Mike Tomlin

AFC North Notes: Johnson, Tomlin, Bengals

The Browns refuse to grant Duke Johnson‘s request for a trade, but the running back is expected to show for OTAs, according to Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. But the veteran Browns reporter notes Johnson was not on the field for the first session of Cleveland’s Tuesday workouts. Johnson, understandably, is concerned about his role behind rising star Nick Chubb and new pickup Kareem Hunt, although Hunt will be suspended for the first half of the season. The veteran passing-down back has drawn interest from other teams this offseason, but John Dorsey has insisted that Johnson is in the Browns’ 2019 plans. Despite Dorsey having parted ways with most of the players from previous regimes, he has kept Johnson around. The Dorsey regime extended Johnson in June of 2018. Three years remain on his deal.

Here is the latest from the AFC North:

  • It does not appear the Steelers are having second thoughts about Mike Tomlin, with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Gerry Dulac calling a Tomlin extension a “when, not if” situation. Two years remain on Tomlin’s deal, and the Steelers have made a habit of extending their coach when two years were left on previous contracts. Tomlin’s recent Steelers teams have either underachieved or were racked with turmoil, and Dulac adds it would not be unreasonable for Art Rooney II to table an extension for a year. However, Tomlin will likely receive a notable raise because of recent deals handed out to John Harbaugh ($9MM per year), Jon Gruden ($10MM AAV) and Pete Carroll (nearly $11MM annually), Dulac notes. Entering his 13th year with the Steelers, Tomlin is believed to earn just more than $7MM per year.
  • Darqueze Dennard will not participate in near-future Bengals workouts due to having undergone knee surgery earlier this offseason. The operation occurred between the time Dennard re-signed with the Bengals and their offseason program, and Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com notes the team was aware the cornerback needed this arthroscopic procedure done upon re-signing him. The current hope is the slot corner returns for Cincinnati’s minicamp next month.
  • Conversely, Tyler Eifert has been participating in the Bengals’ offseason activities thus far. The injury-prone (perhaps putting it mildly) tight end said he’s “doing pretty much everything” during Bengals workouts, Paul Dehner Jr. of the Cincinnati Enquirer writes. Eifert’s latest injury interruption came when he suffered an ugly broken ankle early last season. He underwent surgery in October. Despite the spree of setbacks, the former first-round pick stands to be (if healthy) the Bengals’ top receiving tight end.
  • Third-year Bengals defensive tackle Ryan Glasgow expects to be cleared to return by training camp, Dehner adds. The 2017 fourth-round pick tore his ACL in Week 3 of last season. Pro Football Focus offered a strong endorsement of Glasgow’s brief 2018 work sample, though it was cut short after just 92 snaps.
  • The Steelers waived offensive lineman R.J. Prince on Monday. He cleared waivers but has a Ravens workout scheduled for Wednesday, Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle tweets. A 2018 UDFA, Prince spent time on Pittsburgh’s practice squad last season.

Zach Links contributed to this post.

AFC Notes: Tomlin, Bengals, Dolphins

Michael Lombardi of The Athletic takes a deep dive into the Antonio Brown saga, and he is pretty straightforward with his thoughts on the entire situation. He certainly puts much of the blame for the acrimonious relationship between Brown and the Steelers on Brown himself, saying that the talented wideout has a tremendous combination of selfishness, all-about-me attitude, and hostility towards the only team he has ever known. As one GM recently said, Brown is a a “[g]reat talent, but a huge pain in the ass.”

However, Lombardi also says that while Brown’s behavior has driven down his price on the trade market, interested teams are doing their homework to get to the true essence of the problem. Lombardi believes the Steelers’ culture is lost, and that head coach Mike Tomlin, despite his impressive 57-29-1 record over the last five seasons, loses critical games because he and his teams fail to handle small details and do not exhibit the physical and mental toughness they need in key situations. The Rooney family does not overreact, but Lombardi suggests the imminent departures of Brown and Le’Veon Bell will lead to a thorough evaluation of Tomlin, who will need to fix his team’s culture in order to secure his future in Pittsburgh.

Now for more out of the AFC:

  • Linebacker Jon Bostic would like to return to the Steelers, but Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette says the club has no interest in re-signing Bostic. The Steelers could look to the draft to fortify their inside linebacker position, but this year’s collegiate crop of ILBs is a bit thin. Pittsburgh also needs to address its cornerback depth chart, but Dulac suggests the free agent market could be a better option in that regard given the club’s poor history of drafting CBs under Tomlin. Of course, the Steelers will use much of their time at this week’s Scouting Combine to explore the trade market for Brown.
  • The Bengals have historically been pretty conservative on the free agent market under owner Mike Brown, and Katherine Terrell of ESPN.com does not believe that will change going forward, even though Cincinnati has a new head coach for the first time in 16 years (Twitter link). That is in keeping with a piece that the Cincinnati Enquirer published several days ago.
  • The Dolphins have plenty of holes to fill during this year’s draft, and as Adam H. Beasley of the Miami Herald writes, Clemson’s Clelin Ferrell could be a perfect fit for the team’s pass rush if the Fins do not use their first-round pick on a QB. Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald, citing the NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah, says Miami should be able to build its O-line throughout the draft, and that the team was not particularly impressed by West Virginia signal-caller Will Grier. Jackson also explores the Dolphins’ other options for their No. 13 overall pick, including trade-back scenarios.
  • Jim Wyatt of TitansOnline.com expects the Titans to sign a wideout and an interior lineman in free agency and to address those positions in the draft as well. The team may be getting Delanie Walker back in time for OTAs, but Wyatt also believes the Titans will add at least one TE to the mix, and he expects Tennessee will try to re-sign Luke Stocker.

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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