Pittsburgh Steelers Rumors & News

Top 8 Fits For Free Agent TE Gary Barnidge

Gary Barnidge was a relative no-name until the 2015 season, when — at age 30 — the 6’5″ tight end broke out for 79 receptions, 1,043 receiving yards, and nine touchdowns. Each of those totals were career-highs for Barnidge, and his yardage figure was the eight-highest single-season total for a tight end since 2010. The 2016 campaign wasn’t quite as fruitful for Barnidge, but he still managed 55 catches for 612 yards, solid numbers for a tight end in a weak Browns offense.Gary Barnidge (vertical)

There are certainly question marks that could lead a team to not pursue Barnidge. Chief among them is probably his age, as Barnidge is set to enter his age-32 season. That could conceivably make him an injury risk, although he’s appeared in all 32 possible games over the past two years. Bardidge’s blocking prowess is also a concern, as he ranked 50th out of 63 qualified tight ends in run blocking efficiency last season, according to Pro Football Focus.

Still, Barnidge offers excellent receiving ability and should come relatively cheap. It’s tough to see Barnidge topping the $5MM and $5.3MM annual salaries earned by fellow tight ends Vernon Davis and Jared Cook respectively, and he likely won’t command a multi-year deal. So which NFL teams could possibly employ Barnidge in his 10th pro season? Let’s take a look…

Atlanta Falcons

Austin Hooper, the Falcons’ third-round pick in 2016, posted 271 receiving yards during his rookie campaign. That lowly figure was somehow the second-highest yardage total by an Atlanta tight end since Tony Gonzalez retired at the end of the 2013 season. Yes, the Falcons’ offense was the best in the NFL by a wide margin last year, but the unit could continue its dominance by adding another element at tight end. New offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian has never worked with an elite tight end (not counting his one-game stint as O.J. Howard‘s OC at Alabama, Sarkisian’s best TE pupil was Austin Seferian-Jenkins), so it’s unclear if he can develop young options such as Hooper and 2017 fifth-rounder Eric Saubert. A veteran such as Barnidge would allow those youthful players to grow by lessening their responsibilities, at least for the upcoming season.

Buffalo Bills

The Bills were the first stop on Barnidge’s free agent tour following his release by the Browns, so Buffalo clearly has some level of interest. Charles Clay is currently atop the Bills’ tight end depth chart, but he hasn’t been worth the five-year, $38MM deal Buffalo gave him prior to the 2015 season. Despite being the fifth-highest-paid tight end in the league, Clay has finished just 12th in approximate value since joining the Bills. Buffalo is stuck with him through at least 2018, as a 2016 contract restructure makes release unpalatable. Clay is a much better run blocker than Barnidge, so the latter would be able to play as a move tight end in the Bills’ offense. Given that Buffalo is fielding one of the league’s worst wide receiving groups, the club needs all the weapons it can get.

Carolina Panthers

After visiting with the Bills, Barnidge indicated he might take a meeting with the Panthers, and although it’s unclear if that visit ever took place, it stands to reason Carolina is still eyeing a tight end addition. Greg Olsen, clearly, is the No. 1 option for the Panthers, but the team’s depth at the position is shockingly sparse. Linked to a number of tight ends during the predraft process, Carolina ultimately stood pat, leaving only Ed Dickson and Chris Manhertz behind Olsen. Dickson, for his part, is essentially a non-factor in the receiving game and isn’t a great blocker — the Panthers could release him with a minimal dead cap charge. Barnidge spent the first four years of his career in Carolina, and a homecoming would make a lot of sense.

Cincinnati Bengals

Unquestionably one of the league’s more talented tight ends when healthy, Tyler Eifert just can’t seem to stay on the field. He’s never appeared in all 16 games, and has missed more than eight games in two of the past three seasons. Eifert’s 52-reception, 13-touchdown 2015 campaign showed him at his best, but he simply can’t be relied on. And the Bengals’ backup options are lackluster, as well, as C.J. Uzomah (25 catches, 234 yards) and Tyler Kroft (10, 92) struggled when asked to fill in for Eifert last season. Cincinnati has already bolstered its offense this offseason by adding wide receiver John Ross and running back Joe Mixon, and Barnidge would give the club another target and (much-needed) depth.

Denver Broncos

Denver has reached out to Barnidge in recent days, and the Broncos have a level of familiarity with Barnidge given that many of their coaches — notably offensive coordinator Mike McCoy and tight ends coach Jeff Davidson — worked with Barnidge in Carolina. While the tight end position isn’t quite the integral position in McCoy’s offense that it was in former head coach Gary Kubiak‘s, Denver still needs an infusion of talent at the position. The selection Jake Butt, of course, marked the initial step in the Broncos’ tight end revamp, but the former Michigan Wolverine may not be ready for Week 1 as he recovers from a torn ACL. Barnidge would instantly become Denver’s No. 1 tight end if signed, although head coach Vance Joseph said he’s currently pleased with the Broncos’ tight end group, tweets Nicki Jhabvala of the Denver Post.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Like the Panthers, the Jaguars may try to set up a visit with Barnidge, and Barnidge confirmed that he has in fact heard from the Jacksonville staff. The Jaguars parted ways with free agent bust Julius Thomas this offseason, shipping him to Miami for a late-round pick, but the club’s only addition at the position was the signing of former Raider Mychal Rivera, who hasn’t topped 300 yards receiving since 2014. Incumbent Marcedes Lewis continues to strike new deals with the Jaguars (the latest a three-year, $12MM pact) despite last being productive at the turn of the decade, so Barnidge would represent an immediate upgrade for quarterback Blake Bortles & Co.

Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings may have landed a draft steal in Virginia Tech Bucky Hodges, who was projected to come off the board on Day 2 but lasted until the sixth round. Still, Hodges is more an oversized wideout than a typical tight end, as Lance Zierlein of NFL.com wrote in Hodges’ predraft profile. No. 1 tight end Kyle Rudolph posted the best season of his career in 2016, as he hauled in 83 passes for 840 yards, so Barnidge would clearly be the No. 2 in Minnesota. Given quarterback Sam Bradford‘s proclivity for the short passing game, adding another tight end who can play over the middle wouldn’t be a bad idea.

Pittsburgh Steelers

After releasing Ladarius Green last week, the Steelers appear set to roll with Jesse James, Xavier Grimble, and TE/FB David Johnson at tight end for the 2017 season. Pittsburgh didn’t address the position during the draft, which could mean the club is content with its current options. James, specifically, posted a nice season last year (39 receptions, 338 yards), but it’s hard to argue that he’s true No. 1 tight end for a contending team. Clearly, with Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell, and (hopefully) Martavis Bryant in the fold, the Steelers don’t exactly need a dynamic weapon at tight end, but Barnidge would give the Steelers a veteran option for at least one year.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Steelers Sign Joshua Dobbs

Joshua Dobbs and the Steelers agreed to terms on the quarterback’s four-year rookie contract on Monday. The fourth-round pick out of Tennessee is the sixth of Pittsburgh’s eight draft picks to sign.

Only first-rounder T.J. Watt and third-round cornerback Cameron Sutton, Dobbs’ teammate while at Tennessee, are unsigned. Dobbs will begin learning behind Ben Roethlisberger, who is under contract for three more seasons. Although, Roethlisberger said the retirement talk many didn’t consider serious was, in fact, real. Dobbs and Landry Jones comprise the Steelers’ backup sect.

Dobbs was rumored to be coveted by the Browns, Seahawks and Vikings. The 22-year-old started two full seasons for the Volunteers, with his finest work coming in 2016. He led the team to a 9-4 record, a bowl win and threw 27 touchdown passes compared to just 12 interceptions.

Steelers Release TE Ladarius Green

The Steelers have released tight end Ladarius Green. In a related move, Pittsburgh signed running back Terrell WatsonLadarius Green

Pittsburgh signed Green as a free agent last offseason with the idea that he would become one of Ben Roethlisberger‘s go-to weapons. Instead, ailments kept him off the field for much of 2016. His Steelers career ends after six games and 18 receptions for 304 yards and a touchdown. His best game with the Steelers came against the Giants in Week 13, when he had six receptions for 110 yards and his one score on the year.

In the past, Green has suffered from chronic headaches. Those headaches, he says, stemmed from sinus issues and not concussions. Last summer, there were reports that he was mulling retirement as a result of the head trauma he has suffered, but he later denied those claims. Late in the 2016 regular season, the tight end was placed in concussion protocol following a big hit in Week 15. Depending on who you ask, it was either the concussions or the surgically-repaired ankle that kept Green out of action for much of last season.

Before coming to the Steelers, Green amassed 37 catches for 429 yards and four touchdowns in 13 games (11 starts), a solid stat line considering that he was sharing the field with Antonio Gates in many of those games. From a talent perspective, the league had been waiting for multiple seasons for the ultra-athletic tight end to break out. Sadly, Green’s football future seems pretty murky after his disappointing season and today’s release.

With Green out of the picture, Jesse James projects as the Steelers’ No. 1 tight end for 2017. The Steelers did not address the position in the draft, so he is without any real competition at this time.

Green earned just over $6MM in the first year of his would-be four-year, $20MM deal. By cutting him early, the Steelers are left with $3.562MM of dead money on the books. They’ll save $2.625MM in 2017, however.

Watson spent part of the 2016 season on the Browns, Broncos and Eagles practice squads. He was on the Eagles’ 53-man roster for the final week of the regular season.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Steelers Cut LS Greg Warren

Long snapper Greg Warren won’t be playing for the Steelers this season and it sounds like he won’t be playing for any other NFL team either. In a press release announcing that Warren has been cut with a failed physical, Warren indicated that he’ll be staying out of football in 2017.

I had full intentions of playing this upcoming season, but in light of new information I’ve recently received from my doctors relating to a past injury, it has been determined that trying to compete in the 2017 season may be a risk to my long-term health,” Warren said. “After discussing this with the Steelers, we have decided it would be in everyone’s best interest to release me at this point.”

The 35-year-old (36 in the fall) had been the team’s long snapper since 2005 and played in 180 career games. Now that he is taking the year off, sixth-round pick Colin Holba figures to step into his role.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Minor NFL Transactions: 5/17/17

Today’s minor moves:

Arizona Cardinals

Atlanta Falcons

Dallas Cowboys

Los Angeles Chargers

Minnesota Vikings

Pittsburgh Steelers

Steelers’ JuJu Smith-Schuster Signs Rookie Deal

JuJu Smith-Schuster is officially a member of the Steelers. The team announced on Wednesday that the second round pick has inked his rookie deal. JuJu Smith-Schuster (vertical)

Smith-Schuster first received national attention in 2015 when he caught 89 passes for 1,454 yards and ten touchdowns at USC. He wasn’t quite as impressive last year as he battled through a back injury, but he still managed to haul in 70 receptions for 914 yards and ten scores. The stock of the 6’1″, 215 pound receiver may have dipped a bit in 2016, but the Steelers see him as a first-round caliber talent and someone who can help take some of the heat off of Antonio Brown.

A former USC assistant coach gushed over Smith-Schuster’s work ethic and athleticism before the draft.

He has a mom and stepdad who keep him grounded. His passion and enthusiasm are second to none and he absolutely loves football. He came in as a safety and probably could have gone pro as a safety as well if he had stayed there,” the coach told Lance Zierlein of NFL.com.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Minor NFL Transactions: 5/16/17

Today’s minor moves:

Carolina Panthers

Dallas Cowboys

Los Angeles Chargers

Los Angeles Rams

Minnesota Vikings

  • Waived: DL B.J. Dubose

Pittsburgh Steelers

Washington Redskins

Big Ben Was Serious About Retirement

When Ben Roethlisberger announced in April that he would be returning for another season, the news was met with eye rolls by some. Apparently, however, the Steelers quarterback was giving real thought to retirement. Ben Roethlisberger

I got to sit down and talk to him and one thing he told me is he did take it seriously,” retired offensive lineman Willie Colon told Mike Florio of PFT. “He’s dealt with a lot of injuries.”

Because the 35-year-old was giving real thought to calling it quits this spring, it seems very possible that he could be in the same position next offseason. Roethlisberger has taken tons of big hits over the years and he might prefer to spare his body in order to get the most out of his post-football life. Colon personally believes that Roethlisberger can be coaxed into at least one additional season if the Pittsburgh offensive line can protect the pocket.

Roethlisberger has missed six games over the last two seasons, but he’s still producing at a high level. In 2016, he earned his third consecutive Pro Bowl selection as he completed 64.4% of his passes for 3,819 yards and 29 TDs against 13 picks. The Steelers went 10-4 in games with Big Ben as the starter.

In a league where it’s hard to find a good quarterback, the Steelers hope that Roethlisberger will want to play in 2018 and beyond. For now, they’re grateful to have him back for at least one more year.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Minor NFL Transactions: 5/14/17

Today’s minor moves:

Atlanta Falcons

Chicago Bears

  • Signed: WR Titus Davis
  • Waived: WR Levonte Whitfield

Philadelphia Eagles

  • Signed: T Victor Salako
  • Waived/injured: QB Jerod Evans

Pittsburgh Steelers

  • Signed: TE Phazahn Odom (Twitter link via Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle)

Steelers Waive Dreamius Smith

  • The Steelers have waived running back Dreamius Smith, the club announced on Friday. Smith, 24, originally entered the league as a Chargers undrafted free agent in 2015, and spent most of his rookie campaign on San Diego’s practice squad before being promoted for one contest near the end of that year. He’d signed a futures deal with Pittsburgh in January, but the Steelers didn’t have an opening at running back after drafting James Conner in the third round.