Steelers Rumors

NFL Distributes Performance-Based Payouts

Since 2002, the NFL’s performance-based pay system has rewarded low-salary players who exceed their expected playing time. This year, due to the pandemic, the league and the players’ union negotiated a gradual payout schedule, one that will meter out the money between now and 2024.

All in all, the league divested $8.5MM per club. This year’s top earner is Buccaneers guard Alex Cappa, a 2018 third-round pick who played every single snap for the eventual champs. Cappa will now receive an extra $622K on top of his $750K base salary for 2021. Per the union’s records, 25 other players also topped $500K, including Cardinals tackle Kelvin Beachum ($604K), Bills cornerback Taron Johnson ($579K), Rams guard Austin Corbett ($573K), Lions cornerback Amani Oruwariye ($572K), Bears tackle Germain Ifedi ($571K), Steelers offensive lineman Chukwuma Okorafor ($568K), Vikings offensive lineman Dakota Dozier ($561K), Ravens safety DeShon Elliott ($557K) and Bucs safety Jordan Whitehead ($555K).

The full list, going team-by-team, can be found here, courtesy of the NFLPA.

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Steelers Not Planning To Trade Up For QB?

  • Among QBs in his age range, Ben Roethlisberger stands alone. The other two 2004 first-round QBs — Eli Manning and Philip Rivers — retired. So did Drew Brees. Tom Brady relocated, and the Packers drafted Rodgers’ would-be heir apparent in Jordan Love. The Steelers, however, are still Roethlisberger-dependent. They will not trade up from No. 24 to draft a quarterback, according to Mark Kaboly of The Athletic (subscription required), who notes that it would not be too surprising if Roethlisberger ended up staying on for his age-40 season in 2022 while the organization figures out its long-awaited plan.

Chiefs Finished Second For JuJu Smith-Schuster; Ravens’ Scheme Became Factor

The Ravens submitted JuJu Smith-Schuster a better offer than the Steelers did, but the former Pro Bowl wide receiver opted to stay in Pittsburgh. Baltimore was not his second choice, either.

Had Smith-Schuster not ultimately decided to stay with the Steelers, he would have joined the Chiefs. Andy Reid continued to text images of the Vince Lombardi trophy to the 24-year-old wideout, and Smith-Schuster confirmed Kansas City was his second choice.

I think, just seeing K.C. and bro, Andy Reid was just calling me and he was sending me Lombardi Trophy pictures like constantly. We had a good talk, so it would’ve been K.C. after the Steelers,” Smith-Schuster said during an appearance on the Michael Irvin Podcast (via NFL.com).

Smith-Schuster would have replaced Sammy Watkins alongside Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce in the Chiefs’ historically loaded pass offense. Watkins ended up signing with the Ravens, who had issues convincing acclaimed receivers to sign this offseason. The Ravens also offered T.Y. Hilton more money than the Colts did, but the veteran wideout stayed in Indianapolis. Smith-Schuster indicated Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson-centered run scheme became an issue as he considered a possible intra-AFC North jump.

[Playing for a rival], too, and I’m curious to see how they’re going to be this year having Sammy Watkins and how they’re going to use him and throwing the ball and stuff like that,” Smith-Schuster said of the Ravens. “Lamar’s a really, a heavy run offense with the backs that he has. I just point being facts. His No. 1 target was [Mark] Andrews, who’s a tight end.”

New Ravens receivers coach Tee Martin, who coached Smith-Schuster at USC, began Baltimore’s recruitment. Jackson and John Harbaugh contacted Smith-Schuster as well. The Ravens are believed to have offered Smith-Schuster a $9MM salary with $4MM in incentives. He re-signed with the Steelers on a one-year, $8MM deal.

Tee Martin was a coach at USC who coached me, he ended up going to the Ravens and he reached out and that’s how that process started. Lamar reached out, the head coach called, Marlon Humphrey‘s hitting me up,” Smith-Schuster said. “It starts getting serious when the players start texting you and hit you up like, ‘Yo, what’s up, bro? What we doing? Come win.’ All respect to them, and it was cool. But I think with me it’s more so staying home, staying loyal. In my situation, we have a new OC, Ben’s coming back, my relationship with my receiver coach, Ike Hilliard, is amazing. You can’t beat that.”

Reprising his role in an increasingly pass-heavy Steelers offense, Smith-Schuster will have a chance to re-enter free agency in 2022. The Chiefs, who also finished second in the Trent Williams sweepstakes, are likely still on the hunt for a receiver to replace Watkins.

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Steven Nelson Sought Steelers Extension; CB Drawing Interest

As free agency neared, the Steelers had one of the league’s worst cap situations. One of their starters may have tried to add a mutually beneficial wrinkle to the team’s cap sheet.

Steven Nelson believed he had outplayed the three-year, $25.5MM contract the Steelers gave him in 2019. The veteran cornerback sought an extension that would bring his 2021 cap number down while adding some guarantees and a pay raise, but the Steelers disagreed, Nelson said during a Sirius XM Radio interview with Pat Kirwan and Jim Miller (Twitter link). This led to the Steelers giving Nelson permission to seek a trade, a process that quickly gave way to the team releasing its two-year starting corner.

Prior to the release, Nelson said the Steelers did not offer him the option of a pay cut (Twitter link via The Athletic’s Mark Kaboly). One year remained on Nelson’s previous deal, which called for him to earn $8.25MM in 2021. It would have been a strange development for Nelson to accept a pay reduction, given that he sought an extension that would bump his salary. But it will be difficult for Nelson, at this juncture, to match the salary he would have earned as a Steeler next season.

The former third-round pick said 10 to 15 teams have “serious interest” (Twitter link). While that seems high given the current marketplace, the 28-year-old defender figures to have an opportunity to be a starter elsewhere in 2021. Nelson joins Richard Sherman, Casey Hayward, A.J. Bouye and Dre Kirkpatrick as veteran corners available. Nelson has experience both outside and in the slot, having played in the latter role for a bit with the Chiefs. The six-year veteran graded as a top-40 corner, per Pro Football Focus, in each of his two Pittsburgh seasons.

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Steelers Host S Karl Joseph

Following one season in Cleveland, Karl Joseph could find his next opportunity with another AFC North squad. Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle reports (via Twitter) that the free agent safety visited the Steelers.

The Raiders’ 2016 first-round pick earned PFWA All-Rookie Team honors as a rookie, and he had a solid campaign as a sophomore in 2017. However, he bounced in and out of the starting lineup in 2018, and the Raiders decline his fifth-year option prior to the 2019 campaign. That 2019 season ended up being Joseph’s final year with the organization. and he was limited to only nine games after suffering a foot injury.

He signed a one-year deal with the Browns last offseason, and he proceeded to play 14 games (eight starts) for his new squad. He finished the year having compiled 67 tackles, two tackles for loss, four passes defended, and one interception. He also came up big in the playoffs for the Browns; he recovered a botched Steelers snap for a touchdown, and he intercepted a pass by Chiefs quarterback Chad Henne.

While Joseph probably wouldn’t push either Minkah Fitzpatrick or Terrell Edmunds for playing time, he could serve a role as a solid backup safety. Pittsburgh’s 2020 backups, Sean Davis and Jordan Dangerfield, are both free agents.

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Steelers Sign RB Kalen Ballage

The Steelers announced that they have signed running back Kalen Ballage to a one-year deal. Ballage, entering his fourth pro season, split the 2020 campaign between the Jets and Chargers.

After being drafted by the Dolphins in the fourth round of the 2018 draft, Ballage has appeared in 35 games across multiple stops. All in all, he has 629 yards off of 201 carries with seven touchdowns. He’s also tacked on 52 grabs for 285 yards. His best year came as a rookie — in an admittedly small sample size of 36 carries, the Arizona State product averaged 5.3 yards per tote.

The Steelers finished last in rushing yards per attempt last year, so they’re expected to prioritize RBs in the draft next month. Ballage won’t be the main ball-carrier in Pittsburgh, but he can offer support for the lagging group.

We’ve got to be a lot better in running,” team president Art Rooney II said recently. “Certainly we don’t want to see the Pittsburgh Steelers being last in the league in rushing again ever. I think it’s something our coaches are focused on and we’ll be looking for ways to improve in the draft. It’s something we’ve got to fix, and we are working on it.”

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