Steelers Rumors

Steelers Sign Round 1 T Troy Fautanu

Using a first-round pick on a tackle for the second straight year, the Steelers have revamped their situation at this position. The more recent of the two investments, No. 20 overall pick Troy Fautanu, is now signed.

The Steelers agreed to terms with Fautanu on Monday, locking him down through the 2027 season. This contract, as all first-rounders’ do, includes a fifth-year option that will need to be exercised or declined by May 2027. Fautanu joins Broderick Jones as Pittsburgh’s hopeful long-term tackle answers.

Rumors about Pittsburgh using Fautanu at right tackle, and sliding Jones to the left side have emerged, but the team could also opt to bring the Washington product along slowly — as it did Jones in 2023. The team still rosters three-year LT starter Dan Moore, though he has struggled at points over the course of his rookie deal. One season remains on Moore’s rookie contract, pointing to a near-future reality in which the Steelers roll out a Jones-Fautanu tandem.

The Steelers viewed Fautanu as a superior prospect to Jones and looked into trade-up avenues, but the recent left tackle starter for the national championship game-bound Huskies dropped to No. 20 in a tackle-rich draft. Playing left tackle opposite eventual second-round Ravens draftee Roger Rosengarten, Fautanu became a high-end tackle prospect during his Washington stay. The 6-foot-4, 317-pound blocker earned first-team All-Pac-12 acclaim while blocking for Michael Penix Jr.

It will be interesting to see how Pittsburgh arranges its blockers come Week 1. The team kept Jones on the bench behind Moore and then-RT Chukwuma Okorafor to start last season, but the Georgia prospect took over on the right side midway through. The Steelers cut Okorafor earlier this offseason; he is now competing for the Patriots’ LT post. One of the team’s first-round tackle investments will be a right tackle in the not-too-distant future, however, as Moore’s time in Pittsburgh appears to be winding down.

Should Fautanu supplant Moore as a starter, this season will mark a shift for a Steelers team that has used midlevel investments at tackle for many years. Jones represented the first Round 1 tackle to see extended time with the Steelers since Wayne Gandy in 2002. The team has used an array of blockers chosen outside the first round, most recently slotting the likes of Moore (fourth round), Okorafor (third round) and UDFA Alejandro Villanueva into its lineup. The Steelers will aim for a higher ceiling with Jones and Fautanu.

Latest On Steelers’ Depth At OLB

Outside linebacker is not a position of need for the Steelers. Star pass rusher T.J. Watt led the NFL last year with 19.0 sacks, and though the team’s other starter Alex Highsmith only notched seven last year, he showed what he’s capable of with a 14.5-sack campaign in 2022. Those two are going to be on the field a majority of the time, but after watching Watt miss the playoffs last year and seeing an aged Markus Golden depart in free agency, Pittsburgh has made a number of offseason moves to solidify their depth at the position.

Last year’s rookie fourth-round pick out of Wisconsin, Nick Herbig, is the only other edge rusher returning from last year’s roster. According to Mark Kaboly of The Athletic, Herbig is getting first dibs at the OLB3-role in 2024. In his first season of NFL play, Herbig saw less than a quarter of the snaps that Watt and Highsmith did but was up there in playing time with Golden. Despite the limited snaps, Herbig made the most of his time on the field, logging 27 tackles, five tackles for loss, three sacks, three quarterback hits, two forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery.

That means this year’s rookie third-round pick, NC State’s Payton Wilson, will not be the first outside linebacker off the bench in his first season. Wilson also wasn’t necessarily known as a pass rusher in Raleigh, so it might just mean that Herbig and Wilson will sport different roles in 2024. Herbig may be the first player off the bench in pass rushing situations, and Wilson may be the first guy in during rushing or drop back scenarios. Wilson is on the roster as an outside linebacker for the Steelers as Patrick Queen, Cole Holcomb, and Elandon Roberts patrol the middle. Wilson was disruptive in college, sporting 48.0 tackles for loss to his name, but only logged 15.0 sacks in that time. His versatility as a linebacker with seven career interceptions and 20 passes defensed in college mean that Wilson and Herbig could both be utilized off the bench equally but in very different situations.

Another offseason addition the team made was the claiming of former division-rival Jeremiah Moon off of waivers. A former undrafted player from Florida, Moon spent his entire rookie season on the practice squad for the Ravens but made one start in eight game appearances in 2023. Like Wilson, Moon has never been much of a pass rusher but was an effective tackler during his time in Gainesville.

Joining the position room as rookies alongside Wilson are undrafted signees Julius Welschof and Jacoby Windmon. Windmon, who saw time in college at UNLV and Michigan State, is more in the mold of Wilson and Moon. Welschof, who attended school at Michigan and Charlotte, is a former defensive lineman, though he wasn’t much of an established pass rusher in college.

While Golden only played 70 more snaps in the regular season than Herbig in 2023, when Watt was injured in the playoffs, that OLB3 role became huge. With Watt being no stranger to injury over the past two seasons, who will man that role going forward is an important distinction. As of right now, Herbig is getting the first opportunity to earn that role. He’ll likely hold onto that responsibility as the top pass rusher off the bench while Moon and the rookies fill more versatile roles on the defense in 2024.

J.J. Watt Comeback Pledge Includes Steelers

J.J. Watt has made it known he considers a comeback a longshot scenario, but the future Hall of Famer continues to let DeMeco Ryans know he is available if needed. This offer appears to extend to one other team as well.

Watt reaffirmed his pledge to Ryans about rejoining the Texans in an emergency circumstance, via The Athletic’s Dan Pompei, indicating he would “absolutely” return for a 13th season if his former Texans teammate asked (subscription required). Watt’s pledge about coming out of retirement — for an in-season return — would also include the Steelers, Pompei adds in an expansive Ryans profile.

Team No. 2 on Watt’s “in case of emergency” list is unsurprising, seeing as the Steelers employ another Watt on a Hall of Fame path. J.J. Watt considered the Steelers during his free agency in 2021, but he did not want to potentially take money away from his younger brother. Months after J.J. Watt’s two-year, $28MM Cardinals commitment, T.J. Watt landed his extension. The Steelers featured a two-Watt combo for three seasons, with Derek Watt joining T.J., but J.J. closed out his career with the Cards.

The Steelers have Cameron Heyward going into his 14th season with the team, though this longtime partnership now includes a hiccup on the contract front. Heyward’s current contract runs through 2024. The team also has Larry Ogunjobi, DeMarvin Leal and the recently signed Dean Lowry on the payroll. Roster construction would not stand to matter too much here, as J.J. Watt has made it clear it would take a setback changing the Texans’ outlook to come back. That presumably applies to the Steelers as well.

Watt, who turned 35 this offseason, said earlier this month his comeback pledge will expire after the 2024 season. The likely 2028 Canton inductee retired months after a heart scare, but he remained available for the Cardinals and closed the 2022 season strong. Watt finished with 12.5 sacks and 18 tackles for loss. The latter number matches his most since a stratospheric early-career stretch that remain unapproached; this century’s single-season TFL list still starts with three Watt seasons. Although injuries dogged the all-time great in the seasons following his third Defensive Player of the Year slate, Watt remains the only player in the sack era (1982-present) with two 20-plus-sack seasons. A comeback in a part-time role would certainly be interesting.

The All-Decade-teamer remains with CBS, but this comeback storyline persists. Injuries affecting the Houston or Pittsburgh D-line depth charts will be worth monitoring as the season unfolds.

Front Office Updates: White, Pats, Steelers

Former Bears assistant director of pro scouting Chris White has reportedly been removed from the team’s website, per Neil Stratton of White had been promoted to the role two years ago after five years as a pro scout for the team.

While nothing official has been announced yet, rumors have it that White is heading to Washington, where he’ll serve as the Commanders‘ new director of pro scouting. While would essentially be filling the role vacated by former director of pro personnel Chris Polian, who is an advisor now in Cleveland.

Here are a couple of other rumors in NFL front offices from around the league:

  • Stratton also tells us that the Patriots are adding a new member to their pro scouting staff in Bob Kronenberg. Kronenberg has had an interesting career path following the end of his playing career in the Arena Football League. Kronenberg spent five games as head coach of the former AFL’s Georgia Force in 2004. Eight years later, he joined the Falcons’ front office as a pro scout. After six years working in the team’s scouting department, Kronenberg accepted a role as Atlanta’s assistant offensive line coach, a role he’s held since 2019. Kronenberg will now find his way back to the front office in New England.
  • Lastly, the Steelers are reportedly bringing on Jim Noel as a new area scout, according to Stratton. Noel has plenty of NFL experience, starting as a scouting intern for the Chiefs in 2015 and working his way up to pro scout after two years. He then spent three years as the northeast area scout for the Browns before heading to the collegiate ranks to work recruiting staff roles at Army and Nebraska.

Minor NFL Transactions: 5/28/24

Today’s minor moves:

Baltimore Ravens

Houston Texans

  • Waived/injured: DE Marcus Haynes

Pittsburgh Steelers

  • Waived from IR (with injury settlement): WR Keilahn Harris

The Ravens added some veteran depth to the middle of their defensive line today. Josh Tupou heads to Baltimore after spending the first chunk of his career with their division rival in Cincinnati. The nose tackle got into 65 games (23 starts) in seven years with the Bengals, collecting 86 tackles and a pair of sacks. He also got into five postseason games, compiling another six stops. He topped 400 defensive snaps in 2019 and 2021 (Tupou opted out of the 2020 campaign), but he’s been limited to around 280 snaps over the past two seasons. Senat spent the past two seasons with the Buccaneers, collecting 18 tackles in 15 games.

Haynes, a former UDFA out of Old Dominion, signed a reserve/futures contract with the Texans in February. The defensive end suffered a quadriceps injury that will likely lead to an injury settlement, per Aaron Wilson of KPRC2 in Houston.

Steelers WR Quez Watkins Eyeing Starting Role?

The Steelers have made a number of changes at the receiver position this offseason, and the departures of Diontae Johnson (traded) and Allen Robinson (released) has left plenty of playing time available. Quez Watkins is among the newcomers aiming to secure a first-team role this summer.

The 25-year-old spent his first four seasons with the Eagles, serving as a deep threat. Watkins’ best season came in 2021, when he posted 647 yards and one touchdown on 43 catches. The development of DeVonta Smith and the arrival of A.J. Brown cut heavily into his playing time, and his production dropped over the past two years. Pittsburgh could provide Watkins with a new opportunity, though.

“For me, when I saw they traded Diontae, it was a great opportunity to potentially be a No. 2 or whatever they want me to do,” the former sixth-rounder said (via Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette). “It’s a good opportunity to compete for that spot.”

Johnson consistently served as a focal point in the Steelers’ passing, drawing no fewer than 87 targets in each of his five seasons with the team. Per his request, he was traded away, though, paving the way for George Pickens to operate as Pittsburgh’s clear-cut WR1 moving forward. The pecking order beyond that is in the air, with 2022 fourth-rounder Calvin Austin in place as a another returnee capable of logging first-team snaps.

Pittsburgh has added Van Jefferson and Scotty Miller this offseason; both of those veterans have worked with new offensive coordinator Arthur Smith before. The team also used the draft as a means of adding a pass-catcher, selecting Roman Wilson in the third round. Watkins will be competing with each of those players for a starting position or at least a rotational role in the WR room.

Given the lack of established receivers already on the depth chart, the Steelers have been connected to another acquisition late in the offseason. Pittsburgh was one of the reported suitors for Deebo Samuel, but neither he nor fellow 49ers wideout Brandon Aiyuk is believed to be on the block anymore. The free agent pool includes the likes of Michael Thomas, Mecole Hardman and Hunter Renfrow, and the Steelers could look to sign one of them if they feel an addition is needed. For now, though, Watkins and the new arrivals will compete for roster spots and significant snaps.

LB Patrick Queen Rejected More Valuable Offers Before Signing With Steelers

The Steelers’ most notable defensive addition this offseason was the signing of linebacker Patrick Queen. The former Raven made an intra-divisional move on a deal which includes no money guaranteed beyond its first year.

Queen signed for $41MM on a three-year pact which includes $13.84MM fully guaranteed for 2024. After that, though, the deal includes roster bonuses which will allow the Steelers to proceed on a year-to-year basis. Considering Queen’s age (24) and production, it came as a surprise he agreed to a contract with such a structure. When explaining his free agent decision, he confirmed he left money on the table.

“From all the 15 teams that I was talking to, it came down to like five at the end,” the former first-rounder said during an appearance on Steelers DB (video link).“It was just like five teams in the mix. Some of them were offering $17 [million per year]. After that it was like, I have a chance to either go win or I have a chance to get paid. For me, the difference was like $4 or $5 million.

“I’m looking at it like, I’ve never been on a losing team before, and then I also don’t want to be a part of anything being rebuilt because I’m trying to win now… I’m really just trying to win right now, get that out the way and then get paid later.”

Queen’s deal checks in at an AAV of $13.67MM, the fifth-highest figure in the league amongst inside linebackers. Roquan Smith‘s Ravens extension, signed shortly after he was acquired via trade, continues to top the market at $20MM per season. The fact Baltimore already had Smith on the books was one of the signs indicating Queen would be playing elsewhere in 2024. Indeed, a report from last month indicated the Ravens did not attempt to re-sign the LSU product this offseason.

That will certainly add a new layer of intrigue to the Ravens-Steelers rivalry for at least one more season. Queen posted a career-high 133 tackles in 2023, adding 3.5 sacks, one interception and one fumble recovery. Those figures earned him a Pro Bowl nod and second-team All-Pro honors, and he will aim to build off that acclaim as a central figure on Pittsburgh’s defense. If player and team have success, the below-market agreement will prove to be a worthwhile commitment on both sides.

Latest On Steelers’ Offensive Line

The Steelers offensive line in 2023 was pretty decent, allowing the ninth-least sacks in the NFL and ranking as the 13th-best rushing offense. Still, Pittsburgh opted to make a number of moves towards an upgrade on their offensive front for the 2024 season. In fact, the Steelers utilized their first two draft picks (and three of seven) this year on linemen, and all three could be in line to start as rookies.

The only position that lost a starter on the line this year was center. The team watched their starter of the last two seasons, Mason Cole, depart in free agency. Cole graded out as the league’s 29th-best center out of 36 graded players at the position last season, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). They have a couple options to replace Cole, including veteran Nate Herbig. Herbig hasn’t played center much at the college or NFL level, but he has versatile experience all over the line and could be utilized there in a pinch. The favorite to start, though, is the second-round rookie out of West Virginia, Zach Frazier.

At guard things are a bit more interesting. Like Frazier, fourth-round rookie guard out of South Dakota State Mason McCormick is currently slotted to start on the depth chart of the team’s website. McCormick is listed as the starting left guard, presumably because that’s the only position he played in college. The team’s returning left guard, Isaac Seumalo, graded out as the team’s best offensive lineman in 2023, though, per PFF. So, unless the team benches their top returning lineman, Seumalo or McCormick will need to move over to the right side to compete with James Daniels. Seumalo has experience starting at right guard in the past, so it makes the most sense to move him over.

At tackle, the Steelers utilized their first-round pick to bring in Washington lineman Troy Fautanu. Many projected Fautanu’s skillset to fit best at guard or center at the NFL-level, though he spent most of his time at tackle during college in Seattle. Pittsburgh believes that he has the ability to stay at tackle and start in the NFL. Pundits predict that last year’s rookie first-round pick Broderick Jones will remain at right tackle, where he played in 2023, putting Fautanu at left tackle to replace Dan Moore Jr. as the starter. According to Mark Kaboly of The Athletic, though, Fautanu has spent the first three days of organized team activities at right tackle behind Jones.

Kaboly doesn’t think Fautanu will stay as the backup at right tackle, though. More likely, with OTAs serving as the ideal time to mold and learn. This experience is the perfect opportunity for Fautanu to learn both positions in the event that he may have to move over to the right side and fill in for an injured Jones. It’s not uncommon for offensive lineman to need time to develop, but the Steelers likely didn’t use their first two draft picks on players they didn’t intend to start.

Things are still extremely early. The rookies are still finding their footing, and a number of camp battles are sure to ensue. The team even has plenty of time to sign a veteran free agent if they deem it necessary. Still, Pittsburgh has the potential to serve as a rare occasion in which we see three rookies starting across the offensive line.

We last saw that in 2020 when the Dolphins started Austin Jackson, Robert Hunt, and Solomon Kindley (their first-, second-, and fourth-round picks, respectively) as rookies. That Miami team improved their record from 5-11 the previous year to 10-6 despite the youth across the line. The Steelers may be hoping for a similar level of improvement.

Poll: Which Team Is Chiefs’ Top AFC Threat?

Representation in Super Bowls has not stretched wide in the AFC over the past decade. Since 2013, all of four franchises — the Broncos, Patriots, Chiefs and Bengals — have represented the conference in Super Bowls. The NFC in that span has produced seven Super Bowl entrants.

Since 2001, QB-driven graphics regarding Super Bowl participation primarily feature four faces — those of Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Patrick Mahomes. An AFC team employing a QB outside that quartet has only reached the Super Bowl three times (2002 Raiders, 2012 Ravens, 2021 Bengals) in 24 seasons. As the NFC has rolled out 21 Super Bowl QB starters since Brady’s first appearance, it has been quite difficult for outsiders to forge a path in the AFC.

This space used to ask which team was best positioned to KO the Patriots in the AFC. The Chiefs ended up getting there, first loading up around Mahomes’ rookie contract before assembling a low-cost (but highly effective) defense to help a team suddenly limited — beyond the Mahomes-Travis Kelce connection’s enduring brilliance — following the Tyreek Hill trade. As the Chiefs aim to become the first team since the mid-1960s Packers to threepeat (part one of Green Bay’s offering occurred before the Super Bowl era), which conference challenger is best built to disrupt their path back?

The AFC North appears a good place to start. The Ravens open the season with an Arrowhead Stadium trek and held the AFC’s No. 1 seed last season. Lamar Jackson skated to MVP honors, and Mike Macdonald‘s defense led the league in scoring. But familiar issues resurfaced for the team in the AFC championship game. An oddly pass-focused Baltimore effort ground to a halt, as Jackson committed two turnovers. Macdonald has since departed — the first Ravens coordinator to leave for a head coaching job since Gary Kubiak in 2015 — and ex-Baltimore linebacker Zach Orr moved into the DC post. The team also lost three starters up front. Although quiet in free agency (in terms of outside hires) beyond the splashy Derrick Henry addition, the Ravens added likely cornerback starter Nate Wiggins in Round 1 and kept Justin Madubuike off the market via the franchise tag and a quick extension.

Cincinnati has shown superior mettle against Kansas City since Joe Burrow‘s arrival, beating the Chiefs thrice in 2022 before falling as both teams battled key injuries in the January 2023 AFC title game. The Bengals losing Burrow in November removed a key obstacle in the Chiefs’ path, but the NFL’s highest-paid player is back. The team also retained Tee Higgins, being the only team left to have a player on the tag, and added new tackles in Trent Brown and Amarius Mims to join Orlando Brown Jr. The team revamped its safety corps by bringing back Vonn Bell and adding ex-Raven Geno Stone. Not many glaring issues are present in Cincinnati’s lineup, with longer-term matters — the receiver situation chief among them — the top roster storylines here.

Creeping into the playoffs despite a host of high-profile injuries on offense, the Browns showed their roster strength by shrugging off the injuries to Deshaun Watson, Nick Chubb and their tackles. Cleveland acquired Jerry Jeudy via trade and then extended him, and other than adding some Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah supporting pieces at linebacker, returns the starters from a No. 1-ranked pass defense. Watson’s struggles, for the most part, since arriving via trade will continue to define where the Browns can venture.

Although the Bills parted with Stefon Diggs and Gabe Davis, looking past Buffalo — a four-time reigning AFC East champion that defeated the Chiefs in three straight seasons in Kansas City — would probably be a mistake. The Bills made some cost-cutting moves, most notably disbanding its seven-year safety duo of Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer (though Hyde remains in play to return), and saw concerning form from Von Miller following his second ACL tear. The Bills also lost Leonard Floyd in free agency. Focus will understandably be aimed at Buffalo’s WR crew, which now houses Curtis Samuel, second-rounder Keon Coleman and ex-Chief Marquez Valdes-Scantling (who certainly places a premium on QB talent). The Chiefs’ issues staffing their wideout spots last year provided a lingering problem; will the Bills make a higher-profile addition down the line?

With their backs to the wall, the Joe DouglasRobert Saleh regime will count on Aaron Rodgers belatedly delivering. The duo may or may not have attempted to strip power from OC Nathaniel Hackett, who is coming off a brutal two-year stretch. The Jets effectively replaced Bryce Huff with a more proven rusher in Haason Reddick and added Mike Williams as a supporting-caster on offense. The team will hope its pair of 33-year-old tackles — Tyron Smith, Morgan Moses — holds up, while Olu Fashanu looms as a long term tackle piece and potential short-term guard. Can the Jets do enough offensively to capitalize on their defensive nucleus of the past two seasons?

The Texans sit as a fascinating piece of this puzzle, given their outlook going into the first three seasons of Nick Caserio‘s GM tenure. After low-key offseasons from 2021-23, Houston added Diggs and a few notable defenders to the DeMeco Ryans-led roster. Danielle Hunter and Denico Autry join ex-Ryans 49ers pupil Azeez Al-Shaair as key defensive additions. Although Diggs struggled down the stretch in his final Bills season, he certainly played a lead role in elevating Josh Allen‘s stature. The Texans, who have C.J. Stroud on a rookie deal through at least 2025, will hope the Pro Bowler pairs well with Nico Collins and the returning Tank Dell.

Miami and Jacksonville’s roster equations figure to change soon, as respective extension talks with Tua Tagovailoa and Trevor Lawrence are ongoing. The Dolphins have faded badly under Mike McDaniel and did not seriously threaten the Chiefs in a frigid wild-card game, though they have obviously shown elite offensive capabilities in the right environment. Handing the play-calling reins to OC Press Taylor in 2023, the Jaguars did not build on a strong 2022 finish. The Steelers also present one of the highest floors in NFL history, and they have upgraded at quarterback by adding two options — in Justin Fields and likely starter Russell Wilson. But they also have not won a playoff game since the six-field goal offering against the Chiefs — a game that represented the final shove for Kansas City to trade up for Mahoemes — seven years ago.

The Texans emerged from the NFL’s basement last season. Is there a stealth contender lurking? The Chiefs’ division does not look particularly imposing, once again, though Jim Harbaugh now overseeing Justin Herbert is certainly an interesting development. The national championship-winning HC has authored turnarounds everywhere he has gone.

No team has qualified for five Super Bowls in a six-year period, and none of the Super Bowl era’s threepeat efforts have reached the final stage; the 1990 49ers came closest, losing on a last-second field goal in the NFC title game. Who is poised to be the best Chiefs deterrent on their path to a threepeat? Vote in PFR’s latest poll and weigh in with your AFC thoughts in the comments section.