Brown, the wide receiver seemed poised for a monster season and a brand new contract to reflect his expected status as one of the league’s premier wide receivers. That didn’t happen and Steelers owner Art Rooney II says he isn’t in any rush to talk extension.

Well again, it was a tough season to evaluate with the different quarterbacks and some of JuJu’s injuries so it’s a tough season to evaluate from a lot of different standpoints,” Rooney said (via Jacob Klinger of PennLive.com). “Obviously we still think highly of JuJu and still think he’s going to be an outstanding player in the league moving forward and we will address the contract situation when it’s appropriate.”

In 2019, Smith-Schuster caught just 42 passes for 552 yards and three touchdowns in 12 games. Smith-Schuster’s rookie deal is set to expire after the 2020 season and he might have to wait until then to discuss a new deal with the Steelers.

Of course, the loss of Ben Roethlisberger early in the season held back Smith-Schuster and the Steelers offense on the whole. That is to say, the drop-off in his production is not entirely his fault. Still, the Steelers seem open to a wait-and-see approach with the 23-year-old (24 in November).

When the Steelers have Big Ben back in action next season, they’ll hope to see Smith-Schuster return to form. In 2018, the former second-round pick broke out with 111 catches for 1,426 yards and seven touchdowns en route to his first Pro Bowl appearance.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

AFC North Rumors: Garrett, Glenn, Steelers

While different accounts have surfaced about how the brawl started, the NFL has issued final rulings on the central cogs in the Browns-Steelers melee. One interesting fallout item: Myles Garrett‘s appeal being denied will leave him on his own for a while. The Browns are not permitted to communicate with the star defensive end during his suspension, Freddie Kitchens confirmed (via Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, on Twitter). This sort of banishment is usually associated with players battling bans for off-field conduct, but Garrett’s case is certainly unique. This could prove interesting if the Browns make Kitchens a one-and-done coach. Garrett would not be permitted to discuss a new scheme with the team. With NFL appeals officer James Thrash denying the former No. 1 overall pick’s case at avoiding an indefinite suspension, Garrett must apply for reinstatement in the 2020 offseason.

Here is the latest from the AFC North:

  • Cordy Glenn will not only make his 2019 debut Sunday, but the Bengals are preparing to slot the eighth-year back in as their left tackle starter, Tyler Dragon of the Cincinnati Enquirer notes. This will be a pivotal stretch for Glenn, who battled a concussion for several weeks before a contentious period with the Bengals resulted in the 30-year-old lineman’s one-game suspension. The Bengals were ready to shift Glenn to left guard, making room for first-rounder Jonah Williams, but the latter’s offseason injury nixed that. Glenn, who will replace John Jerry at left tackle, has no guaranteed money left on his deal. The Bills extension he signed in 2016 runs through 2020, but the Bengals could save $9.25MM by releasing him next year.
  • A.J. Green will not join Glenn in uniform against the Steelers. The ninth-year wideout will miss his 11th game of the season and 15th straight. Green is looking at a missed season and is set to profile as one of the more interesting free agents in recent years. The 31-year-old receiver has not practice since Nov. 4.
  • The Steelers have officially ruled out JuJu Smith-Schuster out for Week 12, but the team did see quick progress from fellow wideout starter Diontae Johnson. The rookie cleared concussion protocol and is not listed on Pittsburgh’s injury report. He and James Washington will go into Cincinnati as Mason Rudolph‘s top targets.
  • Admitting the team gambled by not taking Lamar Jackson with its first 2018 draft pick, Ravens GM Eric DeCosta discussed the process that led them to draft the MVP candidate at No. 32 overall last year.

Steelers RB James Conner Out, Juju Smith-Schuster Doubtful

The Steelers will already be shorthanded this Sunday against the Bengals after the NFL upheld a two-game suspension on starting center Maurkice Pouncey, but it appears injuries could be removing their two most important offensive weapons as well. Pittsburgh’s star running back James Conner is out this week with a shoulder injury and “it’s not looking good” for wide receiver Juju Smith-Schuster either, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com.

Pittsburgh’s season looked doomed early on when longtime starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger suffered a season-ending elbow injury. However, backup Mason Rudolph has managed to play well enough to keep the Steelers on the periphery of playoff contention. Of course, the presence of two elite weapons like Conner and Smith-Schuster has surely helped ease Rudolph’s transition.

Conner has struggled with durability through his three-year professional career, but remains an effective weapon when healthy. On the season, Conner has 390 rushing yards and possibly more importantly has averaged more than 8 yards a reception catching passes. Smith-Schuster has maintained solid production even amidst a down year for the receiver. Starting every game on the season thus far, Smith-Schuster has accrued 524 receiving yards on 38 receptions.

AFC North Notes: JuJu, Glenn, Browns

With JuJu Smith-Schuster dealing with a knee injury in addition to the concussion he sustained last week, the Steelers are expected to hold him out of Sunday’s game against the Bengals, Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com tweets. However, the third-year standout is not expected to miss much time. Smith-Schuster has not missed a game since December 2017. The Steelers are not certain to have Diontae Johnson on the field in Cincinnati either, with the rookie also in concussion protocol. For a team that has featured at least one Pro Bowl-caliber wideout in its lineup for many years, given Antonio Brown‘s presence, Sunday will be an adjustment without one.

Here is the latest from the AFC North:

  • On the other side, Cordy Glenn is on track to make his 2019 debut. The Bengals have needed to use their third and fourth options at left tackle this season, with Glenn battling a severe concussion since August. But Zac Taylor confirmed the eighth-year tackle is ready to return, per the Cincinnati Enquirer’s John Fay. Glenn is not certain to start, however. It would certainly help Cincinnati’s cause. Last week, Maxx Crosby recorded four sacks — tied for the second-most a rookie has ever registered in a game — and did most of the damage against guard-turned-tackle John Jerry.
  • The Browns designated David Njoku to return from IR earlier Wednesday. The third-year tight end is eligible to return at any point. Although Njoku was not initially planning to have surgery, Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer notes (via Twitter) he did end up undergoing a procedure. Njoku totaled 639 receiving yards last season and will stand to help a Browns team clinging to fringe contention hopes after winning two straight games.
  • The NFL would prefer to have the Myles Garrett appeal process sorted out quickly, and ESPN.com’s Dianna Russini notes the league is targeting a decision by Thursday or Friday (Twitter link). NFL appeals officer James Thrash heard the appeal earlier Wednesday.
  • Garrett’s camp mounted a two-front case, first arguing the CBA does not contain language allowing for a six-game suspension for an on-field act and second citing the 2013 Antonio Smith incident, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com notes (video link). The then-Texans defensive lineman ripped off Richie Incognito‘s helmet during a game and swung it at him. While Garrett’s act was far more extreme, and occurred in front of a national audience and in a more safety-conscious NFL time, his side is hoping for a reduced suspension. Smith was banned for two preseason games and one regular-season game. Roger Goodell‘s previous comments on Garrett do not suggest leniency is coming, however.

AFC North Notes: Jackson, JuJu, Browns, Tate

The second of the Ravens‘ two 2018 first-round picks has changed the course of their franchise, with Lamar Jackson becoming an MVP candidate barely a year after he made his first NFL start. Ravens brass took extensive measures to keep their Jackson interest secret. While John Harbaugh has said he discussed Jackson at length with his staff and scouts leading up to the 2018 draft, Eric DeCosta said he and previous Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome did not mention their interest in Jackson to the team’s scouts or coaching staff, according to Peter King of NBC Sports. Nor did the Ravens interview Jackson at the Combine, with Newsome and DeCosta wanting to keep what turned out to be an important secret. The Ravens, however, took a risk on losing Jackson by trading back twice in Round 1. Baltimore selected Hayden Hurst at No. 25 before trading back into the first round, via Philadelphia, for No. 32.

We felt like there was a pretty good chance that Lamar might be there later in the first round, early part of the second round,” DeCosta said, via King. “We were willing, if we could, to trade back, trade back, accumulate capital and then possibly either try to trade back again or in a second round, make a play and get Lamar at that point. But, you know, it was a risk.”

“We were (nervous about losing Jackson). We were. But I think you’ve got to stay as clinical in the moment as you can, and really just go with all your best information and the plan.”

Here is the latest from the AFC North:

  • Although Myles Garrett‘s appeal will take place Wednesday, the odds the Browns defensive end plays again this season appear slim. “He will not play the rest of the season,” Roger Goodell told OTG’s Gary Myers (via Pro Football Talk). “He will probably meet with us some time in the offseason. We’ll make a judgement. … Does he have remorse? Does he understand why it’s not acceptable? Do we understand what he’s going to do to make sure it doesn’t happen again?” Garrett is suspended indefinitely for striking Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph with a helmet.
  • Prior to the AFC North rivals’ game-ending fight, the Steelers saw wideouts JuJu Smith-Schuster and Diontae Johnson suffer concussions. In addition to the head injury Smith-Schuster sustained, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com reports (via Twitter) the third-year receiver also sustained a knee injury on the play that ended his night. Smith-Schuster has not missed a game this season but he’s uncertain for Pittsburgh’s Week 12 tilt against Cincinnati.
  • The Bengals observed one of their emerging wideouts stretchered off the field Sunday. Auden Tate is in concussion protocol and suffered a cervical strain, Zac Taylor said (via ESPN.com’s Ben Baby, on Twitter). Tate flew back to Cincinnati with his teammates and has appeared to escape a serious injury.

North Notes: Steelers, Burnett, Lions

If you’ve missed the latest Thursday-night game, injuries have limited the Steelers. Pittsburgh lost JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Conner; the former suffered a concussion and the latter re-injured the AC joint that sidelined him for the past two games. Both are out for the rest of the Browns game, as are cornerback Artie Burns and wideout Diontae Johnson (due to a knee injury and a concussion, respectively). This is Smith-Schuster’s third known concussion since coming into the league. He suffered two as a rookie in 2017.

Here is the latest from the North divisions:

  • Both of the Browns‘ starting safeties are out of tonight’s game. Shortly before Damarious Randall was ejected for a helmet-to-helmet hit, the Browns lost Morgan Burnett. The ex-Packers and Steelers defender suffered what the Browns fear is a significant Achilles injury, according to Adam Schefter of ESPN.com (on Twitter). After being relegated to a part-time role in his one Pittsburgh season, Burnett has been a full-time starter in Cleveland.
  • The NFL is looking into the Lions‘ handling of Matthew Stafford‘s back injury, Michael Rothstein of ESPN.com notes. Multiple Lions players were informed Saturday that Stafford would not play, but Detroit had called the quarterback a game-time decision. Stafford has been playing through back pain all season. The league requires teams to update their injury reports if it has been decided, prior to a team’s stadium arrival, a player will not play.
  • With Michael Pierce battling an injury, the Ravens bolstered their defensive tackle corps with two veteransDomata Peko and Justin Ellis.

North Notes: Vikings, Conner, JuJu, Lions

The 2017 draft class will become extension-eligible in January, and Dalvin Cook‘s contract figures to be one the key talking points once the calendar flips to the 2020 offseason. The Vikings are one of the few teams to have paid a running back top-market money, via Adrian Peterson‘s $14.4MM-AAV pact from 2011. With Cook’s contract not containing a fifth-year option like Christian McCaffrey‘s does, the Vikings will likely have to address his deal sooner than the Panthers will need to negotiate with their All-Pro candidate. Ezekiel Elliott‘s $15MM-per-year deal represents the new running back benchmark. Although Cook has been injury-prone, he will surely seek a contract in the Elliott-Todd GurleyLe’Veon BellDavid Johnson tax bracket (north of $13MM annually).

Running backs are valuable,” Cook said, via ESPN.com’s Courtney Cronin. “For guys to get rewarded for how physical, how much they get their bodies ready each and every week to go take that pounding, guys [are] getting rewarded for that. The running back value kind of went down, but I think we’re just as valuable as any position.”

Here is the latest from the North divisions:

  • Adam Thielen will not play Sunday night. The Vikings ruled out their highest-paid wide receiver for Week 10’s Cowboys contest. Thielen has dealt with this hamstring injury since Week 7, missing Minnesota’s game against the Redskins and exiting last week’s Chiefs game after seven snaps.
  • One of Cook’s 2017 draft classmates, James Conner, will also need at least another week to recover from injury. The Steelers ruled out Conner for Week 10. They also added JuJu Smith-Schuster to this week’s injury report Friday. Pittsburgh’s top wideout is questionable to face the Rams with a toe injury.
  • Lions safety Miles Killebrew suffered a concussion during Thursday’s practice, Kyle Meinke of MLive.com notes. The Lions moved Killebrew to linebacker last year, but the trade of Quandre Diggs and Tracy Walker‘s knee injury prompted the team to shift Killebrew back to safety recently. UFA addition Tavon Wilson, third-round rookie Will Harris and rookie UDFA C.J. Moore are the Lions’ only healthy safeties. Killebrew and Walker are out for Sunday’s Bears tilt
  • The Lions’ two-year extension for Christian Jones features a short-term sacrifice for a 2020 payment. The deal reduces the linebacker’s 2019 salary from $2.45MM to the veteran minimum, which will be worth approximately $426K for the season’s remainder. In exchange, Jones will receive a $1.97MM signing bonus, Michael Rothstein of ESPN.com tweets. The through-2021 deal averages $2.92MM. Detroit tacked on a voidable 2022 year, in order to spread the bonus across three seasons instead of two.

AFC Rumors: Chiefs, Raiders, Steelers

De’Anthony Thomas was arrested on suspicion of marijuana possession and drug paraphernalia possession on Saturday, according to the Allen County (Kan.) Sheriff’s Office (via KMBC.com). The Chiefs wide receiver has since been released from Allen County Jail on bond. Thomas has played his entire NFL career with the Chiefs, signing a one-year deal to return to the team in 2018 after his rookie contract expired. The wideout’s latest Kansas City deal expired after this season. Thomas, 26, landed on IR in October.

As the Patriots venture to Atlanta for Super Bowl LIII, here is the latest from the AFC:

  • Needs exist at many spots on the Raiders‘ roster, but they are expected to conduct a defense-heavy draft, Scott Bair of NBC Sports Bay Area notes. Oakland added several defenders in free agency last year, most of whom on one-year deals. The Silver and Black finished with an incredible 13 sacks — 17 fewer than the next-closest team (the Giants) this season and fewest in a season since the 2008 Chiefs, who also traded their best pass rusher that year (Jared Allen), recorded just 10 — and lack long-term answers at just about every position defensively. The Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper trades garnered the Raiders, whose own first-round pick became No. 4 overall, the Nos. 24 and 27 selections.
  • The Steelers exercised Bud Dupree‘s fifth-year option last May but have not decided on his long-term status with the team, per Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Dupree collected 5.5 sacks this season and has 20 in his career but has not lived up to his first-round billing. Dupree’s option price is $9.23MM. It would not be surprising if neither Dupree nor 2016 first-round pick Artie Burns inked second contracts with the Steelers, Fittipaldo writes. Burns’ fifth-year option decision is due in May. Considering Burns played just 308 snaps this season and will carry an option cost of close to $10MM, it would be incredibly surprising if Pittsburgh exercised it.
  • JuJu Smith-Schuster suffered an injury in Sunday’s Pro Bowl. While the Associated Press notes the injury that caused the Steelers wideout to leave the game was just a bruised knee, the second-year wideout was limping en route to the AFC team bus. Smith-Schuster may be on the verge of becoming Pittsburgh’s centerpiece receiver, should Antonio Brown be dealt. It doesn’t sound like he’ll be in danger of missing OTA time, however.
  • Included in Seth Wickersham’s must-read ESPN.com piece about the Jimmy Haslam-era Browns: a near-deal that would have added to the Browns and Texans‘ unique quarterback pipeline. After Cleveland chose Johnny Manziel in the 2014 first round, then-Browns GM Ray Farmer had to calm down a “furious” Brian Hoyer. The Texans soon called to offer their No. 33 overall pick for Cleveland’s then-starting quarterback, but Farmer declined the deal to get control of a draft that had gone haywire (with Mike Pettine leading the way for Justin Gilbert and Haslam behind the Manziel move). Hoyer played one more season with the Browns and in 2015 signed with the Texans, who used that No. 33 pick on offensive lineman Xavier Su’a-Filo.

Latest On Antonio Brown, Steelers

Not only did the Steelers produce a six-Pro Bowler team that just missed the playoffs, they are dealing with another soap opera-esque plot development involving a superstar player. Antonio Brown has been unhappy for a while, according to ESPN.com’s Jeremy Fowler, and a Steelers source informed him the situation has “gotten worse” in 2018.

Reports Brown went AWOL on the Steelers last week have now led to teammates doubting if he was legitimately injured. Some, per NFL.com’s Aditi Kinkabwala (on Twitter), are skeptical. Mike Tomlin said the Steelers ordered a Brown MRI because of knee pain but that the All-Pro wide receiver did not show up for the exam. This has ignited Brown trade rumors, and players from other teams are making pitches.

As for a trade scenario, the Steelers would eat a $21MM dead-money hit in 2019 by shipping Brown elsewhere. This cap hit could be spread over multiple years if a deal occurs after June 1. As Tom Pelissero of NFL.com points out (via Twitter), no cap ramifications exist after 2019 — barring a post-June 1 trade — but the issue of trading the best player on the team may pose a problem for Pittsburgh’s high-powered offense. The Steelers, who frequently put money on future caps via restructures, have $28MM-plus in projected 2019 cap space.

One Steelers source’s working theory about Brown’s Week 17 actions is forcing JuJu Smith-Schuster, who was voted team MVP, to act as Pittsburgh’s top receiver, per Fowler. Smith-Schuster took a major leap forward this season, his receiving average shooting up from 65.5 yards per game to 89.1 per contest. Smith Schuster’s 1,426 yards topped Brown’s total (1,297), making it the first time Brown has not led the Steelers in receiving since 2012.

Brown still made the Pro Bowl and remains an elite pass-catcher, commanding top attention from defenses and creating better matchups for his younger sidekick. Fowler adds Brown was not happy Ben Roethlisberger — the target of his latest outburst — criticized his route-running after a November loss to the Broncos.

This century, the Steelers have only made substantial long-term wide receiver commitments to Brown and Hines Ward, reaching trade agreements to unload other talented receivers and letting other capable starters walk in free agency. Brown, 31 in July, has not requested a trade. Three more seasons remaining on the four-year, $68MM extension Brown signed during the 2017 offseason. Smith-Schuster cannot be extended until after the 2019 season.

Tomlin said Drew Rosenhaus’ Sunday-morning update his client was ready to play against the Bengals — despite leaving practice and missing Saturday Steeler activities — did not go over well with him. The 12th-year Pittsburgh coach told the high-powered agent Brown playing Sunday was off the table. Tomlin did meet with Brown on Sunday morning, per Mark Kaboly of The Athletic (subscription required), but hasn’t met with him since.

Defensive end Cameron Heyward also criticized Brown’s actions, calling them “unacceptable,” while indicating the Steelers still want Brown on the team. Linemen’s responses to the Le’Veon Bell drama affected the Steelers earlier this year, and Bell is on his way to free agency.

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