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Steelers Release Mark Barron, Johnny Holton to Continue Salary Cap Purge

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The Steelers have released inside linebacker Mark Barron and wide receiver Johnny Holton, in addition to releasing outside linebacker Anthony Chickillo, the team announced on Monday.

Barron, 30, was set to count for $8.125 million against the Steelers’ salary cap in 2020 on the second season of a two-year free agent contract signed in 2019. Barron’s release will leave the Steelers with a $2.875 million dead cap hit, allowing the team to realize $5.25 million in salary cap savings.

Holton, 28, would have earned $825,000 in the second season of a two-year free agent contract and will leave the Steelers without a dead cap hit.

The combine releases of Barron, Chickillo and Holton will save the Steelers a total of $11.075 million. The team will still need to make more cuts and/or re-negotiate contracts in order to become salary cap compliant before the top 51 rule goes into effect on Wednesday.

The Steelers were already over the cap before placing a nearly $16 million franchise tender on linebacker Bud Dupree on Monday.

Barron came to the Steelers from the Los Angeles Rams in 2019. He played in 15 games and started nine while splitting time with Vince Williams and rookie Devin Bush in the middle of the Steelers’ defense. A converted safety, Barron was a sub-package specialist.

In 15 games, he recorded 82 tackles, which was third on the team, and also had three sacks, am interception and a fumble recovery.

Holton signed with the Steelers just before the 2019 season after spending his first three NFL seasons with the Oakland Raiders. He started out as the team’s No. 5 receiver, but injuries pushed him up the depth chart and Holton ended up starting three games while playing in all 16.

At inside linebacker, 2019 draft pick Ulysees Gilbert III will become the top backup, as fellow 2019 backup Tyler Matakevich is currently slated to become an unrestricted free agent.

At wide receiver, in-season pickups Deon Cain and Amara Darboh could vie for a depth spoit.

Steelers

James Conner Surprises Dad with New Truck

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One major goal athletes set out to achieve in their career is to be able to give back to those who raised them and helped them. Steelers running back James Conner was able to do that in a big way when he was able to buy his father a truck.

Conner tweeted a video of the entire exchange and moment. Mr. Conner, and that’s referring to James’ dad, was shocked, even going as far as to start handing his son the keys to the truck, assuming it was actually his. James made sure to let his dad know the new truck was a gift. While it’s unclear the exact model of the truck, it’s clearly all black and said to be a new 2020 edition.

The whole Conner family can now drive the truck down to Heinz Field to watch James and the Steelers play next season (if fans are allowed, of course). And who knows what kind of gift James may buy for his loved ones if he can take his game to another level and earn a new contract, something James has been vocal about hoping is with the Steelers. 

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Odds

Roethlisberger, Gronkowski Co-Favorites to Win Comeback Player of the Year

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Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Rob Gronkowski are co-favorites to win NFL Comeback Player of the Year at +400.

Roethlisberger played just two games in 2019 before suffering a season-ending elbow injury against the Seattle Seahawks.

Entering his 17th season, Roethlisberger should be primed for success this season with the help of a reloaded receiving core that added former Indianapolis Colts tight end Eric Ebron and Notre Dame-product Chase Claypool at wideout.

Roethlisberger would be the second Steelers quarterback to take home the hardware. Tommy Maddox was awarded the honor back in 2002.

Gronkowski is not returning from an injury, but the former All-Pro tight end is making a comeback all the same.

Gronkowski ended his retirement after just one season to reunite with quarterback Tom Brady in Tampa Bay. One of the biggest mismatches in NFL history, Gronkowski’s 79 touchdown catches are tied for the third-most ever by a tight end.

If he were to win, Gronkowski would join quarterback Chad Pennington as the only other player to win Comeback Player of the Year twice. He won it previously in 2014.

Texans defensive lineman J.J. Watt has the next best odds at +600.

The best odds in the division behind Roethlisberger belong to Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green at +1000, fourth-best overall.

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Steelers

Steelers Coaches Return to Team Facility

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With the NFL announcing that coaching staffs can return to team facilities, the Steelers wasted no time getting back to work.

Steelers coaches, including head coach Mike Tomlin, returned to the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex on Friday morning.

With Pennsylvania switching over to the “Green Phase” of its COVID-19 reopening plan Friday, the Steelers were one of the organization permitted to welcome back their staffs, but only if they adhere to local and state guidelines.

The team shared a few photos of Tomlin entering the facility, including an image of the 14-year head coach getting his temperature taken in the lobby. Daily checks are clearly part of the league’s protocols with regards to reopening.

To this point, the bulk of the NFL’s offseason has been conducted remotely, including the Draft and free agency.

Tomlin is most likely excited to return to some sense of normalcy. He discussed how challenging the adjustment had been on a conference call last month.

“We face a lot of challenges, my mentality, and the group mentality is going to be they are challenges that everyone faces,” said Tomlin. “From that standpoint it’s going to be fair and the playing field is going to be level. We have to be light on our feet. There is going to be a period of adjustment from a scheduling standpoint as we gain our footing in terms of logistics of what day-to-day looks like and things of that nature.”

“The entire National Football League will be going through it and I just think if we perform relatively better than others, we put ourselves in position to be that team at the end of the journey. That is always our mentality regarding the start of a season.”

The only team employees that had previously been allowed in facilities were athletic trainers and rehabbing players.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has not yet announced when all player will be permitted to return, but did note in his memo to clubs Thursday that the league is first attempting to finalize their COVID-19 testing program.

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