Steelers Rumors

Extra Points: Anthem, Giants, Rams

Last month, the NFL changed its rules regarding the national anthem, allowing players who choose to not stand to remain in the locker room. So far, the new policy has not been well-received, and this week a group of civil rights organizations asked the NFL to eliminate the new rule.

This policy represses peaceful, non-disruptive protest of police violence against unarmed African Americans and other people of color,” the various groups wrote (via USA Today). “It is disappointing that a league built on grit and competition lacks the constitution to stomach a call for basic equality and fairness.”

The groups want to meet with Roger Goodell to discuss the situation, but it’s not clear whether he’ll take them up on their offer, or if the league is willing to change course on its decision.

Here’s more from around the NFL:

Joshua Dobbs Steelers' Odd Man Out?

The NFL is still investigating Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston for allegedly groping an Uber driver in 2016. It’s been seven months since an unnamed woman’s allegation surfaced, but NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said (via Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times) the matter “remains under review.” Winston has long denied any wrongdoing, but even if no charges were brought, the fourth-year quarterback could face NFL discipline. The Bucs open the season with games against the Saints, Eagles and Steelers. They re-signed Ryan Fitzpatrick, who started three games last season, in preparation for this, Stroud notes, adding that they believe the 35-year-old veteran is the best option to navigate that stretch if Winston is suspended. Of course, if the Bucs go into training camp without knowing if Winston will be suspended, it could make allocating reps difficult.

Roethlisberger Not Pursuing 2018 Extension

While Aaron Rodgers‘ deal has received the most publicity for being outdated among quarterback contracts, Ben Roethlisberger‘s 2015 extension is looking more Steelers-friendly than it did a year ago.

Signed to a four-year deal that pays him $21.85MM on average, Pittsburgh’s franchise quarterback is now well off the pace Matt Ryan ($30MM AAV) is now setting. Roethlisberger’s deal came in below Rodgers’ current contract ($22MM per year) and now sits 12th on the quarterback hierarchy.

The Steelers have a policy of not renegotiating contracts that have more than one year remaining on them. Although, Kevin Colbert said earlier this offseason a Roethlisberger 2018 extension isn’t off the table. Pittsburgh, however, shouldn’t expect a contentious battle from the signal-caller just yet.

I have two years on my contract. I’m not going to be one to sit here and worry about my contract,” Roethlisberger said, via Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com. “That’s not my job. My job is to play football. I’ll let my representation, the Steelers worry about all that stuff. To me, it’s all about going out and playing now. I think there are a lot more, maybe a lot more important people who need to get their deals done now.

For me to do it two years out, if it doesn’t make sense for the team, I’m not going to sit here and worry about it.”

Surely alluding to Le’Veon Bell‘s impasse with the team, one that is less than a month from a possible point of no return that is the tag deadline, Roethlisberger doesn’t sound like he’s going to pursue a extension until after this year. He’ll be entering a contract year in 2019 just as Ryan was before his record-breaking re-up, thus increasing his leverage. While Roethlisberger be 37 shortly after this season concludes, the Steelers’ Super Bowl window may well coincide with his employment.

The 15th-year quarterback also doesn’t foresee himself gunning for the kind of contract that would make it difficult for the Steelers, a franchise that relies on extensions due to a philosophy that largely eschews free agency, to keep core performers.

It’s important, too, to understand as quarterback of this team, sometimes you almost have to leave a little bit of money behind for other guys,” Roethlisberger said, via Fowler. “That’s not my job, that’s not my thing to worry about. That’s why I have agents.”

The 36-year-old quarterback is now not debating retirement like he was after the 2017 offseason. He said quickly after the ’17 season ended he intended to play in 2018, and talk of another Steelers extension emerged soon after. Big Ben also grumbled, to some degree, the Steelers drafted Mason Rudolph in Round 3 rather than a player who could immediately help the contending team.

Roethlisberger wants the Steelers to extend center Maurkice Pouncey and right tackle Marcus Gilbert. Both have two years left on their deals and are now seeing their quarterback issue a low-key ultimatum regarding their futures with the team.

I know in two years, Pouncey, Gilbert, there are other very important guys up that I hope get taken care of,” Roethlisberger said. “Because if they aren’t here, I’m not here. That’s the way it is; they are that good.”

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Tyler Matakevich To Be Given Every Opportunity To Start

No Talks Between Steelers, Le’Veon Bell

The Steelers tabled Le’Veon Bell extension discussions until after the draft, but six weeks later, the sides have not resumed dialogue on this topic, Mark Kaboly of The Athletic reports (subscription required). The lack of progress is concerning with less than one month to go until the deadline for franchise-tagged players to sign an extension. 

[RELATED – Poll: Which AFC North Team Had The Best Offseason?]

Bell has stayed away from the Steelers this offseason as he pushes for a multi-year deal to reset the market for running backs. Bell has said he has no plans to sit out the 2018 season, but that threat could surface once again if the two sides are far apart on terms when July 16 approaches.

If Bell doesn’t sign by the deadline, he will play on the franchise tag for the second straight year. This time around, it will be for $14.5MM, representing a 20% increase from 2017. Without a long-term deal, that could spell Bell’s final year in Pittsburgh. If nothing is agreed upon by mid-July, the Steelers cannot resume talks with Bell until after the season. At that point, they’ll be competing with an eager open market.

Theoretically, the Steelers can franchise tag Bell for a third consecutive season, but the increased cost would be prohibitive. The transition tag is also an option, though another team would likely offer Bell a contract that the Steelers are unable to match.

Bell is looking for a contract that will pay him as the best running back in the game while also reflecting his performance as a No. 2 wide receiver. Last year, the Steelers reportedly offered him a $60MM deal with $42.5MM in the first three years of the pact, though it’s not clear how much of that deal was fully guaranteed.

Last year, Bell nearly racked up 2,000 all-purpose yards. If he didn’t sit out the team’s meaningless Week 17 contest, he likely would have gotten the 54 yards necessary to hit that milestone.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Poll: Which AFC North Team Had The Best Offseason?

Over the past week we’ve asked you which AFC West and NFC West team had the best offseason. Another division with a lively past few months has been the AFC North. All four teams drafted quarterbacks, and all four teams changed one of their coordinators. Here’s a quick recap:

The Browns had the most high profile offseason. Holding the number one and four overall picks, the Browns and their draft plans were the topics of endless offseason discussion. When the draft finally came, they ended up taking quarterback Baker Mayfield and cornerback Denzel Ward with those picks. They made a string of splashy trades, acquiring Jarvis Landry, Tyrod Taylor, and Damarious Randall. They were also very active in free agency, signing Carlos Hyde, Chris Hubbard, E.J. Gaines, and Drew Stanton among others. Cleveland did have some significant departures with Joe Thomas retiring, Isaiah Crowell signing with the Jets, and DeShone Kizer traded for Randall. They also added an offensive coordinator for the first time under coach Hue Jackson, hiring Todd Haley after he was not retained by the Steelers. It’s been a long time since there was a competitive Browns team, but with all the offseason moves GM John Dorsey has made, this should be the most talented Browns team in recent memory.

The Ravens joined the Browns in drafting a quarterback in the first round, taking Lamar Jackson 32nd overall. Joe Flacco remains the starter for now, but it won’t be long before Jackson is pushing him. After Dean Pees retired, the team promoted Don Martindale to replace him as defensive coordinator. The team released Jeremy Maclin and signed Michael Crabtree to replace him, also adding John Brown and Willie Snead to further bolster their receiving corp. They also signed Robert Griffin III, who will be fighting for a roster spot this summer. Other than that, they were mostly quiet during free agency, and didn’t make many trades. It will be virtually the same Ravens team taking the field in 2018 as they seek to build on their 9-7 record from last season when they just barely missed the playoffs due to tiebreakers.

The Steelers also drafted their potential quarterback of the future, taking Mason Rudolph in the third round. They notably let Haley walk due to years of disagreements with Ben Roethlisberger, replacing him by promoting quarterbacks coach Randy Fichtner. They used their first round pick on safety Terrell Edmunds and took wide receiver James Washington in the second. Other than that, they were mostly quiet, not signing any well-known free agents other than linebacker Jon Bostic. The Steelers elected mostly to return the same team that has dominated the division in recent years.

The Bengals had the most low profile spring. They signed defensive tackle Chris Baker and signed Matt Barkley to replace A.J. McCarron as Andy Dalton‘s backup. They swapped first round picks with the Bills to acquire offensive tackle Cordy Glenn, who the team hopes will help shore up the offensive line deficiencies they’ve faced the last couple of seasons. They took center Billy Price in the first round, and lost their defensive coordinator Paul Guenther to the Raiders. They hired Teryl Austin away from the Lions to replace him. The Bengals will have to hope that Dalton can have a career renaissance and bring them back to being the team that made the playoffs five straight years not too long ago. They’re currently projected by many to finish last in the AFC North, but have the talent to potentially make some noise.

Which team do you think had the best offseason in the AFC North? Vote in PFR’s poll below and weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section!

Steelers Notes: Brown, Dobbs, Boswell, Bell

Antonio Brown missed eight out of 10 OTA practices held by the Steelers. While a star player missing OTAs certainly isn’t uncommon, it is for Brown. As laid out by Mark Kaboly of The Athletic, Brown is a “football junkie”and him missing OTAs is something that’s very out of character. Kaboly writes that he “couldn’t tell you the last time that he missed a training camp practice or a regular-season practice” and that “in Brown’s eight previous seasons he may have missed two total OTAs.”

Kaboly notes that even in past seasons where Brown was unhappy with his contract and demanding a new one, he still showed up for OTAs. So what’s responsible for Brown’s sudden prolonged absence from the voluntary portions of the Steelers’ offseason program?

It’s anyone’s guess, but it’s surely a distraction Mike Tomlin and the rest of the Steelers’ coaching staff would rather not have.

Here’s more from Pittsburgh:

  • Kaboly thinks quarterback Josh Dobbs is a near certainty to not make the 53-man roster. Despite being taken in the fourth round last year, the Steelers appeared to throw in the towel on Dobbs by taking Mason Rudolph in the third round this year. Kaboly writes that Landry Jones is locked in as the backup quarterback and that “there is no impending camp battle” for the position. With Rudolph assured a spot as the number three, Dobbs is very likely to be cut as the Steelers “always keep only three quarterbacks” notes Kaboly.
  • Wide receiver Marcus Tucker has a “real shot” at making the team, according to Kaboly. Tucker has spent the last two seasons on the Steelers’ practice squad and “was one of the best receivers during OTAs” he writes.
  • During a recent Q & A with fans, Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote that he thinks the Steelers will extend kicker Chris Boswell this offseason, but not running back Le’Veon Bell. Both Boswell and Bell are set to be free agents after the year, but Bouchette thinks the Steelers will again play it year-to-year with Bell.

Latest On Ryan Shazier

Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier will not play in 2018 after suffering a devastating spinal injury in 2017, but he today reiterated his desire to resume his career at some point, per Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Twitter link). Meeting with the media for the first time since his injury, Shazier took an optimistic tone, but it’s unclear if he’ll ever realistically have the chance to step on the field as a player again. Pittsburgh has already placed him on the physically unable to perform list, meaning he’s now ineligible to play during the upcoming campaign. In something of a goodwill gesture, the Steelers also converted the majority of Shazier’s 2018 base salary into a signing bonus, allowing the former first-round pick to collect his entire paycheck immediately.

Jon Bostic Opens Steelers OTAs As Backup

  • Tyler Matakevich underwent surgery to repair three areas — his rotator cuff, labrum and a biceps muscle — repaired shortly after the Steelers‘ divisional-round loss to the Jaguars. And the Steelers subsequently signed Jon Bostic, seemingly to replace Ryan Shazier this season. However, Joe Rutter of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review notes Matakevich was the first-string inside linebacker alongside Vince Williams throughout OTAs this week. While this situation is likely far from being settled, the Steelers holding a competition between a 2016 seventh-round pick and a sixth-year veteran who started 14 games last season is interesting.

Justin Hunter Impressing, Hopes To Compete For No. 3 WR Role

  • Steelers‘ 2018 second-round choice James Washington is the presumptive favorite to assume the team’s No. 3 WR job following the draft-day trade of Martavis Bryant. But as Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com writes, Justin Hunter — a former second-round pick of the Titans whose star never rose like some expected — has been getting a few first-team reps during this year’s OTAs, and he is making the most of them. Hunter, like Bryant, is a lanky deep threat capable of making plays downfield, and he hopes to become a consistent target for Ben Roethlisberger.