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PITTSBURGH — The Steelers are negotiating with the game’s best running back on a long-term contract and managing a tight salary cap that will likely require the release of multiple veterans.

Yet one of the biggest stories surrounding the team this week was the growing chatter involving Martavis Bryant, who wanted out of Pittsburgh at midseason only to reverse course with expressed optimism for 2018 after the playoff loss to Jacksonville.

After talking with several people around the league, there’s minimal buzz that the Steelers are actively shopping Bryant. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t at least listening, as NFL Network reports. The Steelers are smart enough to field calls on the talented receiver.

It’s important to prioritize this reality: Bryant and the Steelers have not had any discussions about a contract extension. Bryant is a free agent in 2019, and if both parties were in an ideal spot, the possibility of a short re-up or long-term pact could have been broached by now, even if the Steelers typically wait until the summer to finalize business.

Pittsburgh hasn’t made any overtures on a modest bridge contract, in part because they aren’t sure what they’ll get from him and also because Bryant doesn’t have plans to sign. He’s made clear he wants to be a No. 1 receiver, and that has to happen elsewhere. If you’re looking for a potential trade catalyst, that’s it.

The Steelers don’t want Bryant causing any problems in 2018.

It wouldn’t be a surprise if Bryant sat out offseason workouts to crystallize his frustration.

This awkward dynamic makes a trade plausible. Even if motivated to deal, though, the Steelers likely wouldn’t budge without a hefty draft-pick haul. The message Bryant received at the October trade deadline was that the team felt fair compensation in exchange for Bryant’s skill set was not available. The Steelers likely got offers for a fourth-round pick. That wasn’t enough.

A late-second-rounder or low-third could help the Steelers — who have been brilliant drafting receivers for much of the past decade — identify a new vertical threat. Perhaps the Buffalo Bills, who were trying to get involved last year, could oblige.

Since that’s no guarantee, trading Bryant breaks up a potent receiver triumvirate with clear roles defined: Antonio Brown the do-it-all superstar, Bryant the lanky deep threat and JuJu Smith-Schuster the inside-out option.

Smith-Schuster’s historic rookie year does give the Steelers draft flexibility. He looks ready to be a No. 2 receiver. Ben Roethlisberger averaged a 134.0 passer rating when targeting Smith-Schuster last season, according to Pro Football Focus. But how would Smith-Schuster respond to a full-time transition to the outside with Bryant gone? He looks up to the challenge, but the Steelers must ask and answer that question. With Eli Rogers recovering from a torn ACL, the Steelers could run dangerously thin at a crucial position.

The Steelers’ best course of action is likely to give Bryant the chance to maximize his potential in a motivating contract year. Bryant signing elsewhere in free agency would be a plus in the Steelers’ compensatory pick formula for the 2019 draft. The switch to coordinator Randy Fichtner could help free up Bryant with more targets.

Either way, Bryant will be performing with a different jersey for 2019 in mind, and the Steelers pretty much know it.

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Gardner Minshew’s mullet is no more

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Mondays are heavy days historically, but this one is particularly so because Gardner Minshew II‘s mullet is no more.

Yeah, Minshew may have gotten a hair cut yesterday, but this is the first I’m learning about it. So the pain is as fresh as if the stylist had just swept the Jacksonville Jaguars‘ backup quarterback’s fallen locks from the floor.

In what feels like the last remnant of a phenomenon once known as “Minshew Mania,” the former pride of Duval County chopped off his power source:

At the risk of sounding rash, it seems to me Trevor Lawrence came to town and basically told his new QB2 that there wasn’t enough room for both of their glorious heads of hair in that town and, well, we know who won that battle.

To be fair, I sort of knew this was going to happen as soon as Tim Tebow signed with the Jags.

Tebow, Lawrence’s mane AND one of the defining mullets of our generation? That’s just too much juice for one team.

Now, let us take one last look at Minshew’s former masterpiece for posterity:

In the haunting words of Michelle Branch: “Goodbye to you, goodbye to everything that I knew.”



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Minnesota Vikings expect DE Danielle Hunter at mandatory minicamp, source says

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MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Vikings expect to have defensive end Danielle Hunter back in the fold this week during mandatory minicamp, a source told ESPN, after the Pro Bowl defensive end missed the team’s entire voluntary offseason program.

Hunter, 26, sat out the 2020 NFL season with a herniated disk that required surgery last October. At the time of his surgery, it was reported that the defensive end was unhappy with the state of his contract and wanted a reworked deal ahead of the 2021 season.

NFL Network, which first reported that Hunter planned to attend minicamp, is reporting that the Vikings and Hunter have agreed to terms on a reworked deal that will give the defensive end $5.6 million of the $12.75 million he is set to make in 2021 as a signing bonus. Hunter now has an $18 million roster bonus due on the fifth day of the 2022 league year.

With $14.272 million in cap space, the Vikings moved up a significant amount of money to satisfy Hunter’s desire for more compensation in the short term while allowing both parties the time to work out a long-term extension following the 2021 season, NFL Network reported. The Vikings will need to make a decision on Hunter’s future by the fifth day of the 2022 league year.

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CB Stephon Gilmore doesn’t report for New England Patriots’ mandatory minicamp, source says

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — New England Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore, the 2019 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, did not report to mandatory minicamp that began Monday, a source confirmed.

Gilmore could be making a statement about his contract, as he is scheduled to earn a base salary of $7 million in 2021.

The Patriots had advanced $4.5 million of Gilmore’s 2021 salary to him last year, leading to this year’s low figure.

Gilmore, who turns 31 in September, is in the final year of the five-year, $65 million pact he signed with the Patriots as an unrestricted free agent in 2017. The deal included $40 million in injury guarantees and $31 million fully guaranteed at signing.

At the time, a contract with those guarantees and an average of $13 million per season was viewed as a strong deal. The cornerback market has since exploded, with Jalen Ramsey of the Los Angeles Rams topping it with a contract averaging $20 million per season.

Acknowledging they didn’t have specifics of the situation, teammates noted Gilmore’s absence in the locker room Monday, as well as on the practice field.

“I support my brother. I wish he was here, but I support him all the same,” veteran safety Adrian Phillips said. “What he has going, whenever he gets back here, he’ll let you know how it went.”

Longtime captain Matthew Slater added: “That’s a situation I don’t want to get too far into, because it’s frankly none of my business. Obviously you support all your teammates, whether they are here or not.”

Head coach Bill Belichick deflected questions on Gilmore earlier Monday and wouldn’t reveal whether he has given him (or any player) an excused absence. Players who don’t report for mandatory minicamp can be fined up to $93,085 — which breaks down to $15,515 for the first missed day, $31,030 for the second missed day and $46,540 for the third missed day.

Gilmore partially tore his quad in a Week 15 loss last season, landing on injured reserve.

The Boston Globe first reported Gilmore’s absence.

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