- The buzz about Donte Moncrief becoming Ben Roethlisberger‘s No. 2 target continues, with Mark Kaboly of The Athletic (subscription required) calling it a “slam dunk” the former Colts and Jaguars wideout will be the Steelers’ WR2. It still figures to be a collaborative effort replacing one of this generation’s best players, Antonio Brown, but it looks like Moncrief’s offseason has him in position to lead that charge.
- Artie Burns‘ standing in Pittsburgh is certainly not on the same level, and the Steelers face a decision on the underwhelming first-round cornerback. The team has until the third day of training camp to waive Burns and save $800K, but Kaboly notes that if the fourth-year corner has not yet been cut, the Steelers are probably planning to give him another shot. Regardless, Kaboly expects this to be Burns’ final year in Pittsburgh.
No extension discussions have commenced between Joe Haden and the Steelers, but that seems to be where this is headed. After a pre-draft report indicated a Haden re-up could be in the cards this year, the veteran cornerback said he wants to re-sign with the Steelers. Haden expects conversations to take place when or around the time the Steelers report for training camp July 25, with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Gerry Dulac also anticipating extension talks at that point. Haden struggled with injuries and inconsistency at the end of his Browns tenure but has done well to stabilize one of the Steelers’ cornerback spots. Signing for three years and $27MM in 2017, Haden is going into his age-30 season. The Steelers, though, do not appear to have reservations about paying him for his early-30s seasons, per Dulac. Due largely to being an old-CBA first-rounder, Haden has earned more than $100MM in his career.
- Although Teryl Austin‘s title with the Steelers is senior defensive assistant/secondary, the former Lions and Bengals DC will have another key game-day responsibility. Austin will be Mike Tomlin‘s unofficial replay-review coach. Austin said, via Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, he will watch every play that generated a replay review from the 2018 season to prepare for his new role. Tomlin has won just two of his past 14 challenges, dating back to the beginning of the 2016 season, Dulac notes, adding the 13th-year coach is 0-for-12 on fourth-down challenges during his career.
- As for Austin’s role instructing Pittsburgh’s secondary, the Steelers have deviated from a plan that meant for their new hire to coach one position and secondary coach Tom Bradley another. They are sharing responsibilities leading that unit, per Dulac.
- Antonio Brown‘s exit leaves the Steelers perhaps the biggest void in the NFL, given his production as the team’s top wide receiver for most of this decade, and the Steelers may have to fill the JuJu Smith-Schuster sidekick role as a group. But among the James Washington–Donte Moncrief–Diontae Johnson contingent, Ben Roethlisberger (via Ray Fittipaldo of the Post-Gazette) singled out Moncrief as having the best offseason. Still just 25, Moncrief posted 668 yards for the Jaguars last season.
- Steelers cornerback Mike Hilton has yet to ink his exclusive rights free agent tender and continues to push the club for a new deal. ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler writes that the player may have been inspired by teammate Alejandro Villanueva, who pulled off a similar move in 2017. “I can’t say if it’s better to sign now or later,” Villanueva said. “But betting on yourself, in this business, usually works.” Fowler writes that the two players have discussed the matter, although Hilton may not see the same kind of resolution as Villanueva.
The Steelers have yet to open extension talks with Joe Haden, but the cornerback seems eager to get things underway. The 30-year-old says he’s ready to start discussing a new deal and wants to ultimately retire as a member of the Steelers (Twitter link via Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com).
After a long run with the division-rival Browns, Haden inked a three-year deal with the Steelers just prior to the 2017 season. That deal has one more year and $10MM remaining.
Over the years, the Steelers have struggled to address the cornerback position through the draft, but Haden has provided valuable support in the secondary. Haden has started every game that he has played in with the Steelers, and he has reestablished himself as a shutdown cover corner despite drawing the No. 1 WR on opposing offenses. This year, the Steelers will pair Haden with former Chief Steven Nelson, who signed a lucrative free agent deal with Pittsburgh in March.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
The NFL Draft is just barely in the rear view mirror, which means that teams are full of hope for their young rookies. But, of course, the NFL Draft is largely a crapshoot, and not every player will realize their full potential.
This year’s draft had talent, but lacked a true consensus on the top player. Many evaluators pegged defensive end Nick Bosa as the player with the highest ceiling in the 2019 class, but other saw Alabama’s Quinnen Williams as the “safest bet.” The 49ers pounced on Bosa with the No. 2 pick while the Jets (and former GM Mike Maccagnan) were delighted to land Williams at No. 3 overall.
Leading up to the draft, much of the attention was on Oklahoma quarterback (and one-time MLB hopeful) Kyler Murray. When Murray announced that he would ditch the Oakland A’s, his stock exploded – Murray was considered a borderline first-round prospect in the winter, but wound up as the Cardinals’ choice at No. 1 overall. Murray has the speed that teams crave at the QB position, but questions persist about his size and overall lack of experience as a full-time starter.
The Cardinals’ long flirtation with Murray brought us the expected result, but the Raiders gave us the real first shock of the draft when they tapped Clemson defensive end Clelin Ferrell at No. 4 overall. Not to be outdone, the Giants snagged Duke’s Daniel Jones at No. 6 overall. Heading into the draft, neither player was thought to be anywhere near Top 10 consideration, but Mike Mayock and Dave Gettleman were unwilling to trade down and risk losing out on their guys.
The domino effect created by those picks allowed the Bucs to grab inside linebacker Devin White (No. 5 overall), the Jaguars to land outside linebacker Josh Allen (No. 6), the Lions to snag top tight end T.J. Hockenson, the Bills to draft defensive tackle Ed Oliver (No. 9 overall), and the Steelers to finish out the Top 10 with linebacker Devin Bush. Most of those picks were warmly received, but nothing is certain in the draft.
Which Top 10 pick do you think has the highest bust potential? Click below to cast your vote (link for app users) and back up your choice in the comment section.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
Arthur Moats is calling it a career. On Monday, the former Bills, Steelers, and Cardinals linebacker announced that he is walking away from the NFL.
“I have to give a big thanks to the Buffalo Bills and the Pittsburgh Steelers for giving me this opportunity to play nine seasons in the NFL,” Moats wrote on social media. “Last but certainly not least, I have to give a big shoutout to #BillsMafia & #SteelersNation for all the support!”
Moats entered the league as a sixth-round pick of the Bills out of James Madison in 2010. After four years with the team, he hooked on with the Steelers where he spent the next four seasons. Last year, he joined the Cardinals, but landed on injured reserve before the start of the season.
Moats leaves the game with 228 career tackles, 16.5 sacks, and four forced fumbles. His most productive seasons came in Pittsburgh, including back-to-back four-sack campaigns in 2014 and 2015.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
- Sean Davis switched agents in advance of his contract year, moving from MBK sports management to Drew Rosenhaus, the safety confirmed (via Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette). Davis said no extension talks have occurred between he and the Steelers and noted the safety market’s 2019 explosion as a reason he may bet on himself this season. “I just felt like I needed a change,” Davis said, via Fittipaldo, of switching from Eugene Lee to Rosenhaus. “Drew is a top agent, man. … The safety market went up this year. That puts a little more pressure on me to get the job done and to compete for those contracts.” After faring better as a free safety than he did at the strong safety spot in 2017, Davis will remain there this season.
This could be the end of the line for Artie Burns‘ career with the Steelers, Ed Bouchette of The Athletic writes (subscription required). The cornerback is due an $800K roster bonus on the first day of training camp, but if he can’t prove himself during minicamp, he’ll likely be released before he can collect that check.
The Steelers had high hopes for Burns after he notched six interceptions in his final season at Miami, but he’s regressed in each of his pro seasons. As a rookie, Burns tied for the team lead with three picks despite starting in only nine games. In 2017, he started in every game, but wasn’t as sharp in coverage and had just one interception. Then, last year, Burns was bumped from the starting lineup and mostly appeared on special teams in the second half of the season. The Steelers already passed on Burns’ fifth-year option for 2020 and they could be on the verge of giving up on him altogether. If they cut him, it’ll be yet another draft disappointment for the team at the cornerback position. As Bouchette notes, the club’s top three corners – Joe Haden, Steven Nelson, and Mike Hilton – all came from outside the draft.
Shifting to the teams that wear orange, here is the latest from the AFC North:
- After acting as the Raiders’ interim GM in the wake of Reggie McKenzie‘s ouster, Shaun Herock did not stick with the Jon Gruden–Mike Mayock regime. But the longtime Oakland exec is expected to land on his feet. Herock is on the verge of joining the Browns, Albert Breer of SI.com tweets. Although Herock spent seven years in Oakland, he worked extensively with John Dorsey in Green Bay. Herock spent nearly two decades as the Packers’ assistant director of college scouting, working directly under Dorsey (the Packers’ college scouting director for most of that span). The Packers made three Super Bowl appearances during the duo’s time running the Pack’s scouting department. Herock will join ex-Green Bay execs Alonzo Highsmith and Eliot Wolf in Cleveland.
- Here’s a bit of a surprise – Paul Dehner Jr. of The Athletic expects the Bengals to use linebacker Preston Brown in a three-down role this year. Brown was limited by injury in 2018, and he was placed on IR in November, but the club opted to bring him back on a one-year, $4MM deal in March. There was some speculation that the Bengals would still look for an upgrade at the middle linebacker position, but it sounds like Brown is primed for a key role on defense.
Sam Robinson contributed to this post.
Roughly one-quarter of the NFL’s teams have signed every player in their draft class, as shown in PFR’s tracker. The front offices of the following clubs have a little bit less on their plate as mandatory minicamps get underway:
While the league’s rookie slotting system has been criticized by some, there’s no denying that it has streamlined the signing process for the incoming class. Prominent first-round picks like Joey Bosa and Marcus Mariota have squabbled with teams over offset language in recent years and the third round lacks some structure due to flexibility in base salary, but, on the whole, rookies have been quicker to put pen to paper in recent years.
We’ll likely see several more teams wrap up their draft classes before the week is through. The Bills, Bengals, Cowboys, Packers, Texans, Colts, Dolphins, Vikings, Patriots, Seahawks, Titans, and Redskins each have just one straggler remaining. Unsurprisingly, most of those unsigned players are third-rounders. The Vikings are a notable exception – seventh-round pick Austin Cutting is waiting to find out whether the Air Force will permit him to play instead of immediately fulfilling his two-year service requirement.