- The Steelers are likely to place the franchise tag on impending free agent outside linebacker Bud Dupree, according to Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. While Pittsburgh very much wants to retain him for 2020, Dulac writes that the team is unlikely to pursue a longterm extension with Dupree because the “money is being earmarked for a big contract” for fellow outside linebacker T.J. Watt in the near future. Dupree was drafted in the first round back in 2015, and his career got off to a rocky start. He’s since become more reliable though, starting at least 15 games in each of the past three years. He had his best year as a pro this past season, when he started all 16 games and racked up 11.5 sacks. Amusingly, Steelers president Art Rooney II said the Le’Veon Bell debacle isn’t going to impact how they use the tag moving forward. “I don’t think that affects the way we think about franchise tags or anything at this point,” Rooney said. “We had one, I’ll call it unusual experience, and I think it was that — an unusual experience.”
With one year to go on his deal, Cameron Heyward is ready to talk turkey. The Steelers defensive end says he’d be “more than happy to facilitate” contract extensions with the club, as Mark Kaboly of TheAthletic.com writes.
“I would love to be a Pittsburgh Steeler the rest of my life,” Heyward said as he motioned toward his wife and three young children standing by his side. “It is what I call home and my family loves it. We are very thankful to be here. We will see what happens. I have no control over it. If they reach out, I will be more than happy to facilitate.”
The Steelers would like to keep Heyward for the long run, especially since he has emerged as a leader in the locker room. A new deal could also help their tight cap situation – Heyward is currently slated to count for $13.2MM against the 2020 payroll.
Heyward expects to meet with the Steelers in “June or July” but would also be open to getting “something done earlier.” If his desire to stay in Pittsburgh means a willingness to take a hometown discount, that should help to move things along.
“They’ve done right by me so far, and I want to continue to do them right,” Heyward said.
“That’s what I love about Pittsburgh — you have to earn your way. If I play well and they show me love, I want to show love back. I want to make sure as them being my employer and them being my family, you always want to make sure that you represent your family well.”
In 2019, Heyward earned a First-Team All-Pro nod, despite playing most of the year without Stephon Tuitt on the opposite side. He finished out with nine sacks and set a new career high with 83 tackles.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
Things didn’t go according to plan for the Steelers or JuJu Smith-Schuster in 2019. After parting ways with Antonio Brown, the wide receiver seemed poised for a monster season and a brand new contract to reflect his expected status as one of the league’s premier wide receivers. That didn’t happen and Steelers owner Art Rooney II says he isn’t in any rush to talk extension.
“Well again, it was a tough season to evaluate with the different quarterbacks and some of JuJu’s injuries so it’s a tough season to evaluate from a lot of different standpoints,” Rooney said (via Jacob Klinger of PennLive.com). “Obviously we still think highly of JuJu and still think he’s going to be an outstanding player in the league moving forward and we will address the contract situation when it’s appropriate.”
In 2019, Smith-Schuster caught just 42 passes for 552 yards and three touchdowns in 12 games. Smith-Schuster’s rookie deal is set to expire after the 2020 season and he might have to wait until then to discuss a new deal with the Steelers.
Of course, the loss of Ben Roethlisberger early in the season held back Smith-Schuster and the Steelers offense on the whole. That is to say, the drop-off in his production is not entirely his fault. Still, the Steelers seem open to a wait-and-see approach with the 23-year-old (24 in November).
When the Steelers have Big Ben back in action next season, they’ll hope to see Smith-Schuster return to form. In 2018, the former second-round pick broke out with 111 catches for 1,426 yards and seven touchdowns en route to his first Pro Bowl appearance.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
- Steelers guard David DeCastro underwent an ankle procedure this week, according to Yahoo’s Charles Robinson (via Twitter). The surgery provides an explanation for why the offensive lineman dropped out of the Pro Bowl. Robinson notes that the operation went well, and DeCastro isn’t expected to “miss extended time in the offseason program.”
- Former Maryland interim head coach Matt Canada has been hired as the Steelers‘ new quarterbacks coach, the club announced. Pittsburgh did not have a formal QBs coach in 2019, as offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner held the role. Canada, who has a long history of coaching in the collegiate ranks, took over as the Terrapins’ interim coach in 2018 after D.J. Durkin was placed on administrative leave.
Kevin Colbert doesn’t have a contract for the 2020 season, but it doesn’t sound like he’ll be going anywhere. On Wednesday, owner Art Rooney II said he’s “optimistic” about Colbert continuing with the club.
“I’m optimistic about Kevin being back next year,” Rooney said (Twitter link via Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette). “We have to get something done. The sooner, the better.”
Colbert’s current contract takes him through the draft, so the Steelers’ front office won’t be in flux during the key parts of the offseason. Beyond that, Rooney envisions “at least” one more season for the longtime exec.
Colbert, 63, has been with the Steelers since the start of the new millennium. After a decade as the team’s director of football operations, he he was elevated to the GM post. In 2016, the Steelers added the VP title to his business card. Along the way, Colbert has collected two Super Bowl rings (XL, XLIII).
Last year, the Steelers lost star quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to injury as they flopped to an 8-8 finish.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
The stage has been set for the conference championships. The Titans, Chiefs, 49ers, and Packers are moving on to the semifinals, while the Texans, Seahawks, Ravens, and Vikings will begin planning for the offseason ahead. Unfortunately for the Texans, their first round pick belongs to the Dolphins.
Here’s an updated look at the 2020 NFL Draft order from Nos. 1-28:
1. Bengals (2-14)
2. Redskins (3-13)
3. Lions (3-12-1)
4. Giants (4-12)
5 Dolphins (5-11)
6. Chargers (5-11)
7. Panthers (5-11)
8. Cardinals (5-10-1)
9. Jaguars (6-10)
10. Browns (6-10)
11. Jets (7-9)
12. Raiders (7-9)
13. Colts (7-9)
14. Buccaneers (7-9)
15. Broncos (7-9)
16. Falcons (7-9)
17. Cowboys (8-8)
18. Dolphins (via Steelers 8-8)
19. Raiders (via Bears 8-8)
20. Jaguars (via Rams 9-7)
21. Eagles (9-7)
22. Bills (10-6)
23. Patriots (12-4)
24. Saints (13-3)
25. Vikings (10-6)
26. Dolphins (via Texans 10-6)
27. Seahawks (11-5)
28. Ravens (14-2)
During the pregame show for Saturday’s AFC Divisional Round matchup between the Titans and Ravens on CBS Sports, president of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, David Baker, showed up on set to surprise Bill Cowher with the news that he had been elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a part of the class of 2020. Cowher is the first selection of the class, which will have twenty members.
Cowher, of course, built his Hall of Fame pedigree as the head coach of the Steelers from 1992-2006. Following in the footsteps of another Hall of Fame coach, Chuck Noll, Cowher led Pittsburgh to 11 playoff appearances, 6 AFC Championship games, 2 Super Bowls, and a Super Bowl victory in his penultimate season with the team.
Prior to Cowher’s arrival in Pittsburgh, the team had failed to make the playoffs in five of their previous six campaigns. After Cowher’s arrival, the team reached the playoffs in six consecutive seasons, including Super Bowl XXX (where they lost to the Cowboys). At that time, Cowher was the youngest head coach to reach the Super Bowl. Still, it would take him another ten years to reach the Super Bowl again. When he did, the Steelers defeated the Seahawks in Super Bowl XL, giving him his only Super Bowl ring.
After just one more season, Cowher stepped down to spend more time with his family. Since he has served as an analyst with CBS Sports. While many teams have been rumored to make runs to get Cowher back on the field, it appears he is content with what he has accomplished.
In the end, Cowher finished his career with a 149-90-1 regular season record and a 12-9 postseason record.