Mike Tomlin

Steelers, Antonio Brown Still In Talks

Although the odds Antonio Brown is wearing a different uniform are still fairly decent, the All-Pro wide receiver continues to talk with members of the Steelers front office.

The Steelers have yet to grant Brown or agent Drew Rosenhaus permission to seek a trade. During this time, however, Brown has maintained a steady dialogue with some Steelers personnel executives, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com notes (video link), adding that the relationship remains solid between Brown and some members of the front office.

However, Brown has not discussed his situation with Kevin Colbert or Mike Tomlin, Rapoport adds. Nor has Brown returned Art Rooney II‘s phone calls since the season ended, Mark Kaboly of The Athletic notes (subscription required).

As of Monday, Brown’s preference is still to be traded. Brown has been most connected to the 49ers, the latest link being a Photoshopped image of a No. 84 49ers jersey. But not much has developed on that front since rumors the Steelers might initiate trade talks surfaced.

Brown and Tomlin obviously did not leave things in a good place after the season ended. But Rooney appears to have softened his stance about the 30-year-old superstar returning to Pittsburgh in 2019. Brown still has some support in the Steelers’ locker room as well. Rooney, however, added the caveat of likely needing to hear some sort of an apology from Brown for his Week 17 actions if the parties will move forward together.

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Latest On Antonio Brown, Steelers

On Friday, Antonio Brown, through his rep, declined to comment on prospective trade talks. However, the receiver is reportedly open to either being traded or returning to the Steelers in 2019, ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler tweets

According to Fowler, the perennial Pro Bowl pick is “open/eager” to prove he can thrive in any offense, but is fine with returning to Pittsburgh “if things shake out that way.” This comes a day after Steelers president Art Rooney II said it would be “hard to envision” Brown with the team next season.

This has all spiraled out of control fast since Brown’s blowup leading up to Week 17, which led head coach Mike Tomlin to bench him for a pivotal game against Cincinnati. Shortly thereafter, it was reported the star receiver was requesting a trade.

Thanks to the $19MM signing bonus he received in his four-year, $68MM extension and the $12.96MM restructuring bonus he later secured, cutting or trading Brown would result in a $21.12MM cap charge in 2019.

While it could be difficult to deal the wideout financially, the Steelers seem willing to explore trading Brown. Despite the hefty price tag, Brown is sure to find suitors looking to get its hands on the most consistent receiver from the last five years.

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Steelers Not Bringing Back LB Coach Joey Porter

Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin announced the team will not be renewing outside linebackers coach Joey Porter‘s contract, ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler writes

“I have informed outside linebackers coach Joey Porter that we will not renew his contract,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said in a statement. “These are difficult decisions when it comes to someone like Joey who has meant a lot to this organization as both a player and coach. I want to thank Joey for his coaching efforts over the past five years on our defensive staff. We wish him the best in his future coaching career.”

On the surface, the move seems like an odd one, seeing how the Steelers led the league in sacks in each of the past two seasons and finished third in 2015, Porter’s first year on the job. One possible explanation is the move could’ve come from above Mike Tomlin, with an ownership looking to send a message, according to Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio.

Florio notes that nowhere in Tomlin’s statement does the coach say that he initiated the move and cites Bruce Arians’ retirement in 2012 as precedent for such a move.

However, Porter has been a distraction off the field during his tenure. In 2017, the former Steelers linebacker was arrested for public drunkenness and assault, but the charges were dropped. In the past postseason, he also got into it with cornerback Adam Jones during a game.

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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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Steelers Say Antonio Brown Hasn’t Requested Trade

On Tuesday, we received conflicting word on whether Antonio Brown has requested a trade from the Steelers. For what it’s worth, head coach Mike Tomlin says that Brown has not requested a trade. 

Of course, if Brown did request a trade, it wouldn’t behoove the Steelers to confirm that’s the case. What is clear, however, is that Tomlin is angry with his star receiver. Tomlin explained that Brown was benched on Sunday against the Bengals after failing to report to the team on Saturday. When asked if he thought Brown quit on the Steelers, Tomlin said, “You can call it what you want to call it,” (via ESPN.com).

The bottom line is we were playing a significant game and he didn’t do a good enough job of communicating or being available in the hours leading up to that performance,” Tomlin said. “Obviously, there are some things within that you can infer.”

Brown signed a four-year, $68MM extension with the Steelers in 2017 and has been playing at a Hall of Fame level for several years. This year, JuJu Smith-Schuster took a giant leap forward and the two players formed a top-tier tandem. With three seasons to go on Brown’s deal, the Steelers are probably not inclined to trade him, and the wide receiver could very well cool off in the coming weeks.

Even Tomlin, who is clearly annoyed, wants to get things worked out.

There’s disappointment, there’s no denying that,” said Tomlin about his history with Brown. “On a personal level, man, I’ve just learned over the course of time, forget my personal feelings. Or the challenges that come with the position. I don’t spend a lot of time focused on that. I better not.”

Brown, 31 in July, had 104 catches for 1,297 yards plus a career-high 15 touchdowns. Those numbers put him in the Pro Bowl, but they’re actually a step back from his finest work, which includes 1,500+ yards in 2017 and 1,800+ yards in 2015. Brown was an All-Pro every year from 2014-2017, but was unable to make the cut this year.

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Latest On Antonio Brown, Steelers

The player with whom Brown got into a heated disagreement at Wednesday’s Steelers practice was indeed Ben Roethlisberger, Mark Kaboly of The Athletic reports (on Twitter).

Brown tossed a ball at Roethlisberger’s feet and walked out of a walkthrough, per Kaboly. This was a “fairly ugly” incident, per CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora (Twitter link), with Brown being viewed as the party in the wrong. The 30-year-old wideout went off over a specific (and, as of yet, unspecified) issue, Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com tweets, and has not been in the Steelers’ building in days. Roethlisberger and Brown argued, with Fowler noting Brown was the primary arguer.

It’s now believed he missed Sunday’s game against the Bengals because of this turmoil and not a knee injury.

While some of Brown’s teammates were surprised he showed up with the intention of playing Sunday, after missing meetings and a walkthrough Saturday, NFL.com’s Aditi Kinkhabwala reports (video link) others in the organization expected him to play Sunday. She confirms the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s report of Brown leaving Heinz Field at halftime.

This situation affected the Steelers’ effort in Week 17, per Kinkhabwala, who adds Brown did not show up for the Steelers’ exit meeting Monday. Mike Tomlin apparently did not address Brown’s issues today, per Kinkhabwala.

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AFC Coaching Rumors: Gase, Harbaugh, Tomlin, Joseph

We just heard that Todd Bowles is officially done, and there is a ton of other new coaching news to sort through. Ian Rapoport of NFL.com came out with a breakdown of all the notable coaching situations in the AFC, and there were some interesting nuggets. It was reported recently that Dolphins coach Adam Gase isn’t necessarily safe in Miami, and Rapoport confirms that. There’s a “legitimate possibility” that Gase “ends up out of work”, sources told Rapoport.

Mike Garafolo of NFL Network posted in a follow up tweet that Dolphins owner Stephen Ross “was pissed Sunday so everything is up for evaluation.” It won’t be the end of the world for Gase if he’s let go, as he’d immediately be a hot name and could surely land an offensive coordinator gig if not a head coaching job right away. Rapoport notes that Browns owner Jimmy Haslam “has long been a fan” of Gase, so he’d probably be a candidate in Cleveland. Gase has done a good job winning more games than expected with an injury and talent depleted roster, but it looks like Dolphins ownership might be looking for a total top to bottom reset, from the front office to quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

Here’s more from the AFC coaching ranks:

  • While the Ravens came out and announced that John Harbaugh would be back in 2019, it’s been made clear that his status in Baltimore is still up in the air. There have been reports that Harbaugh isn’t interested in signing an extension and may want to test the market. While Rapoport does confirm that’s a “real possibility”, he does note that Harbaugh’s agent Bryan Harlan was in town to begin talking with the Ravens this past Sunday. It had previously been reported the two sides hadn’t talked at all, so it seems like there’s been some progress there.
  • It’s been a frustrating year for the Steelers, and despite some fans and media types calling for Mike Tomlin’s removal, the 12th year head coach isn’t going anywhere, according to Rapoport. That being said, Rapoport writes there could be a staff shakeup, and defensive coordinator Keith Butler could be on his way out, while “several assistants could be changed out” as well.
  • While most people have assumed Vance Joseph is a goner in Denver, there is still a “slim possibility” John Elway elects to stick with Joseph for another year, according to Rapoport. While Rapsheet still expects the Broncos to ultimately move on, he notes there is a scenario in which the Broncos fire offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave, keep Joseph, and have former head coach Gary Kubiak come down from the front office and assume control of the offense. That would be a very interesting move, but at this point it still seems likely there’s an opening in the Mile High City.

 

Latest On Franchise-Tagged Players

Monday’s 3pm CT deadline for franchise-tagged players to sign extensions may come and go without one being finalized.

After a Saturday report indicated re-ups were unlikely for DeMarcus Lawrence and Ziggy Ansah, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com confirmed Ansah and the Lions won’t agree to terms by Monday afternoon and adds Lawrence is unlikely to come to terms with the Cowboys (Twitter links).

As for the other two tagged players, prospects also appear grim. Schefter reports (on Twitter) Lamarcus Joyner is not expected to reach an extension with the Rams, though he adds the sides are still discussing one. And despite Mike Tomlin‘s hopes of Le’Veon Bell finally agreeing to a Steelers accord, Schefter reports (via Twitter) that’s unlikely, too. However, the Steelers and Bell have made recent progress and will keep trying until the deadline. But this report throws some cold water on an 11th-hour solution coming to pass.

Ansah and the Lions have been far apart throughout this process, and the Lions are planning to see if their top edge defender can stay healthy and prove reliable enough for a long-term commitment. The Cowboys may be using the same strategy with their injury-prone pass rusher, despite making a stronger effort to discuss a deal with Lawrence.

Bell and the Steelers have been circling each other for years, but if the parties can’t agree by Monday afternoon, their arrangement will be a full-fledged rental situation. Bell will likely be headed toward the 2019 UFA market if the Steelers don’t sign him by Monday. The Rams’ issues with Aaron Donald‘s deal leave Joyner in a strange spot. Los Angeles possesses a league-low $2MM in cap space and has a glut of contract calls coming — Donald, Joyner, Brandin Cooks, Todd Gurley, Marcus Peters — in what will be a complicated stretch for the now-high-profile team.

Of course, by the Lions, Cowboys and Rams not agreeing on deals with their tagged performers, that ups prices down the line. Since Bell has already been twice tagged, it would cost the Steelers a staggering $20MM-plus to tag their All-Pro back again.

Ansah is going to play this season for $17.1MM, and if Lawrence indeed is still without a deal by Monday evening, he will too. Joyner will count nearly $12MM on the Rams’ payroll, while Bell’s $14.5MM 2018 salary has been well-known for months by NFL contract buffs.

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AFC North Notes: Ravens, Steelers, Ben, Bell

As the Ravens seek to repair their offense in 2018, they should target free agent tight end Jimmy Graham, opines Jamison Hensley of ESPN.com. Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco has always displayed a proclivity for throwing to tight ends, and Graham could give the Ravens a valuable weapon in the red zone (each of Graham’s 10 touchdowns all came from inside the 20). While he did score often, Graham is entering his age-32 campaign and only managed 520 receiving yards on the season. Football Outsiders‘ DVOA metric, which records value on a per-play basis, wasn’t fond of Graham either, as he ranked just 28th out of 51 qualified tight ends. However, that was a higher finish than any of Baltimore’s tight ends from a year ago. The Ravens only have $10.5MM in available 2018 cap space, so adding any free agents might be tough unless general manager Ozzie Newsome & Co. release a few veterans or restructure contracts.

Here’s more from the NFL’s two North divisions:

  • Dean Pees quickly accepted an offer to become the Titans’ defensive coordinator under new head coach Mike Vrabel shortly after “retiring” as the Ravens‘ DC, leading to questions about whether Pees was forced out of Baltimore. However, Pees said today that wasn’t the case, per Hensley (Twitter link). Pees helped the Ravens to the No. 3 defensive DVOA ranking a season ago, so it would have been surprising if head coach John Harbaugh removed Pees from his staff. Although Tennessee now employs a defensive head coach in Vrabel, Pees is expected to call the plays for the Titans.
  • With a solid core in place, the Steelers‘ personnel plan involves inking quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to a multi-year extension and signing running back Le’Veon Bell in the short-term, argues Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com. Roethlisberger wants to play for at least three more seasons, so Pittsburgh can reduce his 2018 cap charge by giving him a new signing bonus, the cap hit of which would be spread across multiple seasons. Bell, meanwhile, has a “conviction to set a healthier market for running backs,” but has indicated he’d accept the franchise tag next season.
  • Keeping stability among their most talented players is essential for the Steelers, but so is ensuring continuity on a staff that parted ways with offensive coordinator Todd Haley earlier this year. Head coach Mike Tomlin isn’t going anywhere, but as for the reports indicating a Steelers minority ownership group had pushed for Tomlin’s firing“I didn’t get that letter yet,” Steelers majority owner Art Rooney II sad, per Fowler (Twitter link). “I don’t know if it got lost in the mail or it’s coming by Pony Express.”
  • The Steelersone-year extension for punter Jordan Berry is worth $1.887MM, per salary cap guru Ian Whetstone (Twitter links). Berry had been scheduled to become a restricted free agent this offseason, and his new contract will pay him roughly the same as an original round tender. RFA tenders must increase by at least 5% each year, and given that last year’s low tender was worth $1.797MM, Berry’s salary is now equal to the 2017 original round tender plus that 5%. As such, it’s possible the Steelers have added a mechanism to Berry’s contract that will increase his pay when the tender amount is officially announced by the NFL, per Whetstone. For what it’s worth, Over the Cap projects the 2018 original round tender to come in at $1.908MM.
  • Steelers defensive backs coach Carnell Lake will not return to team in 2018, as he indicated in a statement released by Pittsburgh that he’ll move home to California as his son finishes high school. Lake is longtime Steelers fixture, as he earned multiple Pro Bowl nods and was named to one All-Pro team during his decade-long career in the Steel City. He was hired to serve as Pittsburgh’s secondary coach in 2011, and that role comprises the sum of his coaching experience. Lake is only 50 years old, so there’s a chance he returns to the coaching ranks down the road.

Steelers Minority Owners Pushing For Coaching Change

After this weekend’s defeat at the hands of the Jaguars, some Steelers minority owners are pushing for the team to fire coach Mike Tomlin, a source tells Mike Florio of PFT. This group of 13 limited partners has no authority over the management of the team, but they “have a pipeline” to main owner Art Rooney and they intend to make their case. Mike Tomlin (Vertical)

It’s unlikely that this baker’s dozen of shareholders can push out Tomlin by themselves, but they could theoretically influence Rooney to make a move if he is giving any thought to making a change. It’s not clear if that is on Rooney’s radar, even after the disappointing loss to Jacksonville.

Tomlin, of course, led the Steelers to a Super Bowl victory after the 2008 season and guided the team back to the title game after the 2010 campaign. In Tomlin’s eleven seasons at the helm, the team has missed the playoffs only three times and has never finished worse than .500. The Steelers are also not known for making hasty decisions with their coaches. The team has had only three coaches since 1969 – Chuck NollBill Cowher, and Tomlin.

 

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