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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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Tony Jones, two-time Super Bowl champion with Denver Broncos, dies at 54

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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Tony Jones, a starting tackle on two of the Denver Broncos‘ championship teams, has died, the team announced Friday. He was 54.

Jones, who started at right tackle in the Broncos’ win in Super Bowl XXXII and started at left tackle when the team won Super Bowl XXXIII the following year, played 13 seasons in the NFL with the Cleveland Browns, Baltimore Ravens and Broncos after he entered the league as an undrafted rookie in 1988.

Known as “T-Bone” to his Broncos teammates, he spent the last four years of his career with the Broncos, retiring after he started 16 games in the 2000 season at age 34.

“We lost a great man,” former teammate Rod Smith posted on Twitter. “Just happened to be a hell of a ball playa. We love you and miss you Bone. One of the Broncos’ all time best tackles. Greatest dresser of ALL TIME!”

Ed McCaffrey, another former teammate on the Broncos, called Jones “a great teammate and a wonderful man,” and Hall of Famer Steve Atwater, who also played on those two Super Bowl teams, said Jones was “a great teammate” with “just the most beautiful kids.”

Atwater also said Friday night that many of the players on those Broncos teams have continued to stay in contact with one another and that “everybody is hurting in this.”

The Broncos, believing they were poised to rebound from a playoff loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars to end the 1996 season, traded a second-round pick to the Ravens in 1997 to acquire Jones.

In Super Bowl XXXII, at right tackle, he held Hall of Famer Reggie White without a sack and to one tackle overall as the Broncos rushed for 179 yards and Hall of Famer Terrell Davis was named the game’s MVP.

After Gary Zimmerman, also a Hall of Famer, retired before the 1998 season, Jones moved to left tackle and started every game on the way to a Pro Bowl selection as the Broncos went on to win a second consecutive title.

Jones was named to the Broncos’ Top 100 team in 2019.

In a social media post, former Bengals tackle Willie Anderson called Jones “a great dad, friend, offensive tackle, trainer and coach.”

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Panthers GM Scott Fitterer doesn’t commit to Teddy Bridgewater – Carolina Panthers Blog

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Scott Fitterer looked the part of general manager, dressed in the dark blue suit he bought 12 days ago in Charlotte because the clothes he brought from Seattle for his interview with the Carolina Panthers were tight after nearly a year in a pandemic.

He sounded like a GM, not discussing specific players or plans until he gets to meet, and learn more about, everybody in the organization.

What kind of general manager Seattle’s former vice president of football operations will be for Carolina remains to be seen.

Here’s what we learned from Friday’s made-for-Zoom introductory news conference:

Noncommittal on quarterback Teddy Bridgewater: Fitterer began by saying he wouldn’t talk about specific players. He mentioned only two, linebacker/safety Jeremy Chinn and running back Christian McCaffrey. He mentioned Chinn because they have a mutual friend/agent. McCaffrey came up at the end when Fitterer said he wanted to talk to “Christian and other leaders on the team.’’ Bridgewater never got a mention despite several questions referring to him. Make of that what you want.

However, when asked for his definition of a franchise quarterback, second on Fitterer’s short list of criteria was “someone who can win when the game is on the line in the fourth quarter.’’ Bridgewater was 0-8 this past season when he had a chance on his final possession to win or tie the game.

Deshaun Watson interest: The Panthers have been linked in multiple reports to interest in trading for the disgruntled Houston Texans quarterback if he becomes available. Fitterer didn’t mention Watson by name. When reminded that Seattle lived by the mantra that it wanted to be in on every big deal in the NFL, even if it didn’t realistically have a shot, Fitterer said, “We will be in on every deal.’’ This was a big part of Seattle’s culture, because it helped the organization learn about others. It also allowed officials to reduce second-guessing.

Roster philosophy: Fitterer made it clear it starts with the quarterback. A former college quarterback himself, Fitterer helped Seattle find a pretty good one in Russell Wilson. Again, read into his silence on Bridgewater as you please. After quarterback, Fitterer plans to build inside out with offensive and defensive linemen.

Draft philosophy: Fitterer called having the No. 8 pick in this year’s draft a “new adventure,’’ and with good reason. The last time he had a pick higher than 27th was 2012, when the Seahawks picked 15th. He has made a living hitting on second- to middle-round picks. Wilson was a third-rounder in 2012. Fitterer found in Seattle that the top-tier players usually stopped between 16 and 18, and that in general there wasn’t a huge difference in players between 25 and 40. Seattle often traded down to acquire more picks. One instance was last year, when it gave Carolina the 64th pick (second round) for picks No. 69 and 148. The Panthers used that on Chinn, who became a strong candidate for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. Fitterer said the eighth pick was great because it gave him flexibility to trade up or down. So don’t get comfortable at No. 8.

Who’s in charge? You’ve read here for a while that coach Matt Rhule will have the final say over the roster. Rhule reinforced that by saying, “In terms of on the contract, a lot of those things probably rest with me.’’ He also said that that’s a formality and that he welcomes a GM who will argue with him. He ultimately wants this to be a collaborative effort the way it was in Seattle.

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Source — Matt Patricia returning to New England Patriots to assist Bill Belichick’s staff

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Matt Patricia, who was fired as Detroit Lions head coach in November before the completion of his third year on the job, is returning to the New England Patriots‘ coaching staff in 2021, a source confirmed.

Patricia had been an assistant on Bill Belichick’s staff from 2004 to 2017 before landing the Lions job. In Detroit, he posted a 13-29-1 record, with one of those victories coming over Belichick’s Patriots early in his first season.

It was a turbulent tenure in Detroit for Patricia, and a return to New England — where he is expected to assist Belichick’s staff in a variety of roles — provides him a safe and familiar haven in which to continue his coaching career in the NFL.

Patricia, 46, had most recently served as the Patriots’ defensive coordinator from 2012 to 2017, and in his absence, Belichick hasn’t given that title to another coach. But Belichick referenced this past season that his son Steve, the outside linebackers coach, was calling the defense.

Also, inside linebackers coach Jerod Mayo has a significant role. Mayo, 34, is considered a coach on the rise, as evidenced by his recent interview with the Philadelphia Eagles for their head-coaching opening that went to Indianapolis Colts offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni.

Patricia’s return mirrors, in part, what came in 2014, when Belichick hired Michael Lombardi — his former director of player personnel with the Cleveland Browns (1991-95) — as an assistant to the head coach.

The familiarity that Lombardi had with Belichick, and the team’s overall system, made his transition into the organization rather seamless.

The Boston Globe first reported Patricia’s return.

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