Latest On Steelers WR Antonio Brown

Steelers owner Art Rooney II made news last week when he admitted it’s “hard to envision” wide receiver Antonio Brown being with the team in training camp following his late-season meltdown, and today Rooney elaborated on Brown and his status with Pittsburgh.

The Steelers have yet to engage in any trade discussions for Brown, Rooney said (Twitter link via Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette). So far, both the Broncos and 49ers have been mentioned as possible contenders to acquire Brown, but no negotiations have taken place. Trade talks — if they do occur — are more likely to go down near the start of the new league year in March.

Brown isn’t necessarily a goner from the Steelers’ roster, as Rooney says he’s keeping all doors open, per Bouchette. However, there are “not that many signs out there that” Brown is going to offer any sort of apology. Rooney admitted he’s not exactly sure what caused Brown to sit out the Steelers’ final game of the season. “I’m very disappointed in where we are and what happened and don’t have a lot of good explanations for it,” said Rooney, per Jeremy Fowler of (Twitter link).

If Brown is cut or traded before June 1, the Steelers will incur more than $21MM in dead money on their salary cap and gain just over $1MM in new space. If he’s designated as a post-June 1 cut or traded after that date, Pittsburgh will take on roughly $7MM in dead money in 2019 and ~$14MM in 2020.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Steelers’ Ryan Shazier Eyeing NFL Return

Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier has made tremendous strides in his rehabilitation and wants to continue forward in his recovery with an eye on playing football again, owner Art Rooney says (Twitter link via Ed Bouchette of the Post-Gazette). Shazier’s contract is up, so Rooney says the team would probably have to sign him as a player in 2019 in order for him to do that.

When Shazier was carted off of the field in December 2017, doctors feared that he might never walk again. After months of grueling rehab, Shazier is now able to walk with some assistance. All along, the linebacker has been hopeful about returning to the gridiron.

There is no ceiling in Ryan’s recovery. He aggressively approaches it every day,” Steelers GM Kevin Colbert said in March of last year. “We support him in every way possible in that endeavor. Where that leads, only he will know and he will determine further down the road. His approach, his mental approach. I can’t tell you how impressive an inspiration he is to us.”

Last May, the Steelers converted $8.26MM of the linebacker’s 2018 base salary into a signing bonus. The move had no cap implications for the Steelers, but it allowed Shazier to collect on the bulk of his pay for the 2018 season immediately rather than waiting for it in increments throughout the year. It sounds like the Steelers are prepared to do right by him once again as he continues on his inspirational journey.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Broncos To Hire Mike Munchak

The Broncos have agreed to terms with Mike Munchak to be their new offensive line coach, according to Mike Klis of 9News (on Twitter). Munchak was the runner-up in their head coaching search before the hiring of Vic Fangio and the club kept in close contact with him as they built out the staff.

The team announced the hire.

Initially, it was believed that Munchak might be a candidate for the offensive coordinator role that was abandoned by Gary Kubiak. Instead, he’s making a lateral move from the Steelers to the Broncos, though he’ll presumably receive a pay bump.

Munchak, 58, has been the Steelers’ offensive line coach since 2014. His contract expired after the 2018 season, so he had no real roadblocks on his way to Denver.

Munchak is widely regarded as one of the league’s best offensive line coaches in the NFL. Under his command, the Steelers’ front five helped transform Le’Veon Bell into a star and vaulted James Conner into the upper echelon of running backs in 2018.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

2019 Proven Performance Escalators

According to the NFL’s contractual bargaining agreement, players drafted in rounds three though seven are entitled to raises during the fourth year of their respective rookie contracts. The pay bumps are tied to playing time — a player must have played in 35% of his team’s offensive or defensive snaps in two of his first three seasons, or averaged 35% playing time cumulatively during that period.

If one of these thresholds is met, the player’s salary is elevated to the level of that year’s lowest restricted free agent tender — that figure should be around $2MM in 2019. Players selected in the first or second round, undrafted free agents, and kickers/punters are ineligible for the proven performance escalator.

Here are the players who will see their salary rise in 2019 courtesy of the proven performance escalator:

Bears: RB Jordan Howard, LB Nick Kwiatkoski

Bengals: LB Nick Vigil

Broncos: G Connor McGovern, S Will Parks, S Justin Simmons

Browns: S Derrick Kindred, LB Joe Schobert

Buccaneers: G Caleb Benenoch, DE Carl Nassib, CB Ryan Smith

Chargers: LB Jatavis Brown

Chiefs: CB Kendall Fuller, WR Tyreek Hill, S Eric Murray, WR Demarcus Robinson

Colts: QB Jacoby Brissett, T Joe Haeg

Cowboys: CB Anthony Brown, DT Maliek Collins, QB Dak Prescott

Dolphins: RB Kenyan Drake

Eagles: CB Jalen Mills, T Halapoulivaati Vaitai

Falcons: LB De’Vondre Campbell, TE Austin Hooper, G Wes Schweitzer

Jaguars: DE Yannick Ngakoue

Jets: LB Jordan Jenkins, CB Rashard Robinson, T Brandon Shell

Lions: C Graham Glasgow

Packers: LB Kyler Fackrell, DE Dean Lowry, LB Blake Martinez, LB Antonio Morrison

Patriots: G Joe Thuney, LB Elandon Roberts

Rams: G Austin Blythe, TE Tyler Higbee

Ravens: DE Matt Judon, OL Alex Lewis, CB Tavon Young

Saints: DT David Onyemata

Steelers: DT Javon Hargrave

Texans: DT D.J. Reader

Titans: S Kevin Byard, WR Tajae Sharpe was essential in the creation of this post. Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images. 

Broncos An Antonio Brown Suitor?

The Antonio Brown news cycle continues, with this week bringing an update from Art Rooney II. The Steelers owner pointing to the All-Pro wide receiver having potentially worn out his welcome has ignited trade rumors.

An interesting team has emerged on that front. The Broncos are a team to keep an eye on as a Brown suitor, Ian Rapoport of reports (on Twitter). While mentioning cap-rich teams like the Colts, Jets and 49ers as potential Brown buyers, Rapoport notes the Broncos may be “plotting a run” at the superstar wideout.

Teams eyeing Brown may not have to fork over an Amari Cooper price, either. Rival GMs expect a second-round pick and possibly some additional compensation being enough to get a deal done, RapSheet adds. Brown’s four-year, $68MM deal, and perhaps the way his 2018 season ended, may well give teams caution despite his obvious superiority to Cooper as a player. The Steelers may well approach teams in trade talks, per Rapoport.

By the end of the regular season, the Broncos were reeling at receiver. They traded Demaryius Thomas and saw Emmanuel Sanders go down with a season-ending Achilles injury. But they do have Sanders’ contract on their books for one more season.

Sanders and Brown were both 2010 Pittsburgh rookies and played together until 2013. Sanders has been an essential part of Denver’s past five passing attacks and was on pace for another 1,000-yard season prior to going down. Sanders, 32 in March, is a year older than Brown (31 in July). He does not expect his former teammate to be a Steeler next season (Twitter link). But with Sanders set to make a non-guaranteed $10.15MM in 2019 and Brown tethered to a wideout-record deal ($22MM-plus ’19 cap number), Brown-to-Denver is a curious fit. Unless the Broncos are planning to replace Sanders with Brown.

The Broncos do have rookie contracts comprising the rest of their receiving corps and stand to hold more than $45MM in cap space, with some possible cap-casualty contracts — like Brandon Marshall or Ronald Leary — on their books. But reuniting the former Steelers teammates would tag the Broncos’ payroll with a historic cost at this position, even if it would mean a far more potent passing attack than what recent Denver teams have possessed.

Latest On Antonio Brown, Steelers

On Friday, Antonio Brown, through his rep, declined to comment on prospective trade talks. However, the receiver is reportedly open to either being traded or returning to the Steelers in 2019, ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler tweets

According to Fowler, the perennial Pro Bowl pick is “open/eager” to prove he can thrive in any offense, but is fine with returning to Pittsburgh “if things shake out that way.” This comes a day after Steelers president Art Rooney II said it would be “hard to envision” Brown with the team next season.

This has all spiraled out of control fast since Brown’s blowup leading up to Week 17, which led head coach Mike Tomlin to bench him for a pivotal game against Cincinnati. Shortly thereafter, it was reported the star receiver was requesting a trade.

Thanks to the $19MM signing bonus he received in his four-year, $68MM extension and the $12.96MM restructuring bonus he later secured, cutting or trading Brown would result in a $21.12MM cap charge in 2019.

While it could be difficult to deal the wideout financially, the Steelers seem willing to explore trading Brown. Despite the hefty price tag, Brown is sure to find suitors looking to get its hands on the most consistent receiver from the last five years.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Latest On Steelers, Antonio Brown

Antonio Brown is unhappy with Steelers brass and coach Mike Tomlin, but the assumption so far has been that the Steelers would not trade the wide receiver. Apparently, things have changed. In an interview with Gerry Dulac of the Post-Gazette, Steelers president Art Rooney II said it would be “hard to envision” Brown being with the Steelers in training camp this summer. 

There’s not much we can do right now; we have time to make a decision,” Rooney said. “We’ll look at all the options. We’re not going to release him, that’s not on the table. But I will say all other options are on the table.”

With that, it appears that one of the game’s most dangerous offensive weapons could be on the market. It’s likely that every team will have interest in adding Brown, but the cost figures to be sky high. Not only is Brown a superstar player, but trading him would also leave the Steelers saddled with an astronomical cap hit. Even though dissatisfied players are often traded for pennies on the dollar, a Brown trade could call for the forfeiture of two first-round picks, and possibly more.

Even though Rooney is leaving the door open to a possible trade, he’s not slamming the door on a potential reconciliation either.

I’m not going to use those words. All options are on the table. We have two months to go before we can do anything. There’s no sense making the decision now,” Rooney said. “We’ll see how things play out. Maybe he decides to come talk to us some day and we learn more about where he is. We’ll see.”

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.