Here is the first half of the Pittsburgh Steelers mailbag. The rest of it will run Monday. If you have a question please send to @ScottBrown_ESPN with the #mail.

@ScottBrown_ESPN: I think the only way Troy Polamalu returns for another season is if he takes a significant pay cut -- and I'm not sure the eight-time Pro Bowler will be back even if he is amenable to a salary reduction. At some point the Steelers have to move on from aging players no matter how much they have meant to the organization. They did it in 2012 when they not only cut ties with Hines Ward, their all-time leading receiver, but also released linebacker James Farrior and defensive end Aaron Smith. It might be time with the Steelers making a change at defensive coordinator to fully commit to the youngsters on their roster. Of the three you asked about, I actually think Brett Keisel is the most likely to return. It won't surprise me, though, if none is back with the Steelers in 2015.

@ScottBrown_ESPN: It has to be an outside linebacker since Jason Worilds has almost certainly played his last down for the Steelers and the uncertainty at the position in general. The Steelers are not going to use a transition tag on Worlids and have no plans to negotiate with him before the start of free agency. They obviously think they can upgrade at his position and they better do so in free agency since it is too much of a risk to draft a plug-and-play pass rusher. Brandon Graham, Pernell McPhee, Brian Orakpo and Jabaal Sheard are among the outside linebackers headed for unrestricted free agency. To me, Graham is the most interesting one of the group as he is a former first-round pick who has been productive but hasn't received regular snaps because of scheme changes in Philadelphia as well as having other players ahead of him. Graham's combination of youth -- he only turns 27 in April -- and potential should have him on the Steelers' radar.

@ScottBrown_ESPN: He is well on his way to impacting games the way Mike Wallace did in Pittsburgh as a deep threat. Martavis Bryant caught five passes that covered at least 40 yards and three that netted at least 50 as a rookie. The fourth-round draft pick averaged 21.1 yards per catch -- compared to 19.4 yards for Wallace his rookie season in 2009. Bryant isn't as fast as Wallace but he is considerably taller and his combination of size and speed make him a unique talent. Coach Mike Tomlin used to call Wallace a "one-trick pony" as a way to motivate the latter to become a complete wide receiver. Here is what Tomlin said in January when asked if he ever applies that moniker to Bryant: "I am going to stop short of using [those] words, which are complete. I saw growth in him. And that growth came with snaps. I would imagine he is going to get more opportunities to grow with those snaps. The thing is, he has to continue to grow and have an open mind. He has to acknowledge that he doesn't have all the answers." Translation: Bryant better not think he has arrived just because he played so well after not dressing for the first six games of the season. I think Bryant has the desire and will to make a significant jump in his second season, and that would be huge for the Steelers.

@ScottBrown_ESPN: I wouldn't expect major changes. The Steelers will still employ a 3-4 base defense -- and will still place a premium on making offenses one-dimensional by stuffing the run as well as getting after the quarterback. Keith Butler will put his own imprint on the defense and one thing he has said will be a top priority is creating more turnovers. Maybe he plans to make the Steelers more opportunistic by using different blitzes and coverages. Butler's biggest impact in his new role will take place behind closed doors. He will have a significant voice in what defensive players the Steelers signs as free agents and draft. As the linebackers coach he gave his opinion on players at the position he liked or didn't like. Now, Butler will do that with every position on defense.

@ScottBrown_ESPN I'm not sure there is a tight end worth taking No. 22 overall. The position wasn't highly regarded going into the NFL scouting combine and the tight ends did not collectively work out real well in Indianapolis. Minnesota's Maxx Williams is clearly the No. 1 tight end in the class -- I am counting Michigan's Devin Funchess as a wide receiver -- but he looks more like a late first-round or early second-round pick. The Steelers should try to move down if they want Williams but they have to find a trade partner to do that. I would not rule out the Steelers using their first-round pick on an offensive or defensive lineman, particularly the latter. It would not hurt the Steelers to add young talent to a group headed by defensive ends Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt. A big tackle who has the ability to disrupt and could also play defensive end doesn't sound bad at all to me if I am the Steelers. Oregon's Arik Armstead and Texas' Malcolm Brown fit that description and could be first-round targets if the Steelers don't take a defensive back or outside linebacker prospect with the 22nd overall pick.

@ScottBrown_ESPN: Brice McCain. The Steelers' best play, in my opinion, is to re-sign the player they know, the player who is only 28 years old and the player who is coming off a season in which he intercepted a career-high three passes. It isn't shaping up as a great year to find cornerbacks in free agency, which will only drive up the price for those who are regarded as the top available players at the position. Bring back McCain, maybe take a flyer on a low-risk signing like the Steelers did last year with McCain and target an outside linebacker in free agency who can start next season.
It will be interesting to see if the Pittsburgh Steelers send significant representation to the NFL veteran combine in Tempe, Arizona next month.

General manager Kevin Colbert is anything but a sure thing to attend the workout for veteran players even though he will be in the area anyway for the annual NFL owners meetings.

“I’m not real interested in it to be honest,” Colbert said last month of the inaugural veteran combine.

There will be some name recognition at the veteran combine as defensive end Michael Sam is slated to participate in it, according to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.

Quarterback Vince Young, the third overall pick of the 2006 NFL draft, is also scheduled to work out for teams on March 22, according to the NFL Network.

Colbert doesn’t have anything against players trying to generate interest in themselves at the veteran combine. But he doesn’t see much value in the showcase either, which coincides with the owners’ meetings in Phoenix.

“We already know how big and fast they are,” Colbert said. “I think you’re nave to think that a player that ran a 4.4 (seconds in 40-yard dash) three years later is still going to run a 4.4. You better base it on what he did in the league because college you’re looking at potential.

“In pro it’s black and white so most of these guys that go to the veteran combine have been in a camp, have been practice-squad players, been active players. What they do in a workout I’m not real interested in. I want to see what they did when they did have their chance to be NFL players.”
The NFL scouting combine ended earlier this week, sending teams back to study game tape, especially on prospects they like who didn’t test particularly well in Indianapolis.

Here is a look at three players who didn’t help their draft stock at the combine and are potential targets for the Pittsburgh Steelers after the first round.

 OLB Nate Orchard, Utah: Orchard recorded 18 sacks in 2014, but he ran a pedestrian 4.80 seconds in the 40-yard dash. The 6-3, 250-pounder also registered a 31 inch vertical leap, which measures explosiveness. To give that a little context, consider Kentucky’s Bud Dupree jumped 42 inches at the combine, and he outweighs Orchard by almost 20 pounds. There are a lot of pass rushers in the draft. And quantity at a coveted commodity and Orchard’s testing at the combine could push him into the bottom of the second round where the Steelers would have a chance of drafting him.

CB Quinten Rollins, Miami (Ohio): One of the better stories in the draft may have pushed himself into first-round consideration with a strong combine. Rollins, however, didn’t run particularly well -- he recorded 4.57 seconds in the 40-yard dash -- and wasn’t all that impressive in other drills. Rollins had one of the worst times among cornerbacks in the shuttle run (4.28 seconds), which measures short-area speed and explosiveness. Rollins starred for the Red Hawks basketball team before playing football for one season at Miami and intercepting seven passes. The 5-11, 195-pounder has limited game tape and will need a lot of coaching and patience at the next level. Rollins could last until late in the second round, giving the Steelers a shot at a player with tremendous upside after they make the first pick.

RB T.J. Yeldon, Alabama: The Steelers probably want to wait to draft a running back given their more pressing needs on defense. And ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said Yeldon could last until the fifth round due to a combination of running back depth, the general devaluation of the position and the former Crimson Tide star running the 40-yard dash in 4.61 seconds at the combine. A highly productive back who has played in a lot of big games would have to tempt the Steelers in the middle rounds if Yeldon is still available.

Andrew Luck to go on USO trip

February, 27, 2015
Feb 27
[+] EnlargeAndrew Luck and Chuck Pagano
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsAndrew Luck and Chuck Pagano will go on a future USO trip overseas.

INDIANAPOLIS -- Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck will join his coach, two other football players and a small group of celebrities on a future overseas USO trip.

USO officials said Friday that for security reasons, details are not being disclosed.

Joining Luck will be Indianapolis coach Chuck Pagano, Colts tight end Dwayne Allen and Pittsburgh Steelers guard David DeCastro. DeCastro is one of Luck's former teammates at Stanford.

Also making the trip will be actor Dennis Haysbert, 2015 Miss America Kira Kazantsev, "American Idol" season 11 winner Phillip Phillips, former "American Idol" contestants Diana DeGarmo and Ace Young, and entertainer Jason "Wee Man" Acuna.

Admiral James A. Winnefeld Jr. will lead the tour, his last as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

(Read full post)

The Pittsburgh Steelers are more than $8 million under the 2015 salary cap if it comes in at $143 million, according to ESPN Roster Management.

An expected $10 million spike from last year’s spending ceiling and the restructuring of a pair of contacts put the Steelers at $8.025 million under if the cap is $143 million.

That puts the Steelers in pretty good shape with the start of the NFL’s new year – and the free agent signing period – still more than a week away. Both start on March 10 and the Steelers could easily create more cap room before then.

Strong safety Troy Polamalu is due a base salary of $6 million in 2015 and the eight-time Pro Bowler will probably have to accept a significant pay cut if he wants to return to the Steelers.

Restructuring the contract of Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey is also an option after the Steelers re-worked the deals of right tackle Marcus Gilbert and free safety Mike Mitchell earlier this week.

Pouncey has a cap hit of $8.1 million in 2015. The Steelers could lower that by turning most of his $5.5 million base salary next season into a signing bonus and spreading the bonus over the remaining five years on Pouncey’s contract.

The Steelers should also gain some cap relief after they sign quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to a long-term contract.

Roethlisberger is going into the final year of his contract and has a cap hit of $18.395 million.

The Steelers will presumably lower that when they sign Roethlisberger to a new deal that will likely include a huge signing bonus and escalating base salaries.

There aren’t any indications that the Steelers and Roethlisberger are close on a new contract.

It will get done and is still a matter of when and not if, a stance that the Steelers have consistently maintained.
ESPN analyst Todd McShay has the Pittsburgh Steelers taking a cornerback in his post-NFL scouting combine mock draft.

McShay pairs LSU's Jalen Collins, who bolstered his stock at the combine, with a team that needs an infusion of youth and talent at cornerback in his third mock draft.

Collins is an athletic cornerback with good size and length, and there are now questions about whether the 6-1, 203-pounder will last until the 22nd pick in the draft.

"I think he could jump into the middle of the first round," ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said Thursday. "He's a big corner with long arms, has explosiveness. He's the kind of guy you think you could develop into being a No. 1 corner."

Therein lies the caveat when it comes to Collins.

It may take him time to develop at the next level after he started just 10 games in three seasons at LSU.

That is not ideal for a team that could use immediate help at cornerback. But the long-term dividends the Steelers could reap from Collins would make him a good pick at No. 22 overall, especially if they shore up a few things at cornerback.

Re-sign Brice McCain, fix Cortez Allen and add Collins to a group that also includes William Gay and Antwon Blake and let him dictate when he plays.

Collins should be able to help on special teams immediately and if he can contribute on defense as a rookie that would be a bonus.

The Steelers' defense worked best when young players would prove themselves on special teams and provide depth before graduating to starting roles. They could get back to that with a prospect such as Collins, who has a chance to be the best cornerback in the draft if he receives the proper time and coaching to develop.
A different cornerback falls to the Baltimore Ravens in Todd McShay's latest mock draft. And, in my opinion, this is a better cornerback.

In McShay's third mock draft , Washington's Marcus Peters is the Ravens' selection at No. 26 overall. If Peters is available when the actual first round occurs April 30, it will be very, very difficult for the Ravens to pass on him. He is a more NFL-ready cornerback than Louisiana State's Jalen Collins, who was McShay's pick for the Ravens in his second mock draft.

So, why would an impact cornerback be sitting there at the bottom of the first round? Peters is known for being a hothead and was kicked out of the Washington football program. Plus, Peters' performance at the combine was disappointing. It was only three days ago when I wrote about the chances of Peters sliding to the Ravens.

So, why would the Ravens want Peters? The Ravens took a chance on red-flagged cornerback Jimmy Smith four years ago, and it has turned out extremely well. Peters has the size and speed that teams covet at that position. He would significantly upgrade the Ravens' nickelback spot, and he could emerge as a starter in 2016, when cutting Lardarius Webb can create $6 million of cap space.

In order for Peters to get to the Ravens at No. 26, the Philadelphia Eagles (No. 20) and Pittsburgh Steelers (No. 22) would have to pass on him. McShay has the Eagles selecting Alabama safety Landon Collins and the Steelers taking Jalen Collins.

Ravens' picks in Todd McShay mocks

1.0: Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin

2.0: Jalen Collins, CB, Louisiana State

3.0: Marcus Peters, CB, Washington
ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said Thursday that it might make more sense for the Pittsburgh Steelers to use their first-round pick on a cornerback instead of an outside linebacker.

He based the opinion on players who could be available at No. 22 overall, not what is the bigger need for the Steelers.

Kiper Jr. said cornerbacks such as LSU’s Jalen Collins, Washington’s Marcus Peters, and Wake Forest’s Kevin Johnson could all be on the board when the Steelers make their first pick of the draft.

The pool at outside linebacker won't be as deep with pass-rushers such as Florida’s Dante Fowler Jr., Nebraska’s Randy Gregory, Missouri’s Shane Ray and Clemson’s Vic Beasley all expected to be taken before the 22nd pick.

Kentucky’s Alvin "Bud" Dupree and Virginia’s Eli Harold could be the Steelers’ best options in the first round if they pick an outside linebacker prospect, Kiper Jr. said.

Both tested very well at the NFL scouting combine, and Dupree is a physical specimen and an athletic marvel.

The 6-4, 260-pounder ran the 40-yard dash in 4.56 seconds, recorded a 42-inch vertical leap, and a broad jump of 11-feet, 6-inches.

The one question teams may have about Dupree is why he did not take over games more often in college.

"You look at him in paper and say he’s a top-15 pick, at worst a top-25 pick," Kiper Jr. said. "But I didn’t see consistent domination, and I saw some instances where there was a little bit of a lack of great instincts to find the ball. To me he’s a first-round pick, but you want to see if you can make him more consistent. As a pass-rusher you turn him loose with that skill set, he flashed it."

Dupree recorded eight sacks last season and 23 for his career, so it’s not like there is a serious disconnect between his physical ability and production in college.

"I wouldn’t say he’s a boom-or-bust,” Kiper Jr. said, "but he’s not a guarantee, because his performances at Kentucky were a little bit up and down."
Outside linebacker Jason Worilds has probably played his last down for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

 There have been no contract talks between the two sides, and the Steelers won’t use a transition tag to keep Worilds from becoming an unrestricted free agent on March 10.

Unless there is a sluggish market for Worilds -- something that is unlikely since he is only 26 years old and one of the better pass rushers who is poised to hit the open market -- the fifth-year veteran will be playing elsewhere in 2015.

Less certain is what will happen with strong safety Troy Polamalu.

The eight-time Pro Bowler is coming off a season in which he did not intercept a pass or record a sack for the first time since 2007. Polamalu turns 34 in April and has clearly lost a step, but he apparently has no plans on retiring.

Cornerback Ike Taylor told 93.7 The Fan in Pittsburgh that Polamalu is already training with the intent of playing next season.

Polamalu is still under contract with the Steelers for two more seasons, but he is due a base salary of $6 million in 2015.

That is too much money for a player whose skills have declined but it is one thing to ask Taylor to take a pay cut -- something the Steelers did last year -- quite another to do it with Polamalu.

And that is if the Steelers want Polamalu back.

If the Steelers decide it is time to move on from Polamalu, it is not without recent precedent as far as cutting ties with an iconic player. It was, after all, just three years ago that the Steelers released Hines Ward, their all-time leading receiver, even though he clearly wanted to return for another season.

Ward's exit served as a stark reminder that the Steelers rarely, if ever, allow sentiment to enter the equation when faced with tough football or business decisions.

That probaly doesn't bode well for Polamalu unless there is a compromise to be found between the 12th-year veteran and the Steelers -- in the form of a pay cut.

Jason Worilds to become free agent

February, 25, 2015
Feb 25
[+] EnlargeJason Worilds
Joe Sargent/Getty ImagesThe Steelers will not use the transition tag on LB Jason Worilds, allowing him to become a free agent.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have no plans of using a transition tag on Jason Worilds and will let the outside linebacker hit free agency on March 10, a league source told Wednesday night.

Worilds has 15½ sacks the last two season, the most by a Steelers player during that span, and could be one of the more coveted pass rushers in free agency. But the Steelers will let the market establish his value before deciding if they want to bid on the fifth-year veteran.

The Steelers paid Worilds $9.754 million in 2014 after they used a transition tag on the former second-round draft pick to keep him from unrestricted free agency.

Teams have until Monday to use either a franchise or transition tag on one of their impending free agents.

Worilds turns 27 at the beginning of March and Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said recently that the organization believes he is still an "ascending player."

But the Steelers are content to look for help at the position in free agency and the draft even though Jarvis Jones is the only outside linebacker on the roster who is signed for 2015 and has NFL experience.

(Read full post)

The Pittsburgh Steelers would be crazy not to do a little homework on Jacoby Jones, who was released Wednesday by the Baltimore Ravens, if not bring him in for a visit.

Few teams are more acquainted with what Jones can do as a return man than the Steelers.

[+] EnlargeJacoby Jones
Doug Kapustin/MCT/Getty ImagesJacoby Jones ranked in the top 10 in the NFL in kick and punt returns in 2014.
Jones returned a kickoff 108 yards for a touchdown last November at Heinz Field. He turned in a more memorable kickoff return against the Steelers a year earlier when he had to change direction after Steelers coach Mike Tomlin stepped onto the field.

The play created national headlines and raised questions about whether the Steelers coach had done it intentionally, something Tomlin vehemently denied. That Jones had to settle for a 73-yard return did nothing to take away from his reputation as one of the best return men in the NFL.

He bolstered that this season by joining Cincinnati’s Adam Jones as the only players to finish among the NFL’s top 10 in both kickoff and punt returns.

Jones averaged 30.6 yards per kickoff return in 2014, second-best in the NFL. The Steelers averaged 21.7 yard per kickoff return last season, tied for 26th in the NFL.

The Ravens balked at paying Jones $2.5 million in 2015 since the eighth-year veteran did not give them much as a receiver last season.

But the Steelers do not need pass catchers for the back end of their wide receivers rotation. They are set at their top three spots with All-Pro Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant and Markus Wheaton.

Add tight end Heath Miller and running back Le'Veon Bell to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's stable of targets and there aren’t many more balls to go around.

Lance Moore found that out the hard way after signing a two-year, $3 million contract with the Steelers last March. Moore played limited snaps and caught 14 passes – Jones had five less for the Ravens in 2014 – and he wants out of Pittsburgh.

The Steelers are likely to grant Moore his request and now have even more impetus to do so.

They could take the money they save by releasing Moore – it is a little north of $1 million – and put it toward a short-term contract for Jones if he is amenable to one.

Jones turns 31 in July and he would give the Steelers a tried and true return man while serving as the No. 4 or even No. 5 wide receiver depending on what Pittsburgh adds in the draft.

It makes a ton of sense for the Steelers to upgrade at kickoff return after Dri Archer faltered so badly last season before losing his job.

Jomes might be the right guy at the right time and the right price.

And it wouldn’t hurt the Steelers to at least look into that possibility.
The Pittsburgh Steelers saved almost $4 million in regard to the 2015 salary cap when they restructured right tackle Marcus Gilbert ’s contract.

The Steelers converted a $3.5 million roster bonus that would have been due next month and $1.15 million of Gilbert’s base salary for 2015 into a signing bonus, per ESPN NFL Insider Field Yates, creating $3.724 million in cap savings for the upcoming year.

The Steelers were $1.92 million over the projected salary cap for 2015, according to ESPN Stats & Information, before restructuring Gilbert’s five-year, $30 million deal.

That is based on the cap rising from $133 to $140 million, and ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter has reported that the salary cap for 2015 will be at least $140 million. The 2015 spending ceiling for teams could come in as high as $143 million, per Schefter.

The Gilbert restructuring should put the Steelers in compliance with the 2015 cap, something teams are required to do by March 10 at 4 p.m. ET.

The Steelers, however, have work in front of them as they have to create enough salary cap room to be active in free agency, which starts at March 10, the first day of the NFL’s new league year.

Troy Polamalu is due a base salary of $6 million in 2015 and the Steelers will have a hard decision to make if the eight-time Pro Bowl safety does not opt for retirement.

The Steelers could ask Polamalu to take a pay cut or release the future Pro Football Hall of Fame safety.

Team president Art Rooney II has said he wants Polamalu to play his entire career for the Steelers.

Steelers doing their homework on cornerbacks

February, 25, 2015
Feb 25

ESPN Steelers reporter Scott Brown discusses what the philosophy is with the No. 22 pick.
Take a listen to this week's NFL Nation TV podcast as the crew breaks down the lessons it learned from last week's NFL combine in Indianapolis, as well as the latest in the push for bringing the NFL to Los Angeles.

Host Paul Gutierrez (San Francisco 49ers reporter) and co-hosts Coley Harvey (Cincinnati Bengals reporter) and Mike Wells (Indianapolis Colts reporter) are joined by four other NFL Nation reporters.

Eric Williams (San Diego Chargers reporter) joins to give an idea of how feasible it would be for the Raiders and Chargers to share a stadium in Southern California. Pat Yasinskas (Tampa Bay Buccaneers reporter) discusses why he thinks Jameis Winston is all but a lock to be the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. Rich Cimini (New York Jets reporter) breaks down which direction the Jets will go with the No. 6 overall draft pick. Will they go with a quarterback? Defense? Receiver? Paul Kuharsky (Tennessee Titans reporter) weighs with his thoughts on where the Titans will turn at No. 2 if Winston is off the board.

Be sure to watch NFL Nation TV live on at 1 p.m. ET/10 a.m. PT each Tuesday, and be sure to give the show's a podcast a listen following each taping.
video Jalen Collins had a rather modest goal for his on-field workout at the NFL scouting combine.

"I don't want to go out there and embarrass myself," the LSU cornerback said the day before he went through the gauntlet of physical tests in Indianapolis.

Collins did more than eclipse that goal; he ran a sub 4.5-second in the 40-yard dash and also looked fluid in movement drills.

The 6-1, 203-pound Collins has the size, length and speed -- his official time in the 40 was 4.48 seconds -- to develop into a top-tier cornerback at the next level. The one thing he lacks is experience, something teams such as the Pittsburgh Steelers will have to weigh if they consider using a first-round draft pick on Collins.

Collins started just 10 games in three seasons at LSU and, he said, the NFL draft board advisory board recommended that he return to school.

But a strong showing at the combine and his obvious physical gifts have positioned Collins well in a cornerback draft class that is lacking in top-end talent.

Collins already has a tie to the Steelers. He has been training at Tom Shaw Performance Camp in Orlando, Florida, and working with veteran Pittsburgh cornerback Ike Taylor among others.

"Just trying to get knowledge from guys that have had experience at the position and success as well," Collins said. "Just trying to take everything in, every little detail to help me get better."

Collins may need time to develop at the next level. But there may not be a cornerback in the draft who has more upside than Collins, and he should be able to at least contribute on special teams immediately.

"I've got a lot of work to do on this kid because I want to like him," draft analyst Mike Mayock said on the NFL Network. "He's not afraid at the line of scrimmage. He's not bailing out. He's just sitting right there and saying 'Bring it.'"