UNITY TWP., Pa. — The Steelers made four transactions on the final day of training camp, adding depth at tight end and long snapper just before departing St. Vincent College.
Joining the team for its final practice near Latrobe were tight end Micky Crum and linebacker/long snapper Christian Kuntz.
Kuntz, a Chartiers Valley and Duquesne alum, had been with the Denver Broncos this spring before being waived on June 14. He spent with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2018 and the New England Patriots in 2017.
A 6-foot-1, 227 pound linebacker, Kuntz was the first Duquesne player to be selected as a three-time All-American. He was the 2016 NEC Defensive Player of the Year and a finalist for the Buck Buchanan Award for FCS Defensive Player of the Year. He holds the NEC career sacks record with 30.5. He added long snapping to his repertoire as a professional.
Crum is a rookie out of Louisville that originally tried out with the San Francisco 49ers during rookie minicamp as an undrafted free agent this spring. The 6-foot-4, 225-pound tight end caught 22 passes for 224 yards as a senior, setting career highs in both categories.
Crum will wear No. 46. Kuntz worked exclusively at outside linebacker in his first practice and will wear No. 99. To make room on the 91-man roster, the Steelers cut linebacker J.T. Jones and cornerback Jermaine Ponder.
Mike Tomlin: Hall of Fame Class of 2021 Incomplete without Steelers Scout Bill Nunn
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin doesn’t get a vote when it comes to who enters the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but he made his opinions known on who he thinks should be a part of the Hall’s Class of 2021, making a public plea on Monday for former Steelers scout Bill Nunn to be included.
“There is no way the Class of 2021 can be complete without the legend, Bill Nunn, being a part of it,” Tomlin wrote.
Nunn, who died in 2014, was selected as the lone finalist recommended by the nine-member contributor committee in August. He, senior committee finalist Drew Pearson, coaches committee finalist Tom Flores and 15 modern-era finalists, including former Steelers guard Alan Faneca, will all be on the ballot when the voters meet before the Super Bowl.
Nunn, a Homewood native and Westinghouse alum, was a key figure in the Steelers’ success in the 1970s and helped revolutionize the scouting process for players at historically black colleges and universities, that had been previously underrepresented in the NFL after having worked as a sportswriter with the Pittsburgh Courier.
“Bill’s contributions to the Steelers were extraordinary over the 46 years he was part of the organization,” Steelers president Art Rooney II said in a press release in August. “He was a special person that was a close friend and mentor before his passing in 2014. His lessons and stories are still evident in our everyday work.
“I look forward to hopefully celebrating his induction next year at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. His legacy and career deserve to be recognized with the greatest individual honor in football, and we are excited he was chosen by the contributor committee as a finalist.”
Tomlin also wished luck to three players that he coached: former Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive backs Ronde Barber and John Lynch and Faneca.
Want to wish the absolute best of luck to three deserving @ProFootballHOF finalists, Ronde Barber, Alan Faneca and John Lynch, all who I have had the honor to work with.
And there is no way the Class of 2021 can be complete without the legend, Bill Nunn, being a part of it.
— Mike Tomlin (@CoachTomlin) January 18, 2021
Steelers Minkah Fitzpatrick, T.J. Watt Named to PFWA All-NFL Team
For the second season in a row, Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick and outside linebacker T.J. Watt have been named to the Pro Football Writers of American All-AFC and All-NFL teams for the second consecutive season.
Fitzpatrick was also named an Associated Press All-Pro this season for the second straight year. In 2020, Fitzpatrick had 79 total tackles, eleven passes defended and a team-high four interceptions, one of which he returned for a 37-yard touchdown.
The other All-NFL and All-AFC safety was Tyrann Mathieu of the Kansas City Chiefs.
Watt was also named a first-team AP All-Pro after leading the NFL in sacks, tackles for loss and quarterback hits. His 15 sacks were one off a franchise record and he racked them up while playing in only 15 games.
Watt was named the FOX Sports NFL Defensive Player of the Year and remains the favorite to win the prestigious AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year award at the postseason NFL Honors banquet.
Watt was also named the Steelers’ team MVP for the second straight season after finishing with 53 tackles, 26 tackles for loss, 41 quarterbacks hits, two forced fumbles and an interception this season.
The other All-NFL outside linebacker was Khalil Mack of the Chicago Bears, while Bradley Chubb of the Cleveland Browns was the other All-AFC outside linebacker.
Both players were also selected to the 2021 NFL Pro Bowl team. The Pro Bowl will not be played. Instead, the Pro Bowl events will be led virtually and the game will be streamed via Madden NFL 21.
Only the Steelers and Los Angeles Rams had two All-NFL players on defense, tackle Aaron Donald and cornerback Jalen Ramsey. The Green Bay Packers had the most players selected with three, quarterback Aaron Rodgers, tackle David Bakhitiari and wide receiver Davante Adams.
Full All-NFL team:
2020 PFWA ALL-NFL TEAM
QB – Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
RB – Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings; Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans*
WR – Davante Adams, Green Bay Packers; Stefon Diggs, Buffalo Bills
TE – Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs
C – Corey Linsley, Green Bay Packers
G – Joel Bitonio, Cleveland Browns; Quenton Nelson, Indianapolis Colts#
T – David Bakhtiari, Green Bay Packers; Jack Conklin, Cleveland Browns
DE – Myles Garrett, Cleveland Browns; Trey Hendrickson, New Orleans Saints
DT – DeForest Buckner, Indianapolis Colts; Aaron Donald, Los Angeles Rams^
OLB – Khalil Mack, Chicago Bears; T.J. Watt, Pittsburgh Steelers*
MLB – Fred Warner, San Francisco 49ers
CB – Xavien Howard, Miami Dolphins; Jalen Ramsey, Los Angeles Rams
S – Minkah Fitzpatrick, Pittsburgh Steelers*; Tyrann Mathieu, Kansas City Chiefs
PK – Justin Tucker, Baltimore Ravens#
P – Jake Bailey, New England Patriots
KR – Cordarrelle Patterson, Chicago Bears*
PR – Gunner Olszewski, New England Patriots
ST – George Odum, Indianapolis Colts
What Would Salary Cap Impacts of Roethlisberger, Smith-Schuster Returns Be?
Ben Roethlisberger is expected to return to the Pittsburgh Steelers for the 2021 season, NFL Network reported on Saturday, and furthermore, he reportedly wants JuJu Smith-Schuster to return along with him.
With the Steelers already over the expected 2021 salary cap, that could be a very difficult to work for the Pittsburgh front office.
Roethlisberger is scheduled to count $41 million against the Steelers’ salary cap, while Smith-Schuster has an estimated market value north of $15 million.
It’s possible that one or both players would take an extremely team-friendly deal in order to facilitate their combined return, but if not, it doesn’t paint a pretty picture for the rest of the 2021 season.
As Steelers Now analyst Flip Fisher broke down last week, if the salary cap comes in at the baseline figure of $175 million, the Steelers will need to clear nearly $40 million from their existing 2021 payroll obligations.
If Roethlisberger plays at his full cap hit, and Smith-Schuster signs for $15 million, that would mean that $65 million would need to be cut elsewhere.
The Steelers will almost certainly restructure the contracts of defensive linemen Cam Heyward (saving $7 million), Stephon Tuitt (saving $4 million) and Chris Boswell (saving $1 million), no matter what.
But that won’t get them even close. To fit Roethlisberger and Smith-Schuster in, that would also mean releasing Joe Haden ($12.6 million), David DeCastro ($8.75 million), Steven Nelson ($8.25 million), Maurkice Pouncey ($8 million), Eric Ebron ($6 million), Vance McDonald ($5.2 million), Vince Williams ($4 million), and Derek Watt ($1.6 million).
Obviously, that’s not tenable.
But even if Roethlisberger and Smith-Schuster were to sign extremely team-friendly deals, the situation looks bleak.
If Roethlisberger plays for the veteran minimum of $1.05 million and forgoes the entire rest of his $19 million salary, he’ll still carry another $22 million in cap hit from deferred signing bonus that can’t be moved. That would reduce the cap overage by just over $18 million, saving Pouncey and DeCastro, Haden and Willams, or however else you want to divide it up.
Even if Roethlisberger plays for the minimum and Smith-Schuster signs an extremely team-friendly deal, say for $5 million instead of $15 million, that’s still not even half the total overage.
Now, the cap could come in at a higher figure than the bottom-line $175 million, but figure won’t be know for sure until March. But the cap is expected to decrease from its current $198.2 million, thanks to the significant revenue loss around the NFL due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
But the bottom line is that if Roethlisberger wants to come back and he wants a talented team full of weapons around him, that’s going to necessitate playing for a bare minimum salary in 2021.