Steelers, QB Mason Rudolph Begin Talks

Mentioned on a few occasions as having a clear path back to Pittsburgh, Mason Rudolph is taking steps toward that conclusion. While he may not be the favorite to be the Steelers’ 2024 starter, the team has the six-year veteran in its plans once again.

The Steelers have begun talks with their veteran backup-turned-playoff starter, Mark Kaboly of The Athletic reports (subscription required). Rudolph began last season as the team’s third-stringer, playing on a one-year deal worth $1.1MM. It will almost definitely take more than that for the Steelers to bring Rudolph back. If completed, this would be a fourth Rudolph Steelers contract.

While Kaboly categorizes these as preliminary talks, Mike Tomlin indicated early this offseason the team would attempt to re-sign the former Ben Roethlisberger backup. A recent report also pegged some in the building as being OK vaulting Rudolph past Kenny Pickett on the depth chart. Tomlin has said Pickett will enter the offseason program as the starter, but his grip on the job is now tenuous. The Steelers, who have also been connected to Justin Fields, want someone to at least compete with the 2022 first-round pick.

I can’t tell when the deal would get done, hopefully with us,” Steelers GM Omar Khan said. “It’s just a process, and I understand it, but we’d like to have [Rudolph] back. … I believe he wants to come back and compete, and he likes it here.”

Inserted into the lineup after Mitch Trubisky‘s struggles replacing Pickett, Rudolph made four starts for the Steelers to close last season. The team went 3-1 in those games, returning to the playoffs and ensuring Tomlin’s .500-or-better streak would reach a 17th season. Rudolph moved the offense effectively when summoned, with the Steelers toppling the Bengals and Seahawks en route to their second postseason berth in three years. Despite Pickett being ready to return, he backed up Rudolph to close out the season. Rudolph, 28, had never previously held QB1 reins without an injury or COVID-19 contraction intervening.

A Rudolph return would be interesting for the Steelers, and the team’s plans with Fields or another veteran would stand to affect his interest in coming back. A Rudolph-Pickett competition would not exactly be the most inspiring of paths for the Steelers, who have not enjoyed steady quarterback play in several years.

Rudolph could conceivably balk at a return if the team acquires a higher-profile veteran, creating an unusual three-way competition for the job. It is unclear if a Rudolph re-signing would stop the Steelers from chasing another starter-caliber veteran, but it would certainly complicate matters. Regarding the Fields tie, the Steelers are not believed to be a true threat here. It appears they are aiming lower.

Rudolph might have other options, but a number of backup- or bridge-level arms are set to be available soon. Ryan Tannehill, the subject of a previous Steelers rumor due to Arthur Smith‘s arrival, joins a deep group that includes Jacoby Brissett, Gardner Minshew, Sam Darnold, Marcus Mariota, Tyrod Taylor, Drew Lock and Joe Flacco. Injuries across the NFL last year may prompt some teams to spend more to fill their QB2 post, but at some point, this group could cannibalize each other on the market.

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NBA denies Knicks protest of loss in Houston, saying referee error is not grounds to overturn

The NBA has denied the Knicks‘ protest of their loss in Houston, two days after New York won a game in large part because of a call that was determined to be incorrect.

The Knicks protested their 105-103 loss to the Rockets on Feb. 12, a game that ended with Houston’s Aaron Holiday making two free throws after officials called a foul on New York’s Jalen Brunson with 0.3 seconds remaining. After the game, referee Ed Malloy said the contact between the players was marginal and no foul should have been called.

However, that is not grounds to overturn the result, the NBA ruled Wednesday.

“Under the standard for NBA game protests, New York was required to demonstrate that there was a misapplication of the official playing rules, as opposed to an error in judgment by game officials,” the league said in a statement. “Because the foul call at issue reflected an error in judgment, New York did not demonstrate a misapplication of the playing rules, and the extraordinary remedy of upholding a game protest was not warranted.”

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There hasn’t been a protest upheld in the NBA since the 2007-08 season, when an error by the Atlanta stat crew led to Miami’s Shaquille O’Neal fouling out of a game when he had only five fouls at the time. The league ordered the final 51.9 seconds of their game to be replayed.

The Knicks escaped with a 113-111 victory over Detroit on Monday after Josh Hart made the go-ahead basket with 2.8 seconds remaining. Officials reviewed tape of the game afterward and determined that New York’s Donte DiVincenzo should have been called for a foul on Pistons rookie Ausar Thompson that instead allowed the Knicks to regain possession of the ball, with Detroit coach Monty Williams saying it was “the absolute worst call of the season.”

Reporting by The Associated Press.

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Latest On Steelers’ QB Situation, Possible Justin Fields Pursuit

Last week, we heard that the Steelers were interested in re-signing quarterback Mason Rudolph and having him compete with 2022 first-rounder Kenny Pickett to be the club’s starting signal-caller. Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that, even if the Steelers are unsuccessful in their pursuit of a Rudolph re-up, the club will not consider an external addition who is eyeing a QB1 role. Naturally, that would rule out a passer like Justin Fields, who is widely expected to be traded by the Bears.

On the same day that Dulac’s piece was published, however, Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com (subscription required) wrote that Pittsburgh would, in fact, acquire via trade or free agency a quarterback who would push Pickett for the starting job, and that such a quarterback would be “more than a stopgap.” Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin is reportedly a fan of Fields, and Fowler said that the rumblings connecting Fields to Pittsburgh are intensifying.

For a team like Pittsburgh that, as Fowler observes, could be just a quarterback away from championship contention, adding a clear upgrade over Pickett would make plenty of sense. But Mark Kaboly of The Athletic is aligned with Dulac, his fellow Steelers beat writer (subscription required). Kaboly explicitly says that the team is not going to go after Fields, and that while there may be a competition between Rudolph and Pickett if Rudolph is re-signed, Pickett will get one last chance to prove his worth before Pittsburgh looks outside the organization.

While these starkly contrasting reports between a national writer and two beats add to the uncertainty of the Steelers’ quarterback situation, it continues to look like there is no uncertainty concerning Fields’ future in Chicago. Though the Ohio State product recently said he would like to remain with the Bears — as relayed by Jason Lieser of the Chicago Sun-TimesBrad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune does not believe there is any internal debate as to whether the club should keep Fields in lieu of using its No. 1 overall draft choice (or a slightly lower choice in the event of a small trade down) on a top collegiate prospect. Rather, the real question is simply which passer in the 2024 draft class the Bears like the best.

Per Biggs, it is at least conceivable that the Bears retain Fields if they do not find a trade offer to their liking, but a trade is their preference. Previous reports have indicated that the team would finalize its QB plan one way or another by the start of the scouting combine (which opens tomorrow), and it sounds as if that plan is indeed to seek a suitor for Fields. Biggs says there is no disconnet on that point between GM Ryan Poles and team president Kevin Warren.

Expect plenty more Chicago-related rumors this week as team brass discusses its incumbent passer — and perhaps, the No. 1 selection in the upcoming draft — with rival clubs.

Raiders Announce Finalized 2024 Coaching Staff

When the season ended, the Raiders stayed true to the wishes of many players, hiring interim head coach Antonio Pierce into the permanent role for the 2024 NFL season. Today, Las Vegas officially announced the entirety of the new staff under Pierce, cluing us into some developments that we hadn’t yet reported on. We were aware of the hires of offensive coordinator Luke Getsy, offensive line coach James Cregg, senior offensive assistant Joe Philbin, quarterbacks coach Rich Scangarello, assistant quarterbacks coach Fred Walker, and running backs coach Carnell “Cadillac” Williams on offense as well as the hiring of assistant head coach Marvin Lewis. Here’s a rundown of the remaining staff updates.

On the offensive side of the ball, with quarterbacks, running backs, and offensive line covered, Getsy made the call to retain Edgar Bennett as wide receivers coach. Bennett has an extensive history with star wideout Davante Adams as the two have spent time together in both Green Bay and Vegas. Last year’s tight ends coach Jerry Schuplinski is now a senior offensive assistant with the Rams, per Ian Rapoport of NFL Network, so former Bears assistant offensive line coach Luke Steckel has been hired in his place. Steckel previously coached tight ends in Tennessee in 2021 and 2022, mentoring Chigoziem Okonkwo to an impressive rookie season. Steckel will be assisted by newly promoted assistant tight ends coach Mitch Singler, who served the past two years as offensive quality control for the Raiders.

Additionally, pass game coordinator Scott Turner has officially been retained after being considered a candidate for the Patriots offensive coordinator position, and former Bears assistant tight ends coach Tim Zetts has been added to the staff with the title of assistant offense. Lastly on offense, we were aware that the new head coach’s son, De’Andre Pierce, would be joining the staff, but whereas his initial position was reportedly going to be offensive quality control coach, we now know that he will be an offensive assistant.

On the defensive side of the ball, we had some idea of the fate of defensive coordinator Patrick Graham, who had been permitted to take interviews for head coaching jobs but was being blocked from lateral moves, and those ideas are now confirmed as he’ll be retained as coordinator. The team’s announcement shows that defensive line coach Rob Leonard and senior defensive assistant Rob Ryan have been retained, as well. Additionally, Matt Feeney, who has spent the past two seasons as a defensive quality control coach, has been promoted to assistant defensive backs coach.

Also on defense, we knew of the hiring of Mike Caldwell as linebackers coach, but today’s announcement informed us that he’ll hold the additional title of run game coordinator, as well. We also saw initial reports that Ricky Manning Jr. was being brought on as defensive backs coach, but he is officially listed now as cornerbacks coach with former Steelers assistant defensive backs coach Gerald Alexander being hired to coach safeties. Alexander assisted with a secondary in Pittsburgh that included Minkah Fitzpatrick, Terrell Edmunds, Damontae Kazee, and Keanu Neal. Together, the two will replace Chris Ash, who was not retained as defensive backs coach, and Jason Simmons, who was recently hired as defensive pass-game coordinator in Washington. Also, we had reported the addition of former Jets defensive line coach Andre Carter to the staff, and we now know his new title in Las Vegas to be pass rush specialist.

Lastly on defense, we were informed of the hiring of Marcus Lewis as assistant linebackers coach and Josh Phillips as assistant defense. Lewis has recent experience as a defensive analyst at Arizona State and NFL experience after spending five years with the Bengals as an assistant working with the defensive line and linebackers. Phillips most recently served as head coach at Sarasota HS (FL), leading the team to a 1-9 record in his only season at the helm.

On special teams, we officially received word that both special teams coordinator Tom McMahon and assistant special teams coach Derius Swinton II would both be retained under Pierce. It appears that former NFL wideout Danny Amendola, who had been brought on as a coaching assistant to work specifically with returners, has not been retained, and Kade Rannings has been added to the staff as a second assistant special teams coach.

Lastly, the team announced that former director of football research and strategy Matt Sheldon will be on the sideline in the role of game management coach. Also, Jon Gruden‘s son, Deuce Gruden, is a surprising holdover as an assistant strength and conditioning coach after being retained by McDaniel’s staff following his father’s resignation in 2021.

There you have it. Though, much will remain the same with Pierce taking over the full-time role as head coach, plenty of changes were necessary. After another short head coaching stint by Josh McDaniels, Pierce seemed to rejuvenate a deflated squad to close the season. With a new staff of his own and a full offseason to work together, it will be interesting to see what Pierce will be able to accomplish in Las Vegas in 2024.

Steelers Release C Mason Cole

The Steelers’ starting center for the past two years, Mason Cole is back in free agency. The team announced the release of the veteran interior offensive lineman Friday.

Pittsburgh has used free agency to make upgrade efforts up front over the past two offseasons, signing Cole, James Daniels and Isaac Seumalo. The guards remain with the team, but Cole will now be looking for a new NFL employer. He had started every Steelers game over the past two seasons.

One season remained on Cole’s three-year, $15.75MM deal. No void years complications or other restructure matters, which the Steelers dabble in frequently, are part of this transaction. The Steelers will save $4.75MM by releasing Cole.

The former Cardinals starter is only going into his age-28 season; he will likely generate interest on the open market. Being released now gives Cole a head-start on the unrestricted free agents set to populate the market in mid-March.

After Pro Football Focus ranked Cole as the NFL’s 12th-best center in 2022, the advanced metrics site dropped him to 29th last season. With the Steelers’ offensive slump extending to the point the team made its first in-season coordinator firing in several decades, the team will be looking for at least one new starter up front. Despite the offensive struggles, the Steelers have enjoyed good continuity up front since adding Cole and Daniels in 2022. After seeing their starting five blockers play together throughout 2022, the Steelers had Cole and Seumalo in uniform for 18 games last season. Dan Moore started 17 games, while Daniels was available for 16.

Not known for lavish free agent spending, the Steelers did move to fortify their O-line with some veteran contracts during Kenny Pickett‘s rookie deal. The moves were half-measures of sorts, with each Pittsburgh interior O-line starter on a midlevel accord. Cole’s $5.25MM-per-year center pact represented good value for the team, but it will move on — during an offseason in which Pickett is on shakier ground.

Cole did give the Steelers some stability after Kendrick Green‘s rough 2021 as the starting center. The team traded both Green and guard starter Kevin Dotson last year, committing fully to the free agent trio inside. The Steelers have utilityman Nate Herbig under contract and used a seventh-round pick on Spencer Anderson last year. In all likelihood, however, Cole’s replacement is not yet on the roster.