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Neither Jaguars nor Yannick Ngakoue appear to be blinking at deadline – Jacksonville Jaguars Blog



JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Unless Yannick Ngakoue has a change or heart or the Jacksonville Jaguars make him an offer he can’t refuse, the defensive end will have to wait until 2021 to get a long-term deal.

The deadline for franchise-tagged players to sign a long-term contract extension is 4 p.m. ET Wednesday. If Ngakoue doesn’t sign an extension by then, he’ll have to play out the 2020 season for the franchise-tag number of $17.8 million, whether that’s with the Jaguars or another team.

Ngakoue has made it clear he wants it to be another team, and he was hoping the Jaguars would have traded him by now. But the Jaguars received no offers before the NFL draft, and there was no movement on an extension or trade talks in the following week, either. A big potential holdup: Any team that trades for Ngakoue would want to sign him to a long-term deal, and Ngakoue’s camp has been adamant that he wants a deal that averages $20 million annually.

The Jaguars still could work out a deal with a team after Wednesday’s deadline — though their asking price has reportedly been two first-round picks — and while that would make Ngakoue happy, he would have to wait until after the 2020 season before he could work out a long-term deal, and that hurts the Jaguars’ bargaining position.

Any team that trades for Ngakoue, 25, could use the franchise tag on him for 2021, as well, which would put him in essentially the same spot he is in this year if both sides couldn’t agree on a long-term deal.

This could play out the way it did for linebacker/defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and the Houston Texans last season, and that strategy hurt both the team and the player.

Houston used the franchise tag on Clowney in 2019, but he didn’t want to sign the one-year deal with the Texans, and he held out of training camp. On Aug. 31, the Texans traded Clowney to the Seattle Seahawks for linebackers Barkevious Mingo and Jacob Martin and a third-round pick. Mingo signed with the Chicago Bears in April, and Martin remains with the Texans as a reserve linebacker. The Texans also had to pay $7 million of Clowney’s $15 million salary.

That trade happened after the deadline for a long-term deal, and the Seahawks agreed not to use the franchise tag on Clowney in 2020, essentially renting him for a season.

Clowney is still looking for a team for the 2020 campaign. He was not signed in free agency after his reported asking price was $20 million annually. He has since lowered that demand, and Clowney said in June that he had a plan in place and would sign with a team before training camp begins.

A similar trade is a less likely scenario for Ngakoue, because what the Seahawks gave up for Clowney — who has 32 sacks in six seasons — would not be nearly good enough for the Jaguars to part with Ngakoue, who has 37.5 sacks in four seasons.

So Ngakoue has a tough choice: He could swallow his pride and play this season for the Jaguars under the franchise tag. Or he could sit out and leave nearly $18 million on the table. It would be a surprise if Ngakoue did sit out — especially with the uncertainty of the season due to the coronavirus pandemic — but there’s another recent precedent of a player who did.

Running back Le’Veon Bell sat out the 2018 season and left $14.5 million on the table after the Pittsburgh Steelers used the franchise tag on him. However, that was the second consecutive year the Steelers had tagged Bell, who wanted a long-term deal and got one in 2019 with the New York Jets.

If Ngakoue were to sit out, he would join Bell and defensive tackles Sean Gilbert (1997) and Dan Williams (1998) as players who sat out a year because they didn’t sign their tag by the season opener, per ESPN Stats & Information research.

The Ngakoue-Jaguars saga has been playing out for nearly 10 months. It started last July, when executive vice president of football operations Tom Coughlin abruptly broke off negotiations with Ngakoue and his agent, Ari Nissim. The Jaguars reportedly offered Ngakoue a deal that would pay him $19 million annually, but Ngakoue turned it down, and he played last season — after an 11-day training camp holdout — for $2.025 million, a considerable bargain for a player who had 29.5 sacks in three seasons.

Hours before the deadline, it doesn’t appear the impasse will be ending soon.

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Cowboys’ Isaac Alarcon rides NFL international program on journey from Mexico



A year ago, Dallas Cowboys offensive lineman Isaac Alarcon was convinced his football career was over.

The aftermath of surgery to remove a benign cyst in his lower back had left the 6-foot-6, 320-pound Monterrey Tech product 25 pounds lighter because of changes to his diet. He was unable to practice for more than two months. When he returned, he found himself consistently being knocked over like a bowling pin. That wasn’t ideal, considering he knew NFL scouts were watching.

“I thought I had lost it all,” Alarcon said in Spanish before reporting to Cowboys camp in Frisco, Texas, on July 21. “I didn’t feel strong or agile. How was I going to recover?”

He did so by inching his way back in the ensuing months. If coaches asked him to run 20 yards, he’d do 30. The same mindset applied in the weight room. The work paid off when Tech’s Borregos Salvajes (Wild Rams) were crowned Mexico’s collegiate national champions last November, with Alarcon earning all-conference honors.

Impressed with Alarcon’s recovery, scouts invited him to the NFL’s International Player Pathway program in Florida. Launched in 2017 with the goal of showcasing players from outside the United States and Canada, the IPP has yielded players such as Carolina Panthers defensive end Efe Obada, who was born in Nigeria and raised in England; Philadelphia Eagles tackle Jordan Mailata of Australia; and New England Patriots fullback Jakob Johnson from Germany.

“We want the best athletes in the world playing here, regardless of where they’re from,” said Damani Leech, chief operating officer of NFL International. “Mexico [has] some of the most mature football programs compared to other parts of the world.”

At the IPP, Alarcon captivated scouts and landed on the practice squad of his favorite NFL team. It was just the latest chapter in Alarcon’s speedy, improbable rise through the sport.

Alarcon, 22, hails from Monterrey, Mexico, a city long obsessed with baseball and football, in part because of its proximity to Texas. In 1996, the city hosted the only NFL game in Mexico held outside of Mexico City, a 32-6 preseason win for the Kansas City Chiefs over the Cowboys. That same year, Monterrey became the first setting for an MLB regular-season game played outside of the United States and Canada, when a sellout crowd of 23,699 watched the San Diego Padres defeat the New York Mets 15-10.

It was football that gripped Isaac and his two brothers, Israel and Abraham, in large part because of their father, Juan Francisco Alarcon. The elder Alarcon played safety at another Monterrey university, UANL, while studying to become a radiologist.

On the field, Isaac got a relatively late start.

“I didn’t start playing until I was 14,” he said. “I was too big as a kid, so they never let me play youth football before that.”

Alarcon’s frame certainly screams lineman, though he held out early on upon arriving at Monterrey Tech. He was recruited as a tight end, but his coaches convinced him to switch positions or risk being dropped from the team altogether.

“I didn’t want to be on the offensive line,” Alarcon said. “I thought those guys were all fat, that all they did was eat and then wrestle for a bit on every play and just fall over.”

Alarcon’s perception shifted shortly into his time as a freshman left tackle after meeting Rolando Cantu, the former Monterrey Tech guard who played one game for the Arizona Cardinals 15 years ago.

Cantu’s own path to the NFL was unconventional and nearly over before it began. On his way to a pivotal NFL Europe tryout at UANL, Cantu tried to pass a semitrailer while merging onto the highway. The Volkswagen Jetta he was driving ended up going under the truck and spinning toward the median. The vehicle was totaled, but all three passengers escaped unscathed.

After that scare, Cantu made the tryout and began the journey toward a short but meaningful NFL career. He went on to a stint with NFL Europe’s Berlin Thunder, then signed with the Cardinals and worked his way to a special-teams appearance in the final game of the 2005 season, a 17-13 loss to the Indianapolis Colts.

Now a color commentator for the Cardinals’ Spanish-language radio broadcasts, Cantu is viewed as a pioneer in Mexico: a non-kicker who bypassed the American college football system on his way to the NFL. It was just one game, but it was enough to motivate players from Mexico such as Alarcon who seek to follow Cantu’s lead.

“Isaac has the size, ability and dedication to do something big in Dallas,” Cantu said. “He’s very disciplined and he has all the qualities you need to be great.”

Cantu highlighted Alarcon’s run blocking, overall footwork and mental toughness as factors impressing scouts. His size is comparable to standard NFL linemen, though one scouting report stressed the need for Alarcon to play lower, in order to improve his leverage and prevent defenders from putting their hands or helmet on his chest.

Alarcon’s natural gifts and eventual acceptance of the position allowed for quick progress, and his desire to improve motivated him to closely observe the game’s top offensive linemen in search for development cues.

Time after time, his research led him to the trenches of America’s Team.

Cowboys All-Pro offensive linemen Tyron Smith and Zack Martin rapidly became role models. Alarcon became a fan not only of both players, but of the team itself. At Tech, he wore Smith and Martin jerseys to class and made a ritual of watching every game, mimicking their moves and footwork.

“Tyron is so fast, his hands are always in great position,” Alarcon said. “First thing I’ll do after I introduce myself is say: ‘Teach me, please.'”

Assuming the 2020 NFL season carries on as planned, Alarcon will get the chance to solicit mentorship from one of the best offensive line units in the league. Last season, the Cowboys allowed the second-fewest sacks in the NFL and ranked fifth in total rushing yards.

The coronavirus pandemic has already prompted the NFL and the players’ union to scrap the preseason, removing vital reps for any young player looking for a spot on the 53-man roster. Nevertheless, the possibility of seeing Alarcon with a Cowboys star on his helmet will be enough to command attention from the millions of football fans in Mexico. Along with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Las Vegas Raiders and, more recently, the Patriots, the Cowboys have historically been among the country’s most followed NFL teams.

To this day, the 1994 preseason contest between the Cowboys and Houston Oilers in Mexico City remains the NFL’s highest-attended game at any level, with 112,376 fans piling into Estadio Azteca to watch a 6-0 Oilers victory.

After the Cowboys announced Alarcon’s signing in April, his social media following increased tenfold over the course of one day.

“It just shows you the level of excitement there is for a Mexican-born player in the NFL,” Leech said.

“Isaac has every attribute to be an impact player in the NFL. I want to be clear on that.”

Former NFL player Rolando Cantu of Mexico, on Isaac Alarcon

Mexico remains a central player in the league’s international growth efforts. Mexico City and London are the only cities to have hosted NFL International Series games, though the Buffalo Bills played regular-season home games at Toronto’s Rogers Centre from 2008 to 2013. Having Alarcon play for the Cowboys would then seem a fortuitous opportunity to stay locked in with the Mexican market. Cantu, however, insists any suggestion this is a token signing is way off.

“They’re the Dallas Cowboys; they don’t need him to sell jerseys,” Cantu said. “Isaac has every attribute to be an impact player in the NFL. I want to be clear on that.”

With the notable exception of Guadalajara-born Tom Fears, the Los Angeles Rams wide receiver and 1970 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee, Mexican players with distinguished tenures in the NFL have almost all been kickers. Efren Herrera and longtime ESPN Deportes NFL analyst Raul Allegre won rings with the Cowboys (Super Bowl XII) and New York Giants (XXI), respectively, and the Zendejas family of kickers (brothers Luis, Max and Joaquin, and their cousin Tony) left their NFL footprint in the 1980s.

Whether Alarcon ultimately makes the team — because he is an IPP product, the Cowboys can carry him on a designated international roster spot if he’s not on the full practice squad or final roster — the NFL is hoping his time in the spotlight sparks opportunities for others in Mexico.

“We’ve had, for a number of years, a really strong touch football program in Mexico,” Leech said. “It’s meant growth for kids and adolescents playing competitively. The challenge for us is being a better partner for the college football system.”

Ideally, schools like Monterrey Tech, widely considered one of Mexico’s elite college programs, will continue to recruit players such as Alarcon who could potentially make the move to the IPP or be selected in the NFL draft. (Rugby convert Mailata became the IPP’s first draft pick when he was selected in the seventh round in 2018.) Leech said he spent time last year opening up lines of communication between the league and schools in Mexico to facilitate the scouting of more players in coming years.

For now, Alarcon’s goal as a young offensive lineman breaking into one of the NFL’s most stacked depth charts is a tall order. But it is no less of a challenge in his mind than the seemingly impossible ones he has already conquered on his road to Dallas. Alarcon remains unfazed despite getting a late start, changing positions in college and recovering from surgery that left him diminished just as scouts were beginning to look his way. The dream has been so close to being ripped away on so many occasions, he’s now at peace with knowing it could end at any time.

“A year ago, I thought I wouldn’t play again,” he said. “That’s just me being honest. Today, I get to play for my favorite team.

“Now the only thing I’m eager about is that I want to go out there and hit someone.”

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Cincinnati Bengals’ A.J. Green might not have anything to prove, but he trained like it – Cincinnati Bengals Blog



CINCINNATI — Based on how A.J. Green sprinted, lifted, and attacked the past offseason, his longtime trainer got the sense something was different for the Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver.

Curtis Winters, a 61-year-old former bodybuilder whom his 32-year-old client refers to as “Mr. Curtis,” said he has worked with Green off and on since he entered the league in 2011. For years, Green has traveled to a strip mall in an Atlanta suburb to train at Winters’ nondescript, “‘80’s-style gym” located between a laundromat and a dollar store.

But this offseason, Green wasn’t there to merely train. He was on a mission. Despite injuries that have kept him off the field in recent years, including the entire 2019 season, Green was working to show he was still one of NFL’s best wide receivers.

“Even though I don’t think he has anything to prove, I think he wanted to prove to everybody he is the person they thought he was originally,” Winters said.

When healthy, Green has been one of NFL’s most productive receivers. Green ranked fourth in the league in receiving yards from his rookie year in 2011 to the end of the 2018 season, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

However, injuries have plagued him in recent years. Between a toe injury and an ankle injury that cost him the entire 2019 season, Green has missed 23 of Cincinnati’s past 24 games. It’s a major reason the Bengals again declined to give him a long-term deal this offseason and opted for a one-year franchise tag worth $18.2 million.

Everything Green did this offseason was with intent.

He started working out with Winters a week after the season ended. Winters promptly started testing Green’s left ankle that required surgery after the first practice of the 2019 season. They did drills such as stability holds and single-leg box jumps to see how the ankle was going to respond.

“Within a few weeks, I realized his ankle was as strong as it’s ever been,” Winters said.

Winters incorporated his old-school approach into Green’s regimen. They went to a local high school stadium for sprints — 200 meters, 300s, 110s. Eventually, they included resistance runs up a 55-yard hill at the stadium. Green even bought a Peloton this offseason so he could get in extra conditioning work.

But this offseason isn’t just about getting strong and building confidence in the ankle. It’s also about doing everything he can to maximize his remaining years in the NFL.

With that in mind, he added a new-school approach to his offseason plan. Green linked up with Reza Hesam, a former acquaintance from his days at Georgia who co-founded Adapt Physical Therapy, which focuses on injury prevention in addition to working on performance. Hesam said they worked on Green’s body control and landing when he comes down, which is a staple of Adapt’s training with their NBA and NFL clients.

“We did more stuff in testing those ankles, strengthen those ankles, strengthen these toes, learning how to land better,” Green said on July 17. “Just little things like that I didn’t do in previous years.”

Whether it was at the facility with Future’s music bumping in the background or at a nearby park close to their homes north of downtown Atlanta, Green worked out with Adapt for five days during sessions that lasted up to two hours.

Green didn’t need to tell anyone what was on his mind throughout the workouts. As he continued to show up each early for each workout and go through the drills without turning down reps, Green’s mindset was clear.

“He doesn’t need to verbalize it,” said Hesam, who also worked with the Falcons’ Calvin Ridley and the Chiefs’ Mecole Hardman this offseason. “You can just tell. He is very competitive. You can tell he has a chip on his shoulder.”

After signing his franchise tag on July 17, Green initially said he wasn’t one to get caught up in where he ranks among the league’s top receivers. But eventually, he admitted he’s ready for the chatter to stop once he gets back on the field.

“I’m tired of seeing everything — ‘A.J. should be a top-10 if he would’ve played,'” Green said. “All right, let’s get the season started and we can get this thing settled.”

Green, who turned 32 on July 31, believes he has at least four elite years left in his career considering how good his body feels after this offseason. If the season is played and everything goes well, Green could position himself for a long-term deal with Cincinnati, where he could envision himself retiring.

When Green started working out with Winters several years ago, one of the end goals was to have a career that puts him in the Hall of Fame. Recent injuries have hampered that progress. But after the work Green did this offseason, he and those around him believe he is on the verge of showing why he belongs in Canton.

“That’s still the mission to this day,” Winters said. “To be that receiver that when his career is over, that we’ll be there at that ceremony to receive that jacket.”

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How Steelers have supported their favorite painter during pandemic



PITTSBURGH — Artist Cody Sabol’s phone lit up with a FaceTime call from a number he didn’t recognize.

When he answered, Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Devin Bush‘s face filled his screen.

“Hey, Cody,” Bush said, “what are you doing tomorrow?”

When the nation shut down in early March due to the coronavirus pandemic, Sabol became one of many small-business owners to watch helplessly. The 25-year-old Pittsburgh-based artist makes almost all his income speed-painting at live events — and he has an infant son along with a new mortgage payment for the house he and his wife just bought.

Suddenly the future was uncertain, and it was scary.

That changed when Bush extended an offer: Spend the next week transforming the walls of his basement — and soon-to-be personal gym — from plain cream to colorful murals that would remind Bush of his journey and motivate him as he worked out.

Sabol got started the next day. Over the next week, he and his younger brother Owen worked in Bush’s basement. Sabol painted the intricate murals, while Owen, a freshman shortstop at NCAA Division II Seton Hill who had free time after his baseball season was canceled, painted yellow walls and black accent stripes.

By the end of the week, bold stripes of gold and black and maize and blue lined the walls of the stairway, nods to Bush’s playing career at Michigan and in Pittsburgh. The word “undersized,” in a drip graffiti style, is written on one wall, a nod to the critique that’s followed Bush throughout his career. On another wall, a giant splash of yellow paint behind a mural of Bush in his Steelers uniform makes it look like he’s bursting through the wall.

Though he hired him for only a week of work, Bush paid Sabol around $8,500, an amount equal to six weeks of his normal income.

“He doesn’t really have a business, he’s his own business, so I felt like I was helping him out,” Bush said. “He just had a baby. I thought it was a good idea to put some money in his pocket.”

Said Sabol: “Devin said he didn’t have a budget for it and he just wanted to take care of us, and that’s what he did. But he told me, ‘You have to pay your brother.'”

Bush’s custom basement was just the beginning of Sabol’s work with Steelers players, who had used him in the past for painting cleats and other artwork. But in the five months since the lockdown began, Sabol has been working around the clock to deliver artwork to Steelers players, including Cameron Heyward, Steven Nelson, Zach Banner, Tyson Alualu and Benny Snell.

Without their orders, Sabol’s life would have looked a lot different during the outbreak.

“I lost my entire salary — 70% of what I did were those live events, and I would do these things on the side because athletes wanted them,” Sabol said in June, after dropping off his latest painting for Banner. “So what I’m doing to make money to provide for my family was nothing but a side hustle for so long. That’s a testament to the athletes rallying.

“Those guys are the reason why I still have a house.”

Sabol discovered his passion for painting by accident. And getting connected with the Steelers? That was nothing short of pure luck.

An oft-injured college football player at Kentucky Christian, an NAIA program in Grayson, Kentucky, Sabol painted in his free time during his junior year. He started doing it after practice while his friends in an indie rock band jammed, and soon he felt the music envelop him. His strokes sped up and became more performative.

“I would see people on YouTube [speed-painting] and I thought, ‘I could do that,'” Sabol said. “I wanted to add an element to this little band. Like, what if we put a live painting into our shows?”

It wasn’t long before he was touring with his friends’ band, Caleb Jones and the Family Band, playing at venues in Lexington, Louisville and Huntington, West Virginia. He painted things like a monkey in a spacesuit and Yoda wearing DJ headphones and Ray-Ban sunglasses.

When he graduated from college in 2017, Sabol moved back to North Huntingdon, a Pittsburgh suburb, and stayed involved with art as he interned at Pitt as a campus minister. He interned for former Steeler-turned-artist Baron Batch, and for fun he started painting canvas works of athletes backed by colorful graffiti, along with other pop culture and sports-figure pieces — most featuring Pittsburgh professional athletes such as Penguins star Sidney Crosby and Steelers receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster.

But he still had a passion for performing.

In 2017, Sabol, a lifelong Pittsburgh sports fan, saw an advertisement for a charity event hosted by former Pirates infielder Josh Harrison. Sabol sent a message to the event’s ticketing email account offering to perform for free.

“I just wanted to get in the place,” Sabol said. “I didn’t expect to hear back. I heard back in like five minutes.”

Not only did the event organizer want Sabol to perform at Harrison’s event, he was planning a similar outing for Heyward. He booked Sabol for that too.

For Heyward’s event, Sabol decided to re-create a photo of the defensive lineman and his late father, former NFL player Craig “Ironhead” Heyward. It was Sabol’s first attempt at a speed painting of a Steelers player, and he practiced more than a dozen times, painting the image, painting over it in black and painting it again, before he did it live.

“My foundation was surprising me with a photo we were going to auction off,” Heyward said. “I didn’t think anything of it. I had no clue what to expect. So when he came, he actually made a big mural of me and my dad. I was like, ‘This is awesome.'”

Heyward’s wife, Allie, outbid everyone for the piece when she saw how the painting moved her husband. Now it hangs in their house, and Sabol and Heyward have developed a close friendship.

“When you meet Cody, you see how he does such great work, and he’s such an awesome person,” Heyward said. “You hear about his story of how he fell into painting and kind of took off with it. You see his work and it’s like, ‘Geez, Cody, now I’ve got to find more room for paintings.'”

In the three years since Sabol and Heyward connected, the artist has gotten dozens of messages from unfamiliar numbers on his phone.

The rush of excitement he gets from reading one, though, never gets old.

“Hey Cody,” one read last year, “it’s Joe Haden. I got your number from Cam.”

“That was, like, the coolest text I’ve ever gotten in my life,” Sabol said of the message from the Steelers cornerback. “My heart stopped for a second. I was like, ‘This is not real.’ There is nobody else on this earth with more swag than Joe Haden. I want him to want one of my paintings.”

And Haden did.

On his way out of the facility last season, Haden noticed a painting Sabol did of Smith-Schuster. Receptionist Shaw Sunder displayed the piece in the lobby, something he did frequently when Sabol dropped off completed commissions.

“I think I’ve got to start paying him for the way he marketed me,” Sabol said of Sunder. “He probably kept me from going under in COVID because of how he helped me all those years.”

With the vibrant colors of a graffiti background surrounding Smith-Schuster and a giant halo encircling his head, Haden couldn’t help but stop and stare. He knew then he wanted something like that for himself.

A couple of weeks later, Heyward gave Sabol’s number to Haden, and now Haden has a halo graffiti painting of his own hanging between the bar and movie theater in his basement.

“It’s the focal point of the basement,” Haden said. “It’s a standout piece. … That art that he does, it looks amazing. But the details of school, what you’re about, what you’re from, what you really love, your passions. You don’t even tell him anything about you, he just instantly knows. When you see it, it’s like, ‘Man, that’s my stuff.’ It makes you have a connection with the art.”



Pittsburgh artist Cody Sabol shares the process of selecting an image and how long it took to complete his paining of Ben Roethlisberger.

One of Sabol’s trademarks is the many nods to a player’s past and present he weaves into his works. Sometimes players give him a list of things they want included in the painting, which can cost up to $3,500. Other times they give him free rein. To create a painting from vague instructions, Sabol does hours of research, combing through Wikipedia pages and social media to learn everything he can about a player. Area codes. Birthdays of kids. School mascots. Twitter handles. Names of significant others.

Then he makes that knowledge come to life in the eye-catching shapes of the graffiti surrounding the player. And he hides easter eggs of his own, sometimes including scripture meaningful to his own life if the player is religious. In a painting for Steelers safety Jordan Dangerfield, Sabol included his own favorite verse, Psalm 91.

When Dangerfield noticed it, he was stunned.

“He was like, ‘Was that on the list of stuff I gave you?'” Sabol said. “I said, ‘Nah, that’s my favorite thing.’ He pointed to the same exact passage that’s in the back of his locker. The only Bible passage he has up is Psalm 91.”

It’s those details that draw the players from the Steelers, Pirates and Penguins to Sabol and keep them seeking out his work.

Sabol recalled Pirates pitcher Jameson Taillon telling him after he created a pair of cleats and a painting of Taillon taking the mound, “What you do for cleats, just the artwork that you do for us, it helps us be able to say that we’re more than just a football player or a baseball player or an athlete. You help us show people who we are outside of sports.”

The process of creating those custom cleats goes against everything he’s known for in his stand-alone art. Painting one set of cleats can take a couple of days, and he has to be precise in the design and execution.

“My art style isn’t careful,” he said. “So teaching myself the discipline to be more detail-oriented has been kind of tough.”

In the days before his son was born in December, Sabol was working around the clock to finish up the dozens of shoes given to him ahead of the Steelers’ road trip to Arizona during the NFL’s annual My Cause, My Cleats games. He delivered the final batch just before the team bus took off for the airport.

A week later, he was trying to finish up a couple of pairs of cleats for Haden ahead of the Sunday night game against the Buffalo Bills. But his son had other ideas. His wife went into labor and Sabol had to tell Haden he wasn’t going to be able to finish the shoes.

“I almost brought them to the hospital with me,” he said with a laugh.

“There’s a reason why a bunch of the guys on the team really seek his art and ask him to personalize it for us and bring it out. Because a picture says a thousand words, but a painting slows it down and you get to appreciate it.”

Zach Banner on Cody Sabol

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger doesn’t have any of Sabol’s cleats, but he was gifted a painting for his 38th birthday earlier this year. Sabol’s most recent commission went to Banner, who picked up his 5-by-4 painting from Sabol on a gray, humid morning in June on a Mount Washington overlook on Grandview Avenue.

With more care than the green Hulk fist smashing through a wall on his shirt, Banner tore off the red and blue wrapping paper.

“Unreal,” Banner said, standing back to marvel at the painting. “So dope.”

Sabol recorded a video of the unveiling for his YouTube channel and then approached the painting to explain the details he included in Banner’s commission.

It started with an image from the 2019 Steelers-Browns game at Heinz Field, with Banner standing across from former Southern Cal teammate and current Browns defensive end Porter Gustin. Banner’s arms are raised to settle the line and quiet the crowd. He has a sharp, determined look on his face.

The players near him on the field are blurred slightly, and the crowd in the stands behind him is even more out of focus. To achieve the different degrees of blur, Sabol channeled his speed painting, using his fingers to push and layer different paint together on the background.

He even included a fuzzy “Yinzer Mob” banner on the stadium’s giant spiral ramp, along with another, reading “72 is eligible,” hanging from the upper spiral.

Banner is in awe of Sabol’s latest work. It’s his third, adding to the collection he began after seeing a giant piece commissioned by former Steelers lineman Ramon Foster.

“The dude is just good at what he does,” Banner said. “He’s also a really good guy too. There’s a reason why a bunch of the guys on the team really seek his art and ask him to personalize it for us and bring it out. Because a picture says a thousand words, but a painting slows it down and you get to appreciate it.

“When you have stuff like this around the house, it just inspires you to keep getting more shots for him to paint.”

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