The Steelers agreed to host three players for tryout on Thursday, according to the NFL transactions page, including potential backups at three positions impacted by COVID-19 reserve list and injury-related absences, as the the team hosted offensive tackle Cody Conway, defensive end Shareef Miller and center Zach Shackelford.
Conway (6-foot-6, 307 pounds) is a second-year pro out of Syracuse that has spent time with the Tennessee Titans, Green Bay Packers and most recently the San Francisco 49ers, who released Conway from their practice squad on Oct. 27. He has never played in an NFL game.
The Steelers played without backup tackle Jerald Hawkins on Wednesday and activated Anthony Coyle from the practice squad, but when starting right tackle Chukwuma Okorafor was briefly injured, Matt Feiler shifted to tackle and was replaced by Kevin Dotson at left guard.
Miller (6-foot-4, 255 pounds) is a second-year pro out of Penn State. He was a fourth-round draft pick of the Philadelphia Eagles in 2019 NFL Draft, but was waived before the start of the 2020 season after playing just two snaps in his rookie season. Miller was claimed on waivers by the Carolina Panthers on Sept. 6, but waived once again a month later without playing a game. The Eagles then brought Miller back to their practice squad, but released him on Dec. 1.
A defensive end in the 4-3 alignment at Penn State, Miller likely projects to be an outside linebacker in the Steelers’ scheme, where he could help offset the loss of starter Bud Dupree, who was placed on the injured reserve list with an ACL injury on Thursday.
Shackelford (6-foot-4, 305 pounds) is a rookie out of Texas. He spent the offseason with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but was waived at the end of the training camp. With Maurkice Pouncey on the COVID-19 reserve list, the Steelers have just one natural center on their roster at the moment in Wednesday night’s starter J.C. Hassenauer.
Report: NFL Salary Cap Expected around $180 Million; Would Put Steelers $35 Million in Red
The 2021 NFL salary cap is expected to be around $180 million, according to a report by Mike Florio of NBC Sports.
The salary cap is supposed to be fixed at 48% of the league’s revenue, according to the CBA signed between the league and the NFLPA that went into effect in March, with a possible increase if the NFL makes the expected decision to go to a 17-game schedule this fall.
But after the COVID-19 pandemic cost teams the vast majority of ticket sales in 2020, the league’s revenue has cratered heading into this offseason. The NFL and NFLPA agreed in their return-to-play negotiations that the 2021 salary cap will not fall below $175 million.
But that figure would represent a $23.2 million salary cap decrease instead of the typically expected $10 million or so increase, putting many teams, and the Pittsburgh Steelers in particular, in a salary cap crunch.
Florio said that some owners would like to see the impacts of the pandemic spread out over several years of cap impacts to reduce the immediate decrease, but that other owners see that as an interest-free loan to the players and balked.
While the most desirable of free agents will likely not be impacted, the number of teams in a cap crunch would likely cause middle-tier free agents to be unable to cash in on their expected paydays and low-tier free agents could be forced to re-sign for minimal, if any, raises.
The Steelers would need to trim approximately $35 million from their current salary obligations to be compliant with a $180 million cap, according to salary cap analysis from F.S. Fisher of Steelers Now.
While the $5 million in extra room would be helpful, it would not change the fundamental approach the Steelers will have to take this offseason of restructuring, negotiating pay cuts or releasing players already under contract for 2021.
PFF Tabs Steelers OLB Alex Highsmith as 2021 Breakout Candidate
Pro Football Focus has released their breakout candidates for the 2021 season and believes Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker Alex Highsmith is in for a big year.
Highsmith was thrust into the starting lineup following fellow edge rusher Bud Dupree’s season-ending injury, and showed a knack for causing disruption and making plays.
The rookie finished his 2020 campaign with 48 combined tackles, two sacks, five tackles-for-loss, six quarterback hits and an interception. According to PFF, Highsmith recorded 22 total pressures on 224 pass-rushing snaps.
With Dupree likely moving on from the Steelers in free agency this offseason, Highsmith is primed to be the Week 1 starter opposite T.J. Watt.
Elsewhere around the AFC North, PFF likes Baltimore Ravens defensive lineman Justin Madubuike, Cincinnati Bengals tight end Drew Sample and Cleveland Browns wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. to have big years as well.
Packers Could Pass Steelers in All-Time Playoff Wins in NFC Championship Game
The Green Bay Packers can pass the Pittsburgh Steelers in the NFL record books with a win in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday.
The Packers and Steelers are currently tied with 36 all-time NFL playoff wins, the second-most behind the New England Patriots, who have 37.
The Packers will be playing the man responsible for most of those wins in New England, now-Tampa Bay quarterback Tom Brady.
Both the Packers and Patriots have a higher postseason winning percentage than the Steelers, with New England holding a 37-21 record and Green Bay 36-23, while Pittsburgh is 26-26 after a Wild Card Round loss to Cleveland this month.
None of the other top five teams, including Dallas (35-28) and San Francisco (32-30) are still alive this year. Tampa Bay has just eight playoff wins in its history, the sixth-fewest in league history.
The Buffalo Bills (16-17) and Kansas City Chiefs (14-19) are 19th and 20th in playoff wins entering their AFC Championship Game showdown on Saturday.