Steelers Rumors

JuJu Smith-Schuster Changes Agents

JuJu Smith-Schuster essentially tabled his free agency until 2022, re-signing with the Steelers on a one-year deal. He will have a new agency negotiating his next contract.

The fifth-year wide receiver will move from Roc Nation Sports to the Wasserman agency (Twitter link). Roc Nation had represented Smith-Schuster for years. Going into a second straight contract year, however, the Pro Bowl wideout changed his strategy.

A reduced salary cap depressed the market for most players, and Smith-Schuster was no exception. Although the Ravens are believed to have offered more, with the Chiefs entering the mix as well, Smith-Schuster opted to re-sign with the Steelers on a one-year, $8MM deal. Several marquee UFAs agreed to one-year pacts, but the cap is expected to balloon north of $200MM in 2022. Teams look set to have more money to spend next year, and more long-term contracts will likely be offered.

The Steelers will have exclusive negotiating rights with Smith-Schuster until next year’s legal tampering period, which will take place two days before the start of the 2022 league year. It will be difficult to see Smith-Schuster signing a long-term extension before retesting the market. The 24-year-old receiver was not expected to be back with the Steelers in 2021, however. Pittsburgh has both Smith-Schuster and James Washington going into walk years, with Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool signed beyond 2021.

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Mason Rudolph Wants To Start For Steelers in 2022

The Steelers have an uncertain future under center beyond this season. Ben Roethlisberger was almost pushed out after 2020, before a restructure was worked out to bring him back for one more year.

The team hasn’t anointed a clear heir apparent, but Mason Rudolph is making it clear he wants it to be him. “That’s my goal, to be a starting quarterback in this league, and for my team,” Rudolph said Tuesday, via Brooke Pryor of ESPN.com (Twitter link).

Rudolph hasn’t exactly looked like a franchise quarterback during his pro starts to date, but he does have the advantage of being the only Pittsburgh signal-caller under contract for 2022 at the moment. The Steelers recently gave him a one-year extension through 2022 worth $5MM with a $2MM signing bonus.

That’s not insignificant money, so Rudolph could have a real shot at succeeding Roethlisberger. Most likely, the team just wanted to make sure they had a somewhat competent insurance option.

Rudolph received eight starts in 2019 due to Roethlisberger’s season-ending elbow injury, but was ineffective and benched a couple of times in favor of UDFA Devlin Hodges.

He was better in his lone 2020 start in Week 17 when the Steelers rested starters against the Browns, but still isn’t the most inspiring option as a full-time starter. He’ll turn 26 next month. The Steelers also have Dwayne Haskins and Joshua Dobbs on the roster for 2020.

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Steelers Interested In Malik Hooker 

Safety Malik Hooker met with the Steelers on Thursday, according to (Twitter link via NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport). So far, that’s three known visits for the former first-round pick. 

Hooker should find a home soon, now that we’re beyond May 3rd. From this point forward, teams can sign veterans like Hooker without a negative impact on their compensatory pick formula.

The Ohio State product was plagued by injury trouble throughout his Colts tenure. Still, he showed promise during his healthier stretches. After a seven-game rookie season, Hooker graded as Pro Football Focus’ No. 14 ranked safety in 2018. That year, he suited up for 14 games and notched 44 stops with four passes defensed and two interceptions. Hooker followed that up with 13 games in 2019, but saw his 2020 mostly erased by an Achilles tear.

The Steelers have Minkah Fitzpatrick and Terrell Edmunds set to start with Antoine Brooks Jr., Miles Killebrew and seventh-round pick Tre Norwood in the backup mix. The Steelers turned down Edmunds’ fifth-year option for 2022, so there could be a long-term opportunity for Hooker in Pittsburgh, even if he initially inks a one-year deal.

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Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger On Pay Cut, Future

Ben Roethlisberger is back for his 18th season with the Steelers. It’s fair to wonder if this is his last, but Big Ben says he’s taking things one step at a time, like always. 

I’m going to approach this like I do every season: like it’s my last,” Roethlisberger said (Twitter link via NFL.com’s Aditi Kinkhabwala). “I think that’s the approach you have to take, and you don’t approach it that way because it could be your last, but you approach it because every single play in the game of football could be your last…That just means I’m going out to give it everything I have. I’ve never looked toward the future. I’ve always looked toward the right here and now. That’s what’s important for me for this season is giving everything I have right here and right now for this group of guys.”

After being limited to just two games in 2019, Roethlisberger struggled throughout 2020. After the season, he agreed to slash his salary by $5MM. Many believed that the Steelers would have gone in another direction otherwise. But, according to Big Ben, he volunteered to do it.

(The pay cut) was my idea,” he said. “I told them I wanted to help the team out however we can, and so I went to them and told them I would do whatever I could to help the team sign the guys that are going to help us win football games….I wanted to come back to be a part of what I think is a special football team that everyone’s overlooking. In order to do that, to help get guys here, I felt that it was necessary to do that.”

Whether it was the Steelers’ idea or Big Ben’s idea, the speculation can be put in the rear view mirror. Roethlisberger is set to lead the way once again in 2020 and, thanks to JuJu Smith-Schuster‘s own home team discount, he’ll have his top target along for the ride.

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Steelers Sign Round 2 TE Pat Freiermuth

The Steelers are nearly done signing their 2021 draft picks. Shortly after they agreed to terms with first-rounder Najee Harris, the Steelers announced second-round selection Pat Freiermuth signed his rookie deal.

Freiermuth played three seasons at Penn State and declared for the draft after his junior year. Staying in Pennsylvania to start his pro career, Freiermuth profiles as Pittsburgh’s long-term tight end hopeful. Eric Ebron remains on the Steelers’ roster, but he is under contract through the end of the 2021 season only. Feiermuth is set to earn $6MM over four years, with a $1.74MM signing bonus.

Penn State used Freiermuth frequently in the red zone; the 6-foot-5 tight end totaled 15 touchdown receptions between his freshman and sophomore seasons. Freiermuth topped out at 507 receiving yards as a sophomore but still managed north of 300 in a four-game 2020 slate. He suffered a shoulder injury that required surgery last November. Even playing just three seasons, one of which abbreviated by injury and the COVID-19 pandemic, Freiermuth totaled 16 career touchdown catches — a Penn State tight end record.

Despite glaring offensive line needs, the Steelers went with Freiermuth with the No. 55 overall pick. That certainly reveals confidence he could become their sought-after Heath Miller replacement as a long-term option at the position. Of the Steelers’ draftees, only third-rounder Kendrick Green is unsigned.

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Steelers Sign First-Round Pick Najee Harris

The Steelers have their guy. Pittsburgh has officially signed first-round pick running back Najee Harris to his rookie contract, the team announced Tuesday.

It’ll be a four-year deal worth a fully guaranteed $13.1MM for the 24th overall pick. Harris will collect a signing bonus of $6.85MM. Harris to the Steelers was one of the most buzzed about connections leading up to the draft, and the rumors turned out to be accurate. He was the first running back off the board, taken one pick before Clemson’s Travis Etienne.

Pittsburgh was widely expected to draft a runner early, as they’ve emphasized the need for a revamped ground game after they got nothing from their rushing attack in 2020. They let James Conner walk in free agency, and opted for the former Alabama star to replace him.

Harris will slot in as the team’s immediate starter, and the Steelers are reportedly planning on having him play a big role as a pass-catcher. The California native rushed for a ridiculous 26 touchdowns last season, and averaged at least 5.8 yards per carry in all four of his college seasons.

He’ll now be lining up behind and next to Ben Roethlisberger, at least for one season. Harris has the talent to be a top back in the league, the question now is how the Steelers’ new-look offensive line will perform.

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NFL Draft Pick Signings: 5/18/21

A roundup of today’s mid-round draft pick signings:

Jacksonville Jaguars

Los Angeles Chargers

Pittsburgh Steelers

Steelers Unlikely To Add At Left Tackle

  • Continuing recent tradition, the Raiders surprised draft viewers with their first-round pick. The Jon GrudenMike Mayock regime chose Alex Leatherwood 17th overall. The Alabama tackle was viewed by most as a major reach; Scouts Inc. rated him as this draft’s 60th-best prospect. The Raiders may have been leery of two teams eyeing Leatherwood in the back half of Round 1, however. The Steelers and Vikings had Leatherwood on their respective radars, per Fowler. The Vikings drafted Virginia Tech’s Christian Darrisaw (Scouts Inc.’s No. 20 overall prospect) at No. 23. Pittsburgh preferred him to most of the draft’s second-tier tackles, but the team appeared locked in on ex-Leatherwood teammate Najee Harris at No. 24. Leatherwood is expected to work as a right tackle in Las Vegas.
  • Although the Steelers’ depth chart has the look of one that would benefit from a veteran tackle addition, they do not appear to be eyeing one in the post-draft period of free agency. Despite Alejandro Villanueva defecting to the Ravens and the Steelers not drafting a tackle before Round 4, the team likes its left tackle setup, Mark Kaboly of The Athletic notes (subscription required). Pittsburgh lost three O-line starters — Villanueva, Maurkice Pouncey and Matt Feiler — this offseason and is planning to move right tackle Chukwuma Okorafor to the left side. Pro Football Focus viewed Okorafor as one of the league’s worst tackles in 2020, grading him 70th at the position. Okorafor spent the 2018 and ’19 seasons as a backup, moving into the Steelers’ starting lineup after Zach Banner‘s Week 1 ACL tear. Banner has re-signed and is expected to compete for the right tackle job.

Eagles Sign Ryan Kerrigan

Ryan Kerrigan is staying in the NFC East. On Monday morning, Kerrigan bid farewell to the Washington Football Team. And, minutes later, we learned that he’s agreed to join up with the Eagles (Twitter link via NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport). The Eagles have since confirmed the signing as a one-year deal. 

I’ll never be able to sum up what these past ten years have meant to me in an Instagram post, but what I can say is that they have been some of the best of my life,” Kerrigan wrote (Instagram link). “I hope you had as much fun watching me as I did playing for you. Thank you, Washington, for everything.”

Up until now, the former first-round pick had spent his entire career in D.C. Along the way, he collected four Pro Bowl nominations and 95.5 sacks to top Dexter Manley for the franchise record. Kerrigan started every game for his first nine seasons with the club. But, last year, he was mostly relegated to a reserve role and notched just 5.5 sacks for Ron Rivera. As a result, it was widely expected that he would move on.

Now, the 32-year-old (33 in August) will suit up for his longtime rival. The Steelers and Bengals (Twitter link via ESPN.com’s Adam Schefter) also showed interest, but he felt that the Eagles would be his best fit. Currently, he profiles as the Birds’ No. 4 DE, likely behind Brandon Graham, Derek Barnett, and Josh Sweat.

With Kerrigan off the board, other edge-needy teams can still consider the likes of Melvin Ingram, Justin Houston, Everson Griffen, Olivier Vernon, Ezekiel Ansah, Dion Jordan, and Adrian Clayborn.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

NFL Draft Pick Signings: 5/15/21

Here are the latest rookies to agree to terms on their four-year contracts. The Steelers were busy on this front Saturday.

Houston Texans

Los Angeles Chargers

Pittsburgh Steelers