It’s been a wild ride for the Pittsburgh Steelers off-season thus far, with more drama filled in their one month away from football than their sixteen game schedule allowed for. Antonio Brown has dominated headlines in Pittsburgh for all the wrong reasons since not appearing in the Steelers final game of the season.
On Feb. 12, Brown made an official trade request to the team just hours after he failed to appear in court for a speeding ticket. The Central Michigan product has been particularly savvy on his social media pages through the off-season, making his feelings/intentions clear for the whole world to see.
Organizations got the fans tricked
— Antonio Brown (@AB84) February 15, 2019
After a typhoon of ambiguous tweets, posts and words, this is where we find ourselves: A receiver the city of Pittsburgh once embraced as one of their own wanting out, and making it very clear along the way.
Enter: Owner of the Steelers, Art Rooney II.
Rooney remained oddly quiet in the initial reports of Brown missing the last week of the regular season, waiting until the time was just right to speak on the issues surrounding his team.
“As we sit here today, it’s hard to envision that” Rooney said on Brown being on the roster for training camp in 2019. “But there’s no sense on closing the door on anything today.”
That very door Rooney spoke about may have just been opened, as Rooney and Brown will meet sometime in the next week per ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler.
Can things be worked out between the two? Rooney mentioned the desire to speak with Brown in his original comments, yet Brown failed to communicate with Rooney or really anybody within the Steelers organization.
How would fans react if Rooney and Brown successfully met and talked their issues out? In a poll with over 500 votes, 53% of fans said they would not want Brown back in Pittsburgh for 2019, even if Rooney/Brown settled their differences.
Details of the meeting have yet to be released, as all we know (or that has been confirmed through sources) is Brown and Rooney both plan to meet in the near future. Does Rooney plan to hash things out with Brown, or is he simply sitting Brown down to inform him he won’t be back with the team in 2019?
Unfortunately, only time will be able to answer the pressing questions surrounding the Godfather-esque meeting between Brown and Rooney. Yet if you’re rooting for progress between the team and Brown, the meeting is a big step in the right direction.
Steelers’ Vance McDonald Reflects on Stiff Arm Moment, Relationship with Ben Roethlisberger
Steelers tight end Vance McDonald spoke to the media after officially announcing his retirement from the NFL. McDonald responded to a question about the play he’s most synonymous with by saying he embraces the famous stiff arm moment. He also detailed his interaction with Ben Roethlisberger when he told his quarterback he was planning to retire.
Steelers TE Kevin Rader Aced Week 17 Audition, More Coming in 2021?
The Steelers have an opening in their tight ends room, as four-year starter Vance McDonald retired on Friday.
That leaves Eric Ebron as the team’s projected starter for 2021, and that won’t be a big change, as Ebron out-snapped McDonald and started nine games to McDonald’s 12. Without another veteran option, it’s likely the Steelers will use fewer two-tight end sets, but the issue of backups will need to be addressed.
Michigan product and former fifth-round pick Zach Gentry has yet to be a factor through two seasons and missed most of 2020 with an injury, but as he’s under contract and the team is facing a salary cup crunch, he seems likely to hold onto that job.
The Steelers have options for a third tight end, securing the services of Dax Raymond and Charles Jones on reserve/future contracts for the 2021 season on Thursday. But the man that seems most likely to step up into that role is third-year pro Kevin Rader.
Rader, a Pine-Richland and Youngstown State alum spent his second season with the Steelers in 2020, but got his first taste of action in Week 17 at Cleveland with the Steelers choosing to rest starters.
He made the most of the opportunity, particularly on special teams, where he played in nearly half of the team’s snaps, made three tackles and drew praise from head coach Mike Tomlin.
“Guys like Kevin Rader had an opportunity to step up and play,” Tomlin said. “I think he had three tackles on kickoff. For an offensive player to have that type of contribution in net, in a coverage unit I think was impressive. That’s good for him. That’s good for us as we move forward.”
Rader is also on a reserve/future contract, with no guaranteed money for 2021, but if he can continue to show the ability to contribute on special teams and help as a blocker, where McDonald excelled and Ebron does not, it seems that he can certainly carve himself out a role in Pittsburgh in 2021.
Steelers to Host ex-Vikings OT Aviante Collins for Visit
The Steelers will host free agent tackle Aviante Collins for a visit, according to the NFL transactions page for Thursday.
Collins, 27, spent the last four seasons with the Minnesota Vikings after joining the team as an undrafted free agent out of TCU in 2017.
Collins played in three games in 2017 and two in 2019 for the Vikings, and spent all of the 2020 season on the practice squad, except for a one-week elevation in Week 11, in which he did not play.
The 6-foot-4, 292-pound tackle its a free agent after the Vikings decided to allow his practice squad contract to expire at the end of the season.
The Steelers have several free agents at the tackle position, including longtime starting left tackle Alejandro Villanueva, 2019 starting right tackle Matt Feiler and 2020 starting right tackle Zach Banner, who are unrestricted free agents, and backup Jerald Hawkins, who is a restricted free agent.
The Steelers have Chukwuma Okorafor under contract and Anthony Coyle, Jarron Jones, John Leglue and Brandon Walton signed to futures contract.