The Steelers have activated running back Jaylen Samuels from the COVID-19 Reserve List, putting the team at full strength for the first time in 2020 training camp.
Samuels was placed on the COVID-19 Reserve List, which is for players that have either tested positive or have been exposed to a positive case and must isolate, on Aug. 2.
Steelers running backs coach Eddie Faulkner said on Wednesday that he had been in constant contact with Samuels throughout his absence.
“I talk to him daily,” Faulkner said. “First of all, my most important concern is his wellbeing. Secondly, to make sure he is up to speed. As far as meetings and what we have talked about and plays going in that day. He does have the advantage of going into his third year so he has done most of these things and everything will resonate with him once he hears it. he is just going to have to go out, when he does show up, hit the ground running.”
Samuels rushed 66 times for 175 yards in his second pro season in 2019, with his 2.7 yards per carry average representing a big drop from the 4.6 mark he posted as a rookie and coming in last in the Steelers backfield rotation.
With Samuels out, the Steelers have utilized second-year backs Benny Snell and Kerrith Whyte, rookie Anthony McFarland, and veterans Trey Edmunds and Wendell Smallwood.
In order to make room for Samuels on the 80-man roster, the Steelers released fullback Spencer Nigh. Nigh, 23, was signed by the Steelers as a rookie free agent out of Auburn after going undrafted. Nigh had been behind presumptive starter Derek Watt at fullback.
Report: Steelers Restructure Contract of DL Cam Heyward
The Steelers have restructured the contract of veteran defensive lineman Cam Heyward, according to a report by Ian Rapoport of NFL Network.
Heyward is entering the first season of a four-year, $71.4 million contact extension that he signed last September.
His contract calls for a $4.5 million salary and a $6 million roster bonus for the 2021 season, along with $4.05 million of prorated signing bonus for a total salary cap hit of $14.55 million.
With a full restructure, all of Heyward’s roster bonus and his salary for 2021, save for the $1.075 veteran minimum, will be converted into a signing bonus, paid out now and spread out of the four years of the contract for salary cap purposes.
That will make Heyward’s salary cap hit for 2021 $7.481 million, a savings of nearly $7 million.
Heyward is one of only a couple players the Steelers can restructure this offseason, along with fellow defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt and kicker Chris Bowell. The team is not expected to be able to get under the salary cap with restructures alone, and releasing or extending players may also be required.
Heyward, 31, started 15 games for the Steelers in 2020, recording 54 tackles, seven for a loss and four sacks. He also had 19 quarterback hits, three passes defended and an interception.
After the season, Heyward was named second-team Associated Press NFL All-Pro, the third time in his career he’s been named an All-Pro player. He was also selected to the 2021 NFL Pro Bowl, the fourth straight season he was elected to play in that game.
Steelers Sign OT Aviante Collins to Future Contract
The Steelers have signed free agent tackle Aviante Collins to a future contract for the 2021 season, the team announced on Tuesday.
Collins, 27, visited with the Steelers on Jan. 22. He spent the last four seasons with the Minnesota Vikings after joining that 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 and backup Jerald Hawkins.
The Steelers have 2020 starting right tackle Chukwuma Okorafor under contract and Anthony Coyle, Jarron Jones, John Leglue and Brandon Walton signed to futures contract.
Former Steelers QB Devlin Hodges Signs with LA Rams
Former Steelers starting quarterback Devlin “Duck” Hodges has signed a future contract with the Los Angeles Rams for the 2021 season, he announced on Twitter on Sunday.
— Devlin Hodges (@DevlinHodges10) January 24, 2021
Hodges signed with the Steelers in 2019 on a rookie camp tryout out of Samford. He earned a contract at rookie camp and impressed in training camp, causing the team to feel comfortable trading third-string quarterback Josh Dobbs to Jacksonville.
After injuries to Ben Roethlisberger and Mason Rudolph, Hodges was pushing into service, playing in eight games and starting six for the team in 2019.
Hodges threw for 1,063 yards while completing 62.5% of his passes. He threw for five touchdowns and eight interceptions for a 71.4 quarterback rating. The Steelers went 3-3 in games Hodges started.
After the Steelers re-acquired Josh Dobbs in the 2020 offseason, Hodges was bumped to fourth on the team’s depth chart and was not activated at any point during the 2020 season.
The Steelers replaced Hodges by signing former Washington first-round pick Dwayne Haskins to a reserve/future contract last week.
Hodges, wide receiver Deon Cain, running back Wendell Smallwood and kicker Matthew Wright were the only four players that finished the season on the Steelers’ practice squad that were not retained by the team.