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Changes to Rooney Rule Could Make Steelers Assistants Hot Commodities

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On Tuesday, the NFL made sweeping changes to its hiring policies, expanding the Rooney Rule to include coordinators, assistant general managers and front-office executives, requiring teams interview multiple minority or female candidates for head coach and general manager openings and preventing teams from blocking coaches and staffers from interviewing for any of those positions.

The idea is to get the Rooney Rule protections to trickle down a level. After all, the prime candidates for coaching jobs are coordinators, and if the coordinators are overwhelmingly white, the hiring pool for head coaches will be, too.

But with teams having the ability to block assistants from interviewing for coordinator positions, quality assistant coaches have stacked up at some places in the league.

Teams with long runs under the same head coach have seen a familiar dynamic play out. Coordinators either leave for head coaching positions or get fired for poor performance and are then replaced internally from the pool of positional assistants.

Four of the Steelers’ last five offensive coordinators have been internal hires, with Randy Fichtner, Bruce Arians, Ken Whisenhunt and Mike Mularkey all being promoted. Todd Haley coming from Kansas City in 2012 was the lone exception. 

The same goes for three of the last four defensive coordinators, with Keith Butler, Dick LeBeau and Tim Lewis all promoted from assistant coaching positions (LeBeau left and later returned) and Jim Haslett coming in from elsewhere.

Have the Steelers been blocking their assistant coaches from interviewing for coordinator positions? It doesn’t seem like it. Butler interviewed for at least one other defensive coordinator job before ascending to follow in LeBeau’s footsteps in Pittsburgh. So there probably won’t be a big change on that front.

But perhaps unlike some other teams, the Steelers do have a diverse coaching staff. Half of the Steelers’ 10 position coaches are black, as is assistant head coach John Mitchell. Mitchell is 68 and isn’t likely to be a prime candidate elsewhere at this stage in his career.

That isn’t the case for running backs coach Eddie Faulkner, defensive line coach Karl Dunbar, wide receivers coach Ike Hilliard and most especially, senior defensive assistant Teryl Austin.

Austin is a Sharon, Pa. native and Pitt alum that came to the Steelers ahead of the 2019 season after spending five seasons as defensive coordinator with the Detroit Lions and Cincinnati Bengals.

The Steelers went from the No. 10 pass defense in 2018 to the No. 3 unit in the league under Austin in 2019. More impactfully, they went from No. 28 in turnover percentage to No. 1, with most of that improvement coming from 12 additional interceptions.

Some of that undoubtedly came from having Minkah Fitzpatrick and Steven Nelson added to the secondary, but Austin will and should get some of the credit, as well.

With the changes to the Rooney Rule making it harder for teams to hold on to assistants, and forcing teams to interview minority candidates for their coordinator openings, Austin could very well be a hot commodity next offseason with another strong performance from the Steelers secondary.

NFL

NFL Insider John Clayton: Steelers Out of Running for J.J. Watt

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One of the league’s most prominent insiders believes the Steelers are out of the running for free agent defensive end J.J. Watt.

Joining The PM Team on 93.7 The Fan on Wednesday, NFL insider John Clayton said Watt will not be joining his brothers T.J. and Derek in Pittsburgh.

Clayton sees the Tennessee Titans, Green Bay Packers and Buffalo Bills as the favorites to land Watt’s services.

For a potential dark horse, Clayton says the Las Vegas Raiders as an outside-the-box candidate to sign the veteran pass rusher.

Watt leaves Houston as one of the greatest players in franchise history. He was selected to five Pro Bowls, named First-Team All-Pro on five occasions and earned three NFL Defensive Player of the Year awards.

A future Hall of Famer, Watt is the Texans’ all-time leader in sacks (101), tackles-for-loss (172) and forced fumbles (25).

Watt recorded 52 total tackles, 14 tackles-for-loss, five sacks, two forced fumbles and returned an interception for a touchdown in 2020.

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NFL Hosting Women’s Careers in Football Forum

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The NFL is hosting its fifth annual Women’s Careers in Football Forum from Feb. 24-25, the league announced in a press release Tuesday.

The event will be held virtually and “connect 40 women, 75% of whom are women of color, with leaders in professional football to help those women network and build relationships in the areas of coaching, scouting and football operations.”

Those participating in the event will join panel discussions, breakout sessions and have networking opportunities with industry leaders, such as head coaches and team executives. All portions of the event are aimed at building connections that will result in hirings and subsequent representation.

Since its inception in 2017, the two-day event has assisted in developing “a more diverse talent pipeline by connecting high-potential women to career opportunities in football.” According to the league, 118 opportunities for women in football have been created as a result.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and wife Jane Skinner Goodell will speak, as well as NFL Chief Football Administrative Officer Dawn Aponte. In addition, three owners, seven head coaches and six general managers will also join the conversation.

Sarah Thomas made history earlier this month becoming the first woman to officiate a Super Bowl. The champion Tamp Bay Buccaneers also had a record number of women on their coaching staff this past season.

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Report: 2021 NFL Salary Cap Expected at $182-183 Million

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The 2021 NFL salary cap is expected to be around $182 or $183 million, according to a report by Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk.

That is just slightly above the bare-minimum figure of $180 million agreed to by the NFL and NFLPA last week, and aligns with Steelers Now sources that predict the cap will fall between $180 and $185 million.

The Steelers are one of several teams that will be significantly over the salary cap, regardless of what figure is.


According to Pro Football Talk, those teams have been lobbying to increase the 2021 salary cap at the expense of future years to minimize the impact the pandemic has had on NFL operations.

Doing so would essentially amount to an interest-free loan given by the owners to the players, something that some owners have balked at.

That final figure could still be impacted by the league signing new television contracts for the 2022 season before the salary cap is finalized, which is expected some time in March.


The new league year starts on March 17, which is the day that all teams must be under the new salary cap.

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