PITTSBURGH — Marcus Gilbert should have spent this offseason thanking the Pittsburgh Steelers for their generous contract extension allowing him to retire a Steeler. His play was setting the stage for that celebration. Former offensive coordinator Todd Haley called Gilbert the best right tackle in football during the 2016 season.
Instead, Gilbert’s career in Pittsburgh ended with a two-paragraph news release on March 13 announcing that the Arizona Cardinals had acquired Gilbert in exchange for a sixth-round pick.
• What’s next for Giants, Jets after changes?
• Ex-Steeler Marcus Gilbert’s own NFL hell
• Titans upgraded enough to make playoffs?
• Wine business bred poise for Vikings rookie
• Ravens’ Marquise Brown taking it slow
What happened between Haley’s comments and the ho-hum transaction shook Gilbert to his core, leaving him to process guilt over a career suddenly marred by curious injuries, a suspension and unmet expectations.
“I felt like I disappointed a lot of people in Steeler Nation,” Gilbert, a free agent in 2020, told ESPN in an interview shortly after the trade. “It hasn’t been easy.”
Therapy sessions, fatherhood and the potential for rejuvenation in the desert now have Gilbert vying for his spot at age 31.
He could deal with missing five games due to hamstring issues in 2017. And, sure, that drug suspension that cost him four games and $1 million later that season was bad — Gilbert said he failed to follow protocol when refilling a prescription he had taken for years — but at least he returned for the late-season push.
But a partially torn quad injury started an avalanche of emotions in early 2018. Gilbert said a “total freak accident” happened during a routine move in practice sometime around the Week 7 bye. Steelers trainers thought Gilbert had tendinitis until an MRI revealed more, he said.
Surgery would have shut him down for the year, so he opted for a stem cell shot to trim recovery time.
He rigorously rehabbed for a December return but sensed that fans were turning on him. He found himself scrolling through his phone at night, unable to ignore the vitriol on social media.
“When you go from playing at a high level, then you’re not out there on the field, and you’re getting a lot from the fans, the coaches and teammates can’t rely on you because you’re not out there — all those things mount, and it’s tough,” said Gilbert, who played eight seasons with Pittsburgh. “Nasty tweets, lots of questions, and you read the articles. Athletes can say that doesn’t bother them, but you see it.”
He classified his overall mood as “down,” especially around the house. He is a father to son Maverick, who is almost 1, and didn’t want his family life compromised.
Therapy helped him cope with the harsh realities of NFL business. Gilbert had explored it in the past, and committing to a weekly regimen last year proved effective.
The Steelers placed Gilbert on injured reserve on Dec. 15, despite his feeling ready to play. Matt Feiler was playing well at right tackle, and Gilbert’s tenure in Pittsburgh was all but over.
He remembers the simpler days of football, kicking butt with friends and enjoying the locker-room camaraderie. He still values those things, but he knows juggling the physical toll of the sport with high-level business and adulthood can be a challenge.
“We are athletes, and we do deal with a lot,” he said. “Knowing the high stress level we go through, it’s always a good thing to get a professional point of view from the outside. I’m a firm believer in it.”
Gilbert doesn’t focus on the math, but it’s safe to assume that the injuries cost him millions. He has one year left on a five-year, $30.8 million contract, which is below market based on the height of his skills. For comparison, offensive tackle Chris Hubbard, Gilbert’s long-time backup, earned a five-year, $36.5 million deal with the Cleveland Browns last offseason.
Gilbert remembers the Steelers assuring him that he’d be their right tackle in 2019, but his age coupled with $4 million in cap savings from the trade made him expendable.
It wasn’t supposed to happen this way, he says. One of the best offensive lines in football wanted to remain intact. Maurkice Pouncey and Ramon Foster reupped in March. Alejandro Villanueva and David DeCastro are under contract for multiple years.
Gilbert isn’t bitter, he says. He has become better at acceptance.
“You can never be surprised with NFL business,” he said. “They respect me, but you have to understand it’s a business. I didn’t take it personally.”
Those online criticisms that once engulfed him now motivate him, with Gilbert telling himself, “I want to show them what they have been missing.”
The Cardinals offer a safe landing spot and a dose of excitement from general manager Steve Keim, who told Gilbert that his stellar game tape made the trade an easy call.
Gilbert also reunites with offensive line coach Sean Kugler, who was on Pittsburgh’s staff when the team drafted Gilbert in 2011.
“Once I get on the field, I’ll have my play speak for itself,” Gilbert said. “I feel like I have a lot of time left. I want to take on more of a leadership role.”
He plans to train for an injury-free 2019, reclaiming his spot as one of the best at his position.
That is, when he isn’t putting Maverick on his shoulders at home.
“There’s no better joy than being a father,” he said.
State of Tenn. honors Peyton, Cutcliffe, Lawson
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Peyton Manning, the former quarterback with a record five NFL MVPs among the string of awards and honors to his credit, calls his decision to attend the University of Tennessee one of the best he has ever made.
That makes being inducted into the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame on Saturday night along with a handful of fellow Volunteers and David Cutcliffe, his former quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator, even more memorable.
“It’s very special,” Manning said. “I was proud to have played at the University of Tennessee for four years, and you go into the NFL, you kind of carry your alma mater with you and have wonderful support from friends, teammates, coaches throughout my career. … So to be honored and have a chance to reflect on my time in college and all the relationships and memories, it’s been very special.”
Manning was being inducted along with a group including Cutcliffe, now the head coach at Duke; Kara Lawson, a 2008 Olympic gold medalist who played basketball for Pat Summitt and is now a TV analyst; Charles Davis, a four-year starter at safety and now a Fox game analyst; and Kippy Brown, a former Tennessee coach who also coached seven NFL teams.
A Louisiana native, Manning also was inducted into that state’s sports hall of fame earlier this year. Manning not only chose to attend Tennessee rather than father Archie’s alma mater, Mississippi, but the quarterback endeared himself to Volunteers fans for deciding to return and play his senior season in Knoxville in 1997.
Even after Manning left college, he continued his relationship with Cutcliffe, the man the quarterback turned to even during his career in the NFL, where Manning was a 14-time Pro Bowl pick and the first starting quarterback to win a Super Bowl with two different teams.
“I would go back and work out with him in the offseason, and he would stay on top of my mechanics and fundamentals and of course a great friend throughout that process as well, so very special … to be inducted in the same class as Coach Cut,” Manning said.
Cutcliffe called Manning one of the special people in his life.
“How lucky can you be to get to basically coach Peyton for 22 years?” Cutcliffe said. “That’s good enough there. I could’ve retired right then. It’s just been fun. … I think the thing that’s most rewarding is that Peyton is such a dedicated individual when it comes to his trade. If you’re going to work with him, you better get better. And Peyton Manning made me better.”
Another inductee didn’t play at Tennessee, but Patrick Willis got to try to tackle Manning in the NFL. The former San Francisco 49ers linebacker said he was grateful to be honored as part of what he called an amazing class. And yes, it’s easier when not trying to defend Manning on a field.
“He’s a genius on the field and off the field,” Willis said. “Obviously, on the field, he’s a general and, yeah, it’s an honor to have played against him and to be going into the Hall of Fame with him.”
Titans controlling owner Amy Adams Strunk also was being honored Saturday night as the 2019 Tennessean of the Year, a big honor for someone who had fans questioning her commitment to Nashville and the state when she took charge of the team in March 2015. Strunk helped Nashville host the NFL draft in April, an event that drew a record 600,000 fans.
Strunk said she hope she has answered any questions about herself after what’s been a whirlwind the past four years. Posing for photos alongside Manning, whom her late father tried to sign in 2012, left her a little bit in awe.
“I’m happy to be part of the group,” Strunk said.
Exit from minicamp my fault
OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Defensive tackle Michael Pierce accepted responsibility for being pulled from practicing during last week’s Baltimore Ravens mandatory minicamp, blaming it on an error in his training regimen.
“Throughout the offseason, I tend to lift more than run,” Pierce told WNSP-FM radio in Alabama on Friday. “Being a nose guard, I want to be strong or whatnot. I, honestly, just mismanaged my running a little bit.”
Pierce reported to the Ravens last week significantly heavier than his listed playing weight of 340 pounds. A restricted free agent, Pierce didn’t attend the team’s offseason conditioning program and sat out all of the voluntary practices in the spring.
On Tuesday, Pierce left the field following the stretching portion of practice after speaking to coach John Harbaugh, who later told reporters that the fourth-year lineman wasn’t ready to practice “from a safety standpoint and for his own health.”
“Out of respect for Coach Harbaugh, he’s been nothing but a fair guy, he just wanted me to get in with the strength and conditioning staff and do more running before camp comes,” Pierce said.
Baltimore defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale expressed disappointment that Pierce wasn’t in shape to practice but cautioned anyone about piling on him.
“Let’s don’t forget what a great football player he is,” Martindale said last week. “He’ll get back there. I can’t tell you when, but he’ll get back there.”
Pierce, 26, was ranked as the fifth-best interior defensive lineman by Pro Football Focus last season. Considered one of the better run defenders in the NFL, Pierce received a second-round tender this offseason and will earn $3.095 million.
He signed as an undrafted rookie out of Samford in 2016, and his weight had previously never been a major issue. This is an important year for Pierce, who can become an unrestricted free agent after the season. But his season didn’t start smoothly.
“At the end of the day, you expect a team leader to come back in better shape than I did,” Pierce said. “That’s a mistake on my behalf I have to correct. I don’t want to get into much more than that.”
The Ravens report to training camp in about 5½ weeks.
Finding Justin Tucker: How Ravens landed ‘best in history of the game’ – Baltimore Ravens Blog
OWINGS MILLS, Md. — After the Baltimore Ravens signed Justin Tucker to a record-setting deal for an NFL kicker a couple of months ago, the conversation soon steered to the first time coach John Harbaugh took notice of him.
Originally a tryout player, Tucker hit a 55-yard field goal during the first day of rookie minicamp.
“It was like, ‘Wow, he’s pretty good! Where’d we find this guy?'” Harbaugh recalled.
Tucker responded, “I was hiding at the University of Texas.”
• Surprise offseason standout for all 32 teams
• Haskins ‘deserves a shot’ to start
• Gurley remains biggest question for Rams
• Lamar Jackson: ‘A star in the making’
• Daniel Jones impresses, Eli still No. 1
Despite playing for one of the most visible programs in college football, Tucker was invisible in the kicking landscape seven years ago. A kicker and a punter for the Longhorns, Tucker wasn’t named to the All-Big 12 first team or second team and wasn’t even an honorable mention. He didn’t receive an invitation to the scouting combine. Tucker wasn’t one of the four kickers drafted in 2012 and instead watched Randy Bullock, Greg Zuerlein, Blair Walsh and John Potter get selected.
Tucker has since become the most accurate kicker in NFL history, making 90.1 percent of his field goals. Setting a new standard for the position, he is the first player to produce six seasons with 30-plus field goals and became the fastest pure kicker to reach the 900-point milestone. All of this earned him a four-year, $20.45 million extension in April.
How the Ravens unearthed Tucker is a story about some pre-draft subterfuge, a gutsy snub of a division rival, the best veto of Harbaugh’s career and a lot of Tex-Mex food.
Tucker’s journey to Baltimore began with, of all things, a miss — one of the biggest failed field goals in NFL postseason history — and a spot-on prediction:
Rob Roche, Tucker’s agent: “I remember watching the Ravens’ AFC Championship Game [on Jan. 23, 2012] against New England with my two boys. I saw Billy Cundiff miss that 35-yarder wide left. I said to my kids, ‘Justin Tucker is going to be with the Ravens next year.’ You know why? Justin had that mental makeup to hit clutch field goals.”
Paul Tucker, Justin’s father: “I was watching that game, and I got a text from a good friend of mine: ‘Did you just see that? They need Justin.’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, great. But for now, no one is banging on the doors for Justin.'”
Jerry Rosburg, retired Ravens special-teams coordinator: “Like I do every year, I gleaned through all of the kicking possibilities. I’m going to go through the stats in the NCAA, and I’m going to find every draft-eligible kicker that has decent numbers. Justin Tucker had that, and I put the tape on. His talent jumped off the tape at me.”
Roche: “Jerry called and said, ‘We’re interested in him. I’m going to work him out, but I don’t want you to say anything to anybody. We’ll let you know when we’re going to work him out.’ I didn’t say a word [to any other team] because I knew the Ravens were a great spot for Justin to be able to compete for a job. Chicago and Dallas both worked out Justin. Chicago wanted him to be a punter. Dallas thought he could be a good combo guy [kicker and punter] for camp.”
Justin Tucker: “Coach Rosburg waited until two days before the draft to come to Austin to work me out. I think he probably had a good idea that they wanted to bring me in. They didn’t want to tip their hand and have somebody else get excited that, ‘Oh, Coach Rosburg, who we respect, is working this kid out. We need to take another look at him.’ So, he waited until nobody could work me out, which, looking back, is really smart.”
Rosburg: “It was one of my favorite days in football, it turns out. I went down to Austin. We met for breakfast early in a nice, little, Tex-Mex place just off campus. He explained to me how he got into the fine arts and the music. All of that, the package was really interesting to me. I saw him as a performer. That kick he made against Texas A&M [a 40-yarder as time expired in a 27-25 win on Thanksgiving 2011] was a huge game and a huge win. There’s an essence there. He loved that moment.”
Justin Tucker: “We talked about general football and life stuff. I probably spilled the beans too much by referencing my burgeoning career as a rap artist over migas and Kerbey Lane Cafe queso. I’d been making beats and performing at a couple of functions here and there. At the end of the day, it didn’t totally scare him away. So that’s good.”
Rosburg: “The workout was fabulous. I pretty much put all my eggs in that basket, real honestly. Without going through the list of kickers that were available that year, I had Justin at the top. He had no other interest. What the other people see, let them see. I’m going to believe in what I see. I think it was Napoleon who said, ‘If your opponents are making mistakes, don’t interrupt them.’ So I was pretty confident that we were in a pretty good place with Justin. The workout reinforced what I already believed in him: He was a talented guy who I thought we could help become an NFL kicker.”
Paul Tucker: “I think Justin really thought he would be picked. It wasn’t a big draft party. It was me, Justin, his mother and Joe Taylor, who does the play-by-play for Westlake [High School] football. We were eating tacos at a Tex-Mex place here. Justin hadn’t been picked, so he was disappointed. Right then, he got a call and went around the corner. Joe Taylor was talking to someone on the phone and goes, ‘I think it’s down to the Cowboys or the Ravens. I think it’s going to be the Cowboys.'”
Rosburg: “I was on the phone when the last pick was being made. So, as soon as the pick is in, we can make the deal.”
Justin Tucker: “Coach Rosburg basically asked me what I was thinking. I told him, ‘I want to come to Baltimore.’”
Turning down a rival
Rosburg: “He had an outstanding rookie minicamp [in May 2012]. It was exactly what I hoped it to be. If you’re at that practice and know anything about kicking, you’re saying, ‘This guy can kick.’ We had every intention of signing him. It didn’t get done when he came.”
Justin Tucker: “I was basically at the mercy of the docs to fully clear me going forward [the Ravens’ medical staff initially failed Tucker on his physical because of a back issue]. I thought it was going to be a couple of days. It ended up being a couple of weeks.”
Rosburg: “It was a very nervous two weeks.”
Justin Tucker: “In the meantime, I got a couple of phone calls from other teams because they heard I had done pretty well at Ravens rookie minicamp. The one team that called with something substantive was the Pittsburgh Steelers. They wanted to bring me in for a workout with the intention of signing me and having me compete. They wanted to book me on a flight. I don’t know why, I told the guy on the phone, ‘I appreciate the offer to come up and work out, but I am currently waiting on another opportunity. Can you give me a little bit of time and I will certainly call you back to let you know?’ He said, ‘You have 48 hours.’ So, 48 hours go by, and I don’t hear anything from anybody. I’m thinking I totally ended my own NFL career before it even got started.”
John Harbaugh, Ravens coach: “I’m not throwing our doctors under the bus, because they know it’s true. They failed his physical at first because he had a little back issue. It’s like, he’s a kicker. He’s just been kicking four years for Texas with whatever he’s got. We’re going to fail him on the physical? I put on my doctor’s hat and overruled the doctors. I think it turned out pretty well.”
Randy Brown, Ravens assistant special-teams coach: “It wasn’t until that first day of training camp when I physically laid eyes on Justin Tucker. My first impression was he’s a young David Akers. The reason I say that: A young David Akers kicked the ball a mile but had no idea where the ball was going.”
Justin Tucker: “On the second day of training camp, they sat me down in Jerry’s office for 2½ hours and explained to me while watching film of the previous day: You can play in the league doing that, but you’re not going to play very long. Any other specialist that I had ever been around, you get a little bit stubborn with your technique. That’s your own piece of art, and you don’t want others critiquing it. I was at that pivotal point where I had to consciously decide: Am I going to be stubborn, or am I going to be coachable and listen to someone who knows better than I do?”
Brown: “When you take your three steps back and two steps over [to line up for a kick], always start in the same spot. He wasn’t always starting in the same spot. Then, approach the ball from the same angle. Third, the plant. When you have a guy who is a home run-hitter like him, and he swings from his shoes, you have to have him plant from the same spot each time. That was the key.”
Rosburg: “That, to me, was one of the most incredible things about the whole story, is how quickly he was able to pick up on what was brought to him. You can imagine changing a golf swing in the middle of the U.S. Open qualifier. That’s what happened.”
Brown: “It’s beyond unusual. It’s close to miraculous. That next day — and I remember that day like it was yesterday — after a few warm-up balls, we got to the same spot and the same plant. He didn’t miss a kick that day. I knew right then and there that we have somebody special.”
Winning the job
The challenge for Tucker, an undrafted rookie, was to beat out Cundiff, who was a Pro Bowl kicker two years earlier and was still considered the favorite to remain the Ravens’ kicker.
Roche: “In talking with Justin during camp, he was competing. He was really competing. When they had a competition in field goals, he would actually move the ball 5 yards back and make it. It was a challenge to Billy.”
Rosburg: “We had a moment leading up to the third preseason game. I took the two guys inside [the field house], and we had a kickoff competition. Billy was phenomenal, if you remember. He was great at kickoffs. Justin won that competition, hands down. We gave Justin the entire third preseason game.”
Roche: “I was at the game and thought this was going to be a good opportunity for Justin to really show what he could do and possibly win the job. He hit a 53-yard field goal in that game. I said, ‘This should be interesting.'”
Rosburg: “My mom was in ill health at the time, and she suffered from Alzheimer’s. It had been a long, painful journey. After that game, I got in an airplane and flew back to Minnesota to be with my mom. John asked me before I left, ‘Is this our guy?’ I said, ‘Yes, this is our kicker.’ When I was gone, that’s when the decision was made. It’s amazing how these things work. When I think of Justin, I still think of my mother. I missed her by 20 minutes. She passed away 20 minutes before I got there.”
Harbaugh: “I remember going around the table of the coaches and asking every coach who they thought should be the kicker: Billy or the new kid. It was pretty much Billy. It wasn’t overwhelming, but it was pretty solidly toward Billy. Then, I said, ‘There’s really only one vote that counts anyway, so Tucker is going to be the kicker.'”
Justin Tucker: “The food [at the Ravens’ facility] is great. But I needed a little changeup and [to] reward myself. I hadn’t made any money. I didn’t have a signing bonus. However, because I knew I was going to at least get a chance to play in one regular-season NFL game, I knew I had a couple of bucks going my way. I went to Chipotle, and I got the same burrito I always get, but I got chips and guac. I didn’t even blink ,and I didn’t even think twice about spending the extra $3 for the chips or guac.”
Rosburg: “He’s been a blessing to my life. I love him. Justin made a comment: His life wouldn’t be the same without me finding him. I feel the same way about Justin. My life wouldn’t be the same without Justin.”
Harbaugh: “I think he’s the best in the history of the game.”
EPL news: Frank Lampard to become new Chelsea manager, analysis, Maurizio Sarri, Roman Abramovich
Man Utd boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer eyeing three transfers as Paul Pogba drops exit hint
Inside the numbers of the wacky Padres-Rockies series
State of Tenn. honors Peyton, Cutcliffe, Lawson
Look out, world — The Yankees’ big guns are ready to swing into action
Football: Latest transfer news; Gareth Bale wanted by Bayern Munich, Real Madrid and Barcelona want Harvey Elliott
F1 news, French Grand Prix 2019: Daniel Ricciardo, Renault, Nico Hulkenberg, upgrades, latest, results
Gary Woodland holds off Brooks Koepka for stunning US Open triumph at Pebble Beach
A-league transfer news: Craig Noone signs for Melbourne City, team news, Bolton Wanderers, Premier League
US Open final leaderboard: Gary Woodland BEATS Brooks Koepka to first major title
MLB22 hours ago
Yankees add AL HR leader Encarnacion from M’s
NBA7 days ago
Report: Pelicans adding Swin Cash as senior executive
Golf4 days ago
US Open leaderboard LIVE: Latest as Brooks Koepka defends title against Tiger Woods and co
NFL15 hours ago
Benjamin Watson from ‘The New Dad’s Playbook’: Love is everything – New England Patriots Blog
NFL1 day ago
Inside the NFL contract that two Steelers won’t sign – Pittsburgh Steelers Blog
NFL5 days ago
Gurley ‘feeling good,’ on track for training camp
NFL4 days ago
Ryan Switzer cools down Steelers minicamp with ice cream truck – Pittsburgh Steelers Blog
NFL5 days ago
Cameron Jordan extension a win-win for Saints; Michael Thomas next? – New Orleans Saints Blog