Steelers Rumors

Steelers Exercise Bud Dupree’s Option

The Steelers have exercised the fifth-year option on linebacker Bud Dupree, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets. Dupree’s option was considered likely to be exercised, but it was not a slam dunk decision. 

[RELATED: PFR’s 2019 Fifth-Year Option Tracker]

Dupree, 25, had a career highs in sacks (6) and total tackles (40) last season. However, he missed more than half of 2016 with a groin injury and was inconsistent as a rookie. They now believe the former 2015 first-round pick is on track for a solid career, so they’ll extend his deal through 2019 with a salary of $9.2MM+ in the final year.

Dupree is slated to return as the Steelers’ starting left outside linebacker with T.J. Watt on the opposite side and Vince Williams and offseason pickup Jonathan Bostic in the middle. The Steelers could target an ILB in the draft to start ahead of Bostic, but Dupree’s spot is secure.

For what it’s worth, the advanced metrics at Pro Football Focus have never been high on the Kentucky product. Last year, his 49.0 overall score ranked him as the eighth-worst qualified edge defender in the NFL.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Steelers Met With S Jessie Bates

Steelers LB Anthony Chickillo Signs RFA Tender

Anthony Chickillo will be back in Pittsburgh next season. Pro Football Talk reports that the outside linebacker has signed his $1.907MM restricted free agent tender with the Steelers (via ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler on Twitter).

The 2015 sixth-round pick out of Miami has spent his entire three-year career with the Steelers. He appeared in only seven games during his rookie campaign, but he played a much bigger role for the team in 2016, compiling 2.5 sacks. He appeared in a career-high 16 games (two starts) in 2017, collecting 19 tackles and three sacks. Pro Football Focus wasn’t particularly fond of his performance last season, as his grade would have ranked him in the bottom-10 among edge defenders had he earned enough snaps.

Chickillo will presumably slide back into his rotational pass rusher role in 2018. The 25-year-old will also serve as insurance behind starting outside linebackers Bud Dupree and T.J. Watt.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Steelers LB Anthony Chickillo Signs Tender

Steelers linebacker Anthony Chickillo is officially back in the fold. The 25-year-old has inked his restricted tender, a source tells Mike Florio of PFT (on Twitter). 

Chickillo, a 2015 sixth-round pick, appeared in seven games for the Steelers as a rookie but primarily contributed on special teams. In his sophomore year, he stepped into a larger role with the team. Chickillo has appeared in all but one of the club’s regular season games over the past two years and has tallied 38 total tackles and 5.5 sacks in that span.

In other Steelers news, running back Le’Veon Bell was a no-show (as expected) for the start of the team’s offseason program.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Le’Veon Bell Doesn’t Report For Steelers Workouts

Franchise-tagged running back Le’Veon Bell did not report for the beginning of the Steelers offseason workout program, according to Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com.

Bell wasn’t expected to attend Pittsburgh’s workout sessions, which are voluntary, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be staying in shape. Per Fowler, Bell will workout “rigorously” on his own over the next several months in lieu of showing up at official team meetings.

Staying clear of team workouts is typically standard practice for franchise players who have yet to sign their tenders. After Lions defensive Ezekiel Ansah inked his tag on Tuesday, Bell now stands as the only tagged player who is not officially under contract.

The Steelers and Bell have until July to work out a long-term agreement, but negotiations — as they did in 2017, when Bell was also assigned the franchise tag — have lived of the brink of contentiousness. As of late March, contract talks were on hold, and it’s unclear if the two sides have resumed negotiations since. Bell has already said he has no plans to sit out the 2018 season, but he will likely stay away until the preseason is concluded.

Bell, of course, is arguably the most dynamic offensive weapon in the NFL. In 2017, the 26-year-old Bell led the league with 321 carries while posting 1,291 rushing yards and nine scores. He also totaled a whopping 85 receptions and 655 yards in the passing game.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Former Steelers LB James Harrison Retires

Former Steelers great James Harrison is calling it a career. The linebacker, who most recently suited up for the Patriots, announced on Instagram that he is retiring from football. 

Of course, we’ve been down this road before with Harrison. The linebacker also “retired” in 2014, only to return months later and play for another four seasons. This time, his announcement comes with the hashtag “#2ndAndFinalRetirement.” Harrison cites his family as the primary reason for his retirement, stating that he has “missed way too much for way too long.”

Earlier this month, Harrison indicated that he would wait until after the draft to sign with a team. It’s possible that the veteran, who will turn 40 in May, didn’t find the kind of interest that he was expecting.

Harrison leaves the game after a remarkable 17-season career. After going undrafted in 2002, the undersized linebacker hooked on with the Steelers and spent the bulk of his first two seasons on and off their practice squad. In between stints with Pittsburgh, he also spent time with the Ravens and the Rhein Fire of the NFL Europe.

Over time, Harrison developed into a key player for the Steelers, but it was not until 2007 that he became a full-fledged starter. In that season, he earned his first of five Pro Bowl appearances. The veteran would go on to win two Super Bowls with the Steelers as the anchor of their defense and secure two First-Team All-Pro nods.

Harrison spent the vast majority of his career in black and yellow, but also suited up for the Bengals in 2013 and wrapped up his career with the Patriots in 2017 when he was surprisingly cut late in the season by Pittsburgh.

We here at PFR wish Harrison the best in retirement.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Draft Notes: Key, Jackson, Kirk, Price, Patriots

Former LSU defensive end and top draft prospect Arden Key has told teams that he has been sober for more than a year, ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler writes.

This is big news from a player who has been speculated to have off-the-field concerns. Key is supposedly being up front with the teams about his issues, which included taking a leave of absence from the Tigers for four months beginning in February 2017 for personal reasons. He will not disclose the reasoning for that absence with the media — which is his right — but is reportedly laying it all out in front of teams.

Rated as one of the top prospects before the start of the 2017 season, Key is now viewed mostly as a potential late-first-round pick, but more likely to go off the board on second day of the draft.

Noted pass rush coach Chuck Smith is a big fan of Key, saying he is a threat to challenge for double-digit sacks the moment he enters the league. His honesty with teams and ability to stay sober for more than a year could put teams more at ease about taking a shot on the talented pass rusher.

Here’s more surrounding the draft:

  • Texas A&M wide receiver Christian Kirk visited with the Steelers on Friday, Joe Rutter of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review writes. Kirk has also visited with the Seahawks and Panthers, a pair of teams in need of a receiver. The Steelers seem set at the position with Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster but have not been shy about adding to a loaded receiver position in the past.
  • Former Cardinals head coach and quarterback guru Bruce Arians is a big fan of Louisville product Lamar Jackson, Bob McManaman of AZ Central writes. “I think Lamar puts the time in. He’s going to get better, and he just brings that unique ability to break the game open with his legs. Because he does it. He sits in there and flips it up the field,” Arians said. “He’s been in a pro-style offense. He’s more of a scrambler with designed runs. I don’t think I’d design runs for him. I would just let him, a la Russell Wilson, take what’s there, and whoosh, take off running.” The Cardinals could have interest in Jackson at the No. 15 spot in the upcoming draft.
  • In a panel piece on ESPN, a host of writers tabbed left tackle as the position the team should focus on in the first round if everything were to fall perfectly. With the team owning the 23rd and 31st picks, New England could potentially address the position by taking Notre Dame’s Mike McGlinchey late in the first round. The tackle is rated by many pundits as the best at the position this year.
  • Ohio State center/guard Billy Price had his NFL Combine medical recheck on Friday, Darren Wolfson of KSTP 5 News reports (Twitter link). He notes the potential first-round pick is expected to receive full clearance soon.

Latest On Steelers, Le’Veon Bell

While the Steelers are putting off their latest round of Le’Veon Bell negotiations until after the draft, the running back specified the offer he received last year.

Bell said the Steelers offered him a deal at last July’s deadline that averaged $13.3MM per year, Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com reports. This differs slightly from the reports that emerged indicating Bell turned down a deal that would have paid him $30MM over the first two years.

Fowler reports Bell increased his asking price in time for the 2018 negotiations, and that caused the Steelers to step back (via another franchise tag) and reassess where they stand with their All-Pro running back.

It’s logical Bell’s price would go up, given his 2018 tag number being $14.5MM instead of $12.1MM and that the cap now resides at $177MM. A report earlier this week said Bell may be looking for $17MM AAV, but Fowler said that’s probably just a negotiating tactic rather than a baseline price. He expects the 26-year-old back’s floor remains the $14.5MM franchise tag number, with it possibly taking more than $15MM per year to seal the deal.

The Steelers have increased their offer to Bell over the past year, and Fowler adds that while the Steelers have yet to decide if they want to pay a running back $15MM per year, the gap is not wide enough to rule out an agreement by this year’s July deadline. Fowler fully expects these talks to run up to that midsummer date. With the Steelers expected to continue their practice of making the only guaranteed portion of a deal being the signing bonus, Bell is concerned with a contract’s per-year average as well as its guarantees.

He adds that this may look like a Kirk Cousins situation but differentiates the two setups by noting the Steelers are fully confident Bell is an elite player. However, Pittsburgh decision-makers are concerned about setting a league-wide precedent of paying running backs what Bell is asking when the most a currently signed back makes per year is barely north of $8MM.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Latest On Le'Veon Bell

Is Le’Veon Bell looking for $17MM/year? There have been rumblings about the running back looking for a salary equivalent to Antonio Brown‘s, but as Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com understands it, that’s not quite the case. When asked earlier this offseason about how much he would need to take the field, the Steelers star said he wouldn’t take anything less than $14.5MM annually (the value of his franchise tender) over the course of a long-term deal. That answer implies that a deal could be reached for roughly $15MM/year, which may be more realistic.

  • The Steelers seem serious about exploring their running back options in the draft, Fowler writes. Their interest in LSU star Derrius Guice seems genuine, which indicates that the team is prepared for any possible outcome with Bell.

Minor NFL Transactions: 4/9/18

Here are today’s minor moves.

Detroit Lions

Indianapolis Colts

Kansas City Chiefs

Oakland Raiders

Pittsburgh Steelers

  • Signed: OL Joseph Cheek
  • Signed: OL Larson Graham
  • Signed: OL Parker Collins

Tennessee Titans

Washington Redskins