Steelers Rumors

Artie Burns Now Appears To Be A Roster Lock; Steelers Could Pursue FA Punter, TE

Steelers CB Artie Burns, a 2016 first-round pick, was widely considered to be on the club’s roster bubble this summer, and even after he earned an $800K roster bonus at the end of July, there was still some chatter that he could be sent packing. But as Mark Kaboly of The Athletic writes, Burns has quieted those rumors with a strong training camp, and he excelled in Pittsburgh’s preseason contest against the Chiefs on Saturday. He is eligible for unrestricted free agency in 2020 since the Steelers declined his fifth-year option, and his contract year has gotten off to a great start. He now has a legitimate chance to be the team’s No. 3 corner.

  • Kaboly notes in a separate piece that the Steelers may be on the lookout for a veteran TE and/or punter on the free agent market.

Latest On Hargrave, Davis Contracts

The Steelers have a few players they need to take care of. Cornerback Joe Haden is looking for an extension, and all indications are that he’s going to get it. Javon Hargrave‘s situation has flown a bit more under the radar, but he’s also heading into the final year of his deal. The Steelers drafted the defensive tackle in the third round in 2016, and he’s started at least 12 games for Pittsburgh every year since. Hargrave has been keeping quiet about his contract, but Mark Kaboly of The Athletic thinks Hargrave will get an extension from the Steelers before the start of the season.

The Steelers restructured Stephon Tuitt‘s contract late last month to free up some cap space, and Kaboly thinks they’ll use some of it here. He also writes that “Haden’s extension could very well add money to the cap so money shouldn’t be an issue.” He also notes that Haden, Hargrave, and safety Sean Davis all have a self-imposed deadline of Week 1 for a new contract to get done by. Kaboly writes that it seems like Davis “is the odd man out” in that trio, indicating he might be playing out his walk year without a new deal. Davis recently signed with superagent Drew Rosenhaus, and said at the time he was looking to land top safety money next offseason.

Biggest Roster Weakness: AFC North

The 2019 regular season is right around the corner, but every NFL team still has at least one position on its roster that could use improvement. And there’s still plenty of time to address those areas of need! Free agents are readily available on the open market, while preseason trades provide another avenue of player procurement. 19 NFL trades were executed between August 1st and September 1st of 2018, and that number could increase this year.

Let’s take a look at the weakest positional group — and a potential solution — for each NFL club. Today we’ll examine the AFC North:

Baltimore Ravens

  • Weakness: Offensive guard. Baltimore doesn’t have a problem at right guard, where future Hall of Famer Marshal Yanda is still playing like one of the NFL’s best offensive linemen. But the Ravens do have a vacancy on the left side after somewhat surprisingly trading Alex Lewis to the Jets earlier this month. At present, 2017 fifth-round pick Jermaine Eluemunor and rookie fourth-rounder Ben Powers are competing to start between left tackle Ronnie Stanley and center Matt Skura.
  • Solution: See if Graham Glasgow is available. Glasgow was moved off center this offseason to make room for 2018 first-round pick Frank Ragnow, and he’s since been taking some practice reps with Detroit’s second-team offense, as Kyle Meinke of MLive.com recently detailed. While Glasgow may still be in the Lions’ plans, he is entering the final year of his rookie contract, and Detroit could opt to go with Kenny Wiggins and the recently-extended Joe Dahl at guard. Glasgow, 26, is due a $2.025MM base salary next season.

Cincinnati Bengals

  • Weakness: Offensive tackle depth. After losing first-round pick and projected starting left tackle Jonah Williams to a shoulder injury, the Bengals got desperate, adding longtime Cincinnati security blanket Andre Smith on a one-year deal. He’s essentially the Bengals’ only option behind starters Cordy Glenn and Bobby Hart. When Glenn briefly went down in practice earlier this week, John Jerry — yes, the John Jerry who plays guard and didn’t appear in the NFL in 2018 — slid to left tackle. Send help, please.
  • Solution: Send a third-round pick to the Eagles for Halapoulivaati Vaitai. “Big V” doesn’t have a starting role in Philadelphia, and after the Eagles used this year’s first-round pick on fellow offensive tackle Andre Dillard, it’s unclear if Vaitai — whose contract expires after 2019 — has a long-term future with the Birds. Vaitai, a 10-game starter during the Eagles’ 2017 Super Bowl run, could line up at any number of positions for the Bengals, and if re-signed, would become the club’s right tackle for the long haul. Cincinnati missed out on veteran tackle assistance when Chris Clark (Saints) and Ben Ijalana (Jaguars) landed deals earlier this week.

Cleveland Browns

  • Weakness: Left tackle. The Browns are all-in on the 2019 season, and while they’ve accumulated talent at an impressive pace, left tackle is still the one area that could present a concern. Former failed No. 2 overall pick Greg Robinson wasn’t a disaster in his eight starts for Cleveland, but among the 106 offensive tackles who saw at least 33% playtime in 2018, Robinson ranked only 60th in Pro Football Focus’ pass-blocking efficiency metric, which measures pressure allowed on a per-snap basis.
  • Solution: Trade for Trent Williams. As of earlier this week, the Redskins were still reportedly telling teams they have no intention of moving Williams, who had demanded a trade after expressing displeasure with Washington’s handling of both his contract and a health scare. Color me skeptical. The Redskins don’t have much hope of contending this season and have already signed a replacement left tackle in Donald Penn, so I’m guessing Williams could be had for the right price. Cleveland should offer a second-round pick to begin negotiations.

Pittsburgh Steelers

  • Weakness: Safety depth. In Sean Davis and Terrell Edmunds, the Steelers are returning two safeties who each played on more than 90% of the club’s defensive snaps. But Pittsburgh also released veteran defensive back Morgan Burnett, who saw action on 389 snaps a year ago. The Steelers could use a third safety capable of contributing, and they also need depth, as backups Jordan Dangerfield and Marcus Allen have only played a combined 219 snaps during their respective careers.
  • Solution: Acquire Josh Jones from the Packers. The 61st overall selection in the 2017 draft, Jones’ career in Green Bay has never really gotten off the ground. He hasn’t played on more than 70% of the Packers’ snaps in either of his pro campaigns, and Green Bay decisively replaced him this offseason by signing free agent Adrian Amos and drafting Darnell Savage in the first round. Jones read the writing on the wall and requested a trade in May. He’d be able to fit in Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler‘s scheme as a “big nickel.”

Minor NFL Transactions: 8/15/19

Today’s minor moves:

Baltimore Ravens

Buffalo Bills

Cleveland Browns

Jacksonville Jaguars

Pittsburgh Steelers

  • Signed: TE Micky Crum, LB Christian Kuntz
  • Waived: LB J.T. Jones, CB Jermaine Ponder

Oakland Raiders

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

  • Signed: DT Shane Bowman
  • Placed on injured reserve: WR Bryant Mitchell

Tennessee Titans

XFL Signs Landry Jones

The XFL has its first player. On Thursday, former Steelers quarterback Landry Jones agreed to sign with the XFL. 

Jones’ exact destination is TBD. He will be drafted by “one of the XFL’s eight teams” in October, according to the league’s press release.

We’re excited to welcome Landry to the XFL as our first player and first quarterback,” said XFL Commissioner and CEO, Oliver Luck. “He’s an accomplished athlete with outstanding college credentials and pro experience, and his heart and desire to play football epitomizes the type of individual we want in the XFL.”

Jones, meanwhile, says he “can’t wait to suit up.” Indeed, it’s been a while since Jones saw meaningful action. His last NFL game came in December 2017 when he started in place of Ben Roethlisberger. In previous seasons, Jones flashed some ability in his Big Ben fill-in opportunities.

Last year, Jones had a cup of coffee with the Jaguars. Then, this offseason, he spent some time with the Raiders before being released in May. Earlier this month, he worked out for the Lions, but left Detroit without a deal.

Despite his recent unemployment spell, Jones remains on the NFL radar. He first put himself on the map at Oklahoma where he set Big 12 Conference records in passing yards (16,646), completions (1,388) and touchdown passes (123).

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Steelers WR Coach Darryl Drake Passes Away

Steelers WR coach Darryl Drake passed away this morning, the team announced. He was 62.

Drake, who played wide receiver at the collegiate level for Western Kentucky from 1975-78, never played a regular season snap in the NFL. However, he returned to his alma mater in 1983 as a graduate assistant, which kicked off a 36-year coaching career.

He got his first shot at an NFL coaching job in 2004, when he served as the wide receivers coach for the Bears. He held that position through the 2012 season before moving on the Cardinals. He worked as Arizona’s WR coach from 2013-17 and was hired in the same capacity by the Steelers last year, beating out team icon Hines Ward for the job.

Pittsburgh did not disclose a cause of death, though the team did cancel practice Sunday. Team president Art Rooney II issued the following statement:

“We are at a loss for words following Darryl Drake’s passing this morning. Darryl had such an impact on the players he coached and everyone he worked with throughout his entire career. He was a passionate coach and had a tremendous spirit toward life, his family, his faith and the game of football. Our prayers and thoughts are with his wife, Sheila, his three daughters, his grandchildren and entire family during this difficult time.”

Head coach Mike Tomlin released his own statement:

“Darryl was a close friend and had a tremendous impact on my coaching career. He was an amazing husband, father and grandfather, and it is difficult to put into words the grief our entire team is going through right now. Darryl loved the game of football and every player he ever coached. We will use our faith to guide us and help his family throughout the difficult time.”

We at PFR offer our condolences to Drake’s family and friends.

Minor NFL Transactions: 8/8/19

Today’s minor moves:

Chicago Bears

  • Signed: WR Joe Walker
  • Waived/injured: DB Josh Simmons

Cincinnati Bengals

Dallas Cowboys

Green Bay Packers

Kansas City Chiefs

Minnesota Vikings

New Orleans Saints

New York Giants

Pittsburgh Steelers

  • Signed: CB Trevon Mathis
  • Waived/injured: RB Ralph Webb

San Francisco 49ers

Seattle Seahawks

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

  • Signed: OL Salesi Uhatafe
  • Placed on injured reserve: S D’Cota Dixon

Steelers Notes: Rudolph, Dobbs, Moncrief

The Steelers will use the preseason to determine their backup quarterback behind Ben Roethlisberger, but 2018 third-round pick Mason Rudolph appears to have a leg up over fellow signal-caller Josh Dobbs, as Ed Bouchette of The Athletic writes. Dobbs, a fourth-round selection in the 2017 draft, served as Pittsburgh’s No. 2 last season, but managed just 12 passing attempts in relief of Roethlisberger. Rudolph, meanwhile, only played during the 2018 preseason, completing 24-of-44 passes for 315 yards. “I had the general concepts down and our plays but there are things that you take a little deeper dive,’’ Rudolph said. “Run schemes, protections, signals. Just the no-huddle calls. Ben does such great job of ad-libbing.” As Bouchette notes, No. 3 quarterbacks rarely get significant practice reps during the regular season, so if the Steelers view Rudolph as Roethlisberger’s successor, he could use the practice snaps due a backup quarterback in order to develop this year.

  • Another Steelers battle is taking place at wide receiver, where veteran Donte Moncrief appears to be the frontrunner for No. 2 duties behind JuJu Smith-Schuster, according to Dan Graziano of ESPN.com (Twitter link). Moncrief, who signed a two-year, $9MM deal with Pittsburgh in March, is competing against 2018 second-round pick James Washington and 2019 third-rounder Diontae Johnson for time. In his first and only season with the Jaguars in 2018, Moncrief posted 48 catches for 668 yards and three touchdowns, but ranked as a bottom-15 wideout in Football Outsiders‘ efficiency metrics. The Steelers lost the second-most air yards and sixth-most targets of any NFL team during the offseason, so there should be plenty of work to go around.

Minor NFL Transactions: 8/6/19

Here are Tuesday’s minor moves:

Buffalo Bills

Atlanta Falcons

Cleveland Browns

  • Released from IR: WR Blake Jackson

Dallas Cowboys

Detroit Lions

Jacksonville Jaguars

Los Angeles Rams

New York Jets

  • Waived: TE Nick Truesdell

Philadelphia Eagles

Pittsburgh Steelers

Seattle Seahawks

Steelers, Joe Haden Making Progress

The Steelers and corner Joe Haden are making progress on a two-year contract extension, a source tells Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com (on Twitter). The two sides have exchanged proposals, so a deal might not be far off. 

For now, Haden is due $10MM as he enters the final year of his deal. A new pact would likely lessen Haden’s cap hit, while giving him security through the 2021 season.

After missing time in 2018 with an injury, Haden returned to play 15 games last season. He graded as a top-40 cornerback, per Pro Football Focus. That is a cut below his best Browns seasons, but the 30-year-old defender remains an upper-echelon cover man.

The Steelers added cornerbacks this offseason, signing Steven Nelson and drafting Justin Layne in Round 3. Meanwhile, they’ll move forward with disappointing 2016 first-rounder Artie Burns after cutting him an $800K bonus check over the weekend.

Haden has operated as the team’s No. 1 cornerback since arriving. The Steelers have not enjoyed much consistency aside from Haden at the boundary corner positions for a while, a new deal would make sense.

While the corner market has not moved much at the top in recent years, lesser-acclaimed DBs have signed for $10MM-plus since Haden last put pen to paper. The $9MM-AAV defender will almost certainly target eight figures per year for his early-30s contract.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.