PITTSBURGH — Plenty of professional football players are going through the 2019 offseason wishing they’d had a better go of it in 2018.
Steelers kicker Chris Boswell might be right up at the top of that last.
The 2017 Pro Bowler had built a stellar reputation in his first three seasons in the league, making 90 percent of his kicks and showing a knack for connecting on big kicks in late-game situations.
Last summer, the Steelers signed Boswell to a five-year contract worth $20 million, making him the fifth-highest paid kicker in the NFL.
Then came a 2018 season that couldn’t have gone any worse for Boswell.
He made just 13 of 20 (65%) on the season, and furthermore, missed several kicks in some critical losses as the Steelers slipped to 9-6-1 and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2013.
In the team’s six losses and one tie, Boswell was 6 for 11 (54.5%). Four of those games were decided by a field goal or less. Flip any into the win column, and the Steelers would have found themselves in the postseason.
Boswell spent the end of that run on the injured reserve, having been placed their after he went 2 for 2 in Week 15’s loss at New Orleans.
Speaking to reports at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex on the South Side on Tuesday for the first time since then, Boswell didn’t want to talk about his injury or how it might have affected him during the 2018 season.
“That’s not something that is ever going to be shared,” Boswell said. “I had some long meetings with a lot of people and just kind of getting to the bottom of everything. I’m try to have a nice foundation going into camp and the season.”
He just wants to move on and focus on the ongoing battle to re-claim his starting position. Somewhat surprisingly, his plan to go about doing that is to do — exactly what he did last season.
“I’m going to stick to what I did going into my fourth year here,” Boswell said. “It didn’t work last year, but I’m not just going to scratch everything.”
There will be competition at the kicker position, but it won’t be the one most expected this offseason. Matt McCrane, who the Steelers signed after Boswell was put on the injured reserve, was released after rookie camp, leaving just UCF rookie Matthew Wright to compete with Boswell. Wright made 85.7% of his kicks as a senior with the Knights, but Boswell isn’t concerned about the nature of the competition.
He knows that if he can regain the form that led him to a Pro Bowl season and a hefty contract, the Steelers will stick by him. If he can’t, they probably won’t, whether it ends up being Wright or another kicker. That’s the competition that he’s focusing on as he prepares for 2019.
“No matter who’s out here, it’s me versus me, it’s not me versus anybody,” he said. “As long as I can conquer that, I should be pretty good.”
Steelers Offensive Coordinator Matt Canada on Run Game, Roethlisberger
Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator Matt Canada has spoken publicly for the first time since his promotion in late January.
Canada joined the latest edition of The Standard, the Steelers’ behind-the-scenes web series, and discussed a number of topics, including fixing the run game, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and his offensive philosophy.
There is no denying Pittsburgh produced the least successful rushing attack in football a season ago, averaging just 84.4 yards per game and 3.6 yards per attempt.
Canada recognizes the Steelers need to improve significantly on the ground, a mandate he implied came down from Team President Art Rooney II.
“He’s made it very clear that that’s got to get better,” Canada said. “When all of us realized that we didn’t get it done we wanted to with our running game and all of who are here are part of that. And we’ve got to improve upon it in a multitude of ways and we’re certainly focused on it. We’re globally studying who’s running the ball well. We’ve always believed in running the football anywhere that I’ve been. You win up front. I believe that. We believe that. I know Coach Tomlin believes that.”
Not only will the Steelers have to better impose their will in the trenches, but Canada knows they will also have to remove the predictability that plagued them last season, especially in the passing game.
“You have to be able to run the football when they know you’re going to run it,” Canada added. “And you have to be able to throw the football when they know you’re going to throw it.”
Canada also gushed over Roethlisberger, who the Steelers announced will be returning for the 2021 season on a one-year contract Thursday.
“He’s such a great competitor. He competes at everything he does and his competitive drive is so strong and so awesome to be around no matter what we’re doing,” Canada said of Roethlisberger.
He also praised the 39-year-old’s accuracy, which he believes sets Roethlisberger apart from his peers.
“And then just his accuracy. And I’ve said this to one of my buddies who’s a quarterback coach somewhere else. Young quarterbacks, I wish there was some way for them to be here and watch how he practices putting the ball in certain spots. It’s such a unique talent that he’s able to do it.”
While Roethlisberger’s new deal has provided the Steelers some much needed financial flexibility, they will still undoubtedly have some tough departures once free agency begins in earnest.
Regardless which players do or do not remain in Pittsburgh heading into the 2021 season, Canada insists his offense will be multi-dimensional and cater to whatever personnel the Steelers have on the offensive side.
“We are going through and looking at the foundation of our offense. And building an offense that will be conducive to whatever talent that we have,” Canada said. “I don’t believe you have a certain system that works and this is all we’re going to do and we have to have the players for that. We have the players we have each year. Our job is to score more points than the team we play on each Sunday.”
Steelers Sign Center J.C. Hassenauer on One-Year Deal
The Pittsburgh Steelers have signed center J.C. Hassenauer to a one-year deal, first reported by ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler.
Steelers sign center J.C. Hassenauer, an exclusive rights free agent, to a one-year deal, per source.— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerESPN) March 4, 2021
An exclusive right free agent, Hassenauer was almost a lock to return to Pittsburgh in 2021. His new deal with the Steelers is worth $780,000.
Hassenauer proved a vital piece along the Steelers’ offensive line a season ago, seeing action in 15 games and making four starts. He was on the field for 23% of the team’s offensive stats, while also appearing on 50 special teams plays.
Prior to Pittsburgh, Hassenauer signed with the Atlanta Falcons as an undrafted free agent in 2018, spending the first seven weeks of the season on their practice squad.
He played for the Birmingham Iron of the Alliance of American Football in 2019.
Hassenauer played his college ball at Alabama. He made just three career starts for the Crimson Tide, with his final coming in the 2018 College Football Playoff national championship game, a 26-23 overtime win over Georgia.
Hassenauer’s agent Blake Baratz confirmed the signing on Twitter on Thursday.
Steelers Estimated $3.6m Under Salary Cap after New Contract for Ben Roethlisberger
The Steelers have are salary cap compliant and have an estimated $3.6 million in breathing room after renegotiating the contract of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger on Thursday, according to contract figures reported by NFL Network, salary cap data from OverTheCap.com and Steelers Now analysis.
Roethlisberger’s contract, which is technically a five-year deal, but will last only through the 2021 season before being voided will save the team $15.3 million under the 2021 salary cap.
Though the Steelers are finally in the black with regards to the 2021 salary cap, they will still likely need to make additional moves to shore up extra salary cap space. The team will need over $8 million in space to sign its 2021 NFL Draft class, the final two players for the 53-man roster and a practice squad. Only the top 51 contracts count toward the cap in the offseason.
The Steelers’ estimated $3.6 million in cap space is based on a $180 million salary cap, which is based on Steelers Now sources on several national reports. The final salary cap figure for 2021 has not yet been made official.
The team has a three contracts that can be restructured, those of defensive end Stephon Tuitt, kicker Chris Boswell and fullback Derek Watt, that could save the team around another $6 million.
The contracts of guard David DeCastro and cornerbacks Joe Haden and Steven Nelson could also be extended or re-negotiated. All are entering the final season of their contract.
The Steelers have two dozen pending free agents, including starters Tyson Alualu, Zach Banner, Jordan Berry, James Conner, Bud Dupree, Matt Feiler, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Alejandro Villanueva and key reserves Mike Hilton and Cameron Sutton.
Starting center J.C. Hassenauer and backup inside linebackers Marcus Allen and Robert Spillane are exclusive rights free agents. Backup outside linebacker Ola Adeniyi and wide receiver and kick returner Ray-Ray McCloud are restricted free agents.