The Steelers released veteran wide receiver Donte Moncrief and promoted running back Tony Brooks-James from the practice squad on Saturday.
Moncrief, one of the Steelers’ key free agent acquisitions over the offseason, had fallen behind rookie Diontae Johnson and second-year receiver James Washington on the Steelers depth chart after some early issues with drops. He had just four catches for 18 yards through the team’s first seven games.
The 26-year-old signed a two-year, $9 million contract with the Steelers this offseason and his release will leave the Steelers with a $1.75 million dead cap hit for the 2020 season.
Moncrief’s release will allow the Steelers to recoup a potential compensatory draft pick that was put in jeopardy when the Philadelphia Eagles cut linebacker L.J. Fort. Fort, Le’Veon Bell and Jesse James counted for the Steelers as offseason free agency losses against gains of Moncrief and Steven Nelson.
With Fort and Moncrief out of the mix, the Steelers again will be in the mix for a high-round compensatory draft pick.
Brooks-James will be added to the roster to help a thin running backs room that will be missing third-string back Benny Snell, Jr., who is out after knee surgery, and starter James Conner, who is doubtful with a shoulder injury.
Usual backup Jaylen Samuels is expected to start against the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday, with veteran Trey Edwards serving as the primary backup.
Brooks-James is a 5-foot-9, 185-pound rookie back noted for his speed and ability to get to the edge. In four years at Oregon, he rushed for 1,863 yards on 283 carries. He joined the Steelers’ practice squad on Oct. 15 after previously spending time with the Atlanta Falcons and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
ESPN’s Mel Kiper Projects Alabama C Landon Dickerson to Steelers in Latest Mock Draft
ESPN NFL Draft analyst Mel Kiper, Jr. predicted that the Pittsburgh Steelers will select Alabama center Landon Dickerson in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft in his latest mock draft.
Kiper, who released his second mock draft of the season on Thursday, has the Steelers staying with the No. 24 overall pick in the first round to take Dickerson in a mock draft that has three trades in the first round.
The 6-foot-6, 325-pound Alabama grad could play center or guard, but would be immediately be slotted in as a replacement for retired starter Maurkice Pouncey at center.
Dickerson spent his first three seasons at Florida State before transferring to Alabama in 2019. He started four games at right guard and nine games at center in 2019 and started at center in 2020, where he was the winner of the Rimington Trophy as the country’s best center.
Dickerson suffered an ACL injury in the SEC Championship Game in December and concerns regarding that injury have depressed Dickerson’s draft value, but he is generally considered to be the best center in the class and no worse than a second-round pick.
Poll: What Was Biggest Issue with Steelers Running Game in 2020?
The Steelers finished dead last in the NFL in rushing in 2020 and general manager Kevin Colbert has seen it as a top offseason priority to rectify that standing going into 2021.
The Steelers have already made a change in coaching, with Matt Canada and Adrian Klemm taking over as offensive coordinator and offensive line coach.
There will also be substantive changes to the personnel, as starting center Maurkice Pouncey has retired and starting running back James Conner, left tackle Alejandro Villanueva, left guard Matt Feiler and right tackle Zach Banner are pending free agents.
“You can’t say the runners weren’t good enough or the quarterbacks weren’t good enough or the line wasn’t good enough,” Colbert said in speaking with the media last week. “To put out the kind of running game we did, no one was good enough. And again, that is a collective effort. … We need to finish (seasons). And I think having a strong running game helps teams finish in that time of year.”
With that being said, Steelers fans, which area of the running game do you think was the biggest issue in 2020?
NFL Insider John Clayton: Steelers Out of Running for J.J. Watt
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.
.@JohnClaytonNFL says JJ Watt won't be coming to Pittsburgh. Tennessee, Green Bay, and Buffalo are the 3 teams. Raiders as a dark horse.— Andrew Fillipponi (@ThePoniExpress) February 24, 2021
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.