Steelers President Art Rooney II met with a group of reporters Wednesday afternoon to discuss the team’s potential off-season plans, and to address some pressing questions pertaining to the team.
When a team as talented as Pittsburgh fails to make the post-season, questions begin to arise around the organization in an attempt to figure out a solution. 2018 was undoubtedly disappointing, but decision makers of the likes of Rooney must face the music at some point down the line.
Per Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Rooney said the 2018 season was tough to swallow, yet it wasn’t as disastrous as people made it out to be. “We didn’t achieve our goal of winning the division but we finished half a game out and had a lot of opportunities to get there” said Rooney.
Rooney expanded on a variety on topics, including the status of Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier, who is still recovering from a spinal injury suffered in 2017. According to Rooney, Shazier is still working towards the goal of getting back on the field, however the Steelers would need to sign him to a new contract in order for him to do so, if he’s able to successfully recover.
Another topic of discussion became contract negotiations, for a handful of people. Rooney is making it a goal to extend quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s contract this off-season, a goal the organization has held for a while. Another potential extension was expected for head coach Mike Tomlin, yet Rooney isn’t quite ready to make that happen with two years left on Tomlin’s deal, citing the team will handle that later in the off-season.
One issue pertaining to Tomlin in 2018 was his inability to correctly utilize his coaches challenges, losing the last 8/9 challenges he attempted. Rooney spoke with Tomlin about another member of the staff potentially helping him in that area, although no official designations have been made yet.
Rooney’s view on the 2018 season came with a lot of challenges throughout the year, but ultimately the team fell short of his goals. When asked about Tomlin’s performance, Rooney responded “When you miss the playoffs, nobody gets absolved.. I think everybody knows we need to do better, including Mike”.
Playing to the same tune as many fans, Rooney pointed to two factors that needed improvement: The Steelers kicking issues, and the lack of forcing turnovers on the defensive side of the ball. Rooney however mentioned the defense did improve in 2018, yet the secondary still needed improvement.
Absent from 2018’s disappointing season was running back Le’Veon Bell, who held out the entirety of the season due to failed contract negotiations. Rooney said he had no idea Bell would hold out the duration of the season, but said he “feels good” about the Steelers running back situation without Bell due to the play of James Conner and Jaylen Samuels this season, potentially signaling Bell won’t be back in a Steelers uniform.
Last but certainly not least, Rooney furthered his original statements on wide receiver Antonio Brown just a week ago. Rooney updated his situation in regards to Brown, stating he still has not had any contact with Brown. No teams have contacted the Steelers either about Brown per Rooney, stating they have not engaged in any trade talks about Brown.
When asked about Brown returning to the Steelers, Rooney is still keeping the door open for all possibilities, but stated “not that many signs out there that that’s going to happen”.
While no moves have been officially decided, it appears the Steelers front office is well aware of the state of the organization. Now, it’s up to Rooney and General Manager Kevin Colbert to right the ship and gear the Steelers up for the 2019 season.
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.