Sport: Steelers In Transition and Mitch Trubisky’s Growth

When to play Kenny Pickett over Mitchell Trubisky named 'biggest challenge' for Steelers

  When to play Kenny Pickett over Mitchell Trubisky named 'biggest challenge' for Steelers It was reported earlier this month that Mike Tomlin and company don't want to "rush" Kenny Pickett into action this fall against live first-team defenses, but it's expected that the rookie will see the field at some point if the Steelers aren't competing for a playoff berth.Tomlin likely won't need to do so, as it's widely assumed he already has Trubisky penciled in as his QB1 for Week 1 barring an injury or some woeful preseason performances from the 27-year-old. Trubisky may prove to be a solid bridge option at the position, but Pickett is hoped to become the long-term successor to retired future Hall of Famer Ben Roethlisberger.

The sixth-year QB talks about what he learned from his year backing up Josh Allen for the Bills. Plus, DK Metcalf and Deebo Samuel get paid, and more.

LATROBE, Pa. — Mitch Trubisky came up behind me, and I honestly hadn’t even noticed him come up the hill to the foot of the St. Vincent student center, where the Steelers’ makeshift locker room is set up. When I turned and saw him, he had his hat pulled low, a backpack pulled over both shoulders, and he blended in with a handful of other players in a small space around him.

This is different for the No. 2 pick in the 2017 draft.

His arrival in Pittsburgh is in no way how he landed in Chicago five summers ago. This time around, he was signed early in free agency, and his new team backstopped his acquisition by drafting a quarterback in the first round. And that reflects the difference in expectations too. Few outside this place are predicting Trubisky will finally harness the talent that made him a high-first-round pick in the first place.

Mitch Trubisky trying to “play free” in competition for Steelers QB

  Mitch Trubisky trying to “play free” in competition for Steelers QB The Steelers held their first practice of training camp on Wednesday and that meant it was the first day to evaluate where things stand in their quarterback competition. Mitch Trubisky got the first chance to work with the first-team offense, but needed a few passes to find a completion to one of his teammates. Based [more]Mitch Trubisky got the first chance to work with the first-team offense, but needed a few passes to find a completion to one of his teammates. Based on head coach Mike Tomlin’s vow not to “micromanage” things between Trubisky, Mason Rudolph, and Kenny Pickett this summer, a few incompletions shouldn’t be a big deal and Trubisky cited that view when he spoke to reporters about his approach.

Thus, he could make his way up that incline after a brisk walkthrough without any fanfare.

He’s O.K. with that, too, in case you’re wondering.

“I always put a lot on myself, just because of what I expect out of myself,” Trubisky told me a few minutes later. “But it’s just a totally different situation being the No. 2 overall pick. I was a lot younger at the time. Now I have a lot more experience, a lot more perspective.”

So it’s different for him, and for the Steelers, too, with the team returning to camp about an hour east of their headquarters, in the foothills of the Allegheny Mountains, for the first time in three years. Kevin Colbert’s not the GM. Ben Roethlisberger’s not the quarterback.

And Trubisky’s a pretty good symbol for all of it—in that the Steelers aren’t trying to handle all the transition by taking big swings, instead going at it with numbers, pulling a lot of levers to get a bunch of shots at creating the right mix. So it’s Trubisky, but it’s also Kenny Pickett and Mason Rudolph. It’s new GM Omar Khan, but it’s also Andy Weidl coming in from Philadelphia, and becoming the first guy to hold the assistant GM title in Pittsburgh.

Steelers 2022 Training Camp Tracker: Tracking Monday’s practice

  Steelers 2022 Training Camp Tracker: Tracking Monday’s practice The Steelers are hitting the field at St. Vincent College in Latrobe to prepare for the 2022 season.As they enter their second week in Latrobe for 2022 training camp, the Pittsburgh Steelers are getting back on the field at St. Vincent College for practice.

Will Trubisky be the answer for Pittsburgh? Maybe. Maybe not. But there’s more merit to the idea than you might think, mostly because the Steelers are going to give him a legit shot to be one, in what’s shaping up as a summer of opportunity in Latrobe.

The standard here, Mike Tomlin will tell you, is the same. A lot of the faces aren’t.

Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports (Trubisky); Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports (Tomlin); Tim Heitman/USA TODAY Sports (Samuel) © Provided by Sports Illustrated Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports (Trubisky); Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports (Tomlin); Tim Heitman/USA TODAY Sports (Samuel)

We’re on the road—I’m actually writing the column from hotel rooms in Indianapolis and Chicago—and we’ve got a jam-packed MMQB column for you this week. Inside, you’ll find …

• Context on Deebo Samuel and the explosion of the receiver market.

• Why we are where we are with a Deshaun Watson ruling coming Monday morning.

• The effect the Chiefs game had on Josh Allen and the Bills.

• Another thing that shows just how special Joe Burrow is.

NFL training camp 2022: Steelers first-round pick Kenny Pickett listed as third QB on depth chart

  NFL training camp 2022: Steelers first-round pick Kenny Pickett listed as third QB on depth chart NFL training camp 2022: Steelers first-round pick Kenny Pickett listed as third QB on depth chart[Set, hut, hike! Create or join a fantasy football league now!]

And a whole lot more. But we’re starting with the second stop on our tour, with one of the NFL’s flagship franchises, one that’s turning the page in a lot of ways.

As you’d expect, Tomlin—one piece of the Pittsburgh football brain trust still intact, going into his 16th year (Bill Cowher made it only 15, if you’re keeping score)—won’t fuel the story line that everyone has their eyes on.

“I don’t know that it feels any different because I just take a global perspective as a leader, in terms of creating culture, in terms of getting this train out of the station and making sure logistically we’re creating an environment where guys can better themselves individually and collectively,” Tomlin said, in a quiet moment after practice on Thursday. “I’m sure there’ll be those moments, I understand the question.

“But just 48 hours in, there’s so many logistical things and structural things in terms of getting acclimated to this environment from a leadership standpoint, that’s where my attention has been.”

Minutes earlier, though, there was a vivid illustration of it as he, owner Art Rooney and Khan huddled after a waterlogged, two-hour session on St. Vincent’s turf field, a session that had Trubisky running with the first team, Rudolph with the second team and Pickett with the third team, as has been the case for all of camp so far. Tomlin’s tunnel vision aside, it was hard not to notice the changes if you’ve been coming here for years.

Steelers 2022 Training Camp Tracker: Tracking Tuesday’s practice

  Steelers 2022 Training Camp Tracker: Tracking Tuesday’s practice The Steelers are hitting the field at St. Vincent College in Latrobe to prepare for their upcoming preseason game.After being forced to hold training camp at Heinz Field the last two seasons, the Steelers are back in Latrobe for four weeks before breaking camp the day before their second preseason game.

“It’s different,” Cam Heyward, the roster’s most tenured player, acknowledged.

The good news is there are few organizations in all of sports that handle these sorts of transitions, uncommon as they may be here, better than the Steelers do.

Cowher arrived to replace Chuck Noll in 1992. He made the playoffs his first six years, getting to three AFC title games and a Super Bowl over that time. Colbert replaced Tom Donahoe in 2000. He and Cowher made three conference title games and won a Super Bowl over their first six years together. Tomlin replaced Cowher in ’07, made two Super Bowls and won one over his first four years in charge, working in tandem with Colbert.

Then, there’s this: The 45-year-old Khan, who came up on the contract side of the football business, is hardly new. He, in fact, predates Tomlin in Pittsburgh, having come aboard right after Colbert, in 2001. And yes, that the Steelers don’t have to so much as issue a new keycard to usher in the new GM will make things easier.

“There are probably gonna be a lot of similarities between how Kevin did things and how I do it,” Khan said. “I’d say I grew my staff. My staff’s a little bigger than it used to be under Kevin. And I have a lot of trust in those guys, and I may delegate a little more. I’ll put a lot on those guys. I see the role of the GM as very CEO-like, that’s the way I see it, having to manage a lot of different areas.

Tomlin says Trubisky leads Steelers’ QB race, but Pickett and Rudolph are “making it difficult”

  Tomlin says Trubisky leads Steelers’ QB race, but Pickett and Rudolph are “making it difficult” Mitchell Trubisky remains in the lead in the Steelers’ quarterback competition, but it’s a close three-way race a month before the season. Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin told CBS Sports that if the Steelers had to play a meaningful game this week, Trubisky would start. But Kenny Pickett and Mason Rudolph are performing well enough [more]Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin told CBS Sports that if the Steelers had to play a meaningful game this week, Trubisky would start. But Kenny Pickett and Mason Rudolph are performing well enough in training camp that the coaching staff is having a tough time saying definitively that Trubisky will get the job.

“And I still have some of the responsibilities I had before.”

That said, Khan knows it’ll take some work to re-create the mix that Colbert and Tomlin had over the years, in working to build the roster, with Weidl figuring prominently in that mix like Khan did under Colbert. It helps, Khan says, that the two have a relationship outside of football (“Family stuff, we’ve talked about; personal stuff, we’ve talked about”) and strong history inside the game as a foundation.

And it’s not like Khan was an outsider to the Tomlin-Colbert dynamic, either. As inseparable as Tomlin and Colbert were over the years, for example, on the pro day circuit, with all the photo evidence out there to back it up, Tomlin jokes now, “If you expanded the frame, you probably would’ve seen Omar, too, for the last 15 years.”

The adjustment now is that the calls and texts and meetings are more frequent, and big-picture topics are attacked between the two more often than they were before, with what Tomlin and Colbert made work over the last decade and a half providing a solid template.

“They’re both good people, and both always had their priorities right,” said Khan of what made the Tomlin-Colbert partnership work. “The priority here has always been to win a Super Bowl, and I think both guys always understood that the other one is trying to do his part to try to win. There was a lot of respect for one another. The one thing about Mike is I’ve never met anyone who’s got a greater passion just for the game of football. … It resonates with everyone in the building.”

Kenny Pickett vs. Mitchell Trubisky: Who is winning Steelers' QB1 battle to replace Ben Roethlisberger?

  Kenny Pickett vs. Mitchell Trubisky: Who is winning Steelers' QB1 battle to replace Ben Roethlisberger? Kenny Pickett vs. Mitchell Trubisky: Who is winning Steelers' QB1 battle to replace Ben Roethlisberger?The 2021 NFL season was Roethlisberger's last in the NFL. He retired after the team lost to the Chiefs in the first round of the playoffs, and with good reason. Injuries had sapped his throwing power and most of his mobility by the end of his career, and that made it hard for him to be anything other than a dink-and-dunk quarterback.

It also simplifies what’s ahead for Khan, who was coy on exactly where he’ll make changes to keep the Steelers ahead of the game, only saying, “The principles that have made us successful through the years, I have to make sure that we keep those.”

The changes at quarterback, conversely, aren’t as straightforward.

Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports © Provided by Sports Illustrated Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports

It’s been a wild year and a half for Trubisky. The Bears let him go. The Bills picked him up. He went from starter to backup. He got married. He had his first kid. He sat and watched a season from the sidelines for the first time since his sophomore year at North Carolina. And now he’s got another new home, with a chance to be a starter again.

“I have a lot more experience, and not just football experience, world experience—going from a team to a different team, going from a starter to a backup, learning a lot, being around a great organization in Buffalo, and now having an opportunity here,” he said. “Being in Year 6, being in a competition, trying to win a job again and lead the team, I feel like I’ve met a lot of great people along the way. … It’s been a crazy 18 months.”

At this point, it sure looks like the Steelers are readying to go into 2022 with Trubisky as their starter. Even after a spring in which the coaches consistently described Rudolph as having an early lead in the competition, because of his background in the offense, it’s the former Bear and Bill who’s getting all the work with the first team.

But to be sure, no final decision has been made on that yet, and that’s fine with Trubisky because he’s comfortable with where the experience of the last year has put him.

He did, for his part, defend his work in Chicago, saying, “We won a lot of games. I’ve made a lot of big plays, I contributed to those winning teams and I knew I was a leader in those locker rooms. People can say whatever they want about it. I’m proud of my work there.”

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  Seattle Seahawks at Pittsburgh Steelers preseason game: Live stream, date, time, odds, how to watch Both the Seahawks and Steelers will embark on new eras at quarterback. Geno Smith and Mitchell Trubisky, respectively, have an early edge to start.For Seattle, which traded Russell Wilson to the Broncos in March, the competition now comes down to Geno Smith, who has been with the team since the 2020 season, and Drew Lock, who was part of the Denver trade. Head coach Pete Carroll said Tuesday that Smith has taken an early lead in the position battle and will start Saturday, though Carroll did add that both Smith and Lock would get equal reps with the starting receivers.

At the same time, when he catches highlights of his time as a Bear—and those have been hard for him to avoid—he’ll concede that he does see a different guy. He sees someone laboring to carry out his assignments. He sees someone thinking too much. He sees a robotic quarterback.

That’s where his time in Buffalo was so valuable.

“I would say I process quicker now. I know where I want to go with the ball,” he said. “I’m able to just trust my abilities and play a lot more free, not just go where the coach wants me to go with the football. I think it was a lot along the lines of just having a trust and being on the same page as the offensive coordinator. I felt like being in Buffalo, the quarterback had a lot more free rein to go where he wanted with the reads and go where he wanted with the ball, as opposed to Chicago.

“Even if you got a completion [in Chicago], I felt like sometimes it wasn’t necessarily what the coach wanted. They put you in a box a little bit more than you wanted to be, and I think that restricts you as a player. It’s just different experiences. In the end, we still won games. It’s just different team to team.”

And it’s interesting that he used the “box” metaphor there because it’s one, I’m told, the Bills’ coaches used with him. To explain how they wanted him to play, they told the story of how Bill Parcells would coach quarterbacks. “Here’s your box,” Parcells would say, and inside the box was all the quarterback’s reads and rules and fundamentals. Then, he’d say, the great quarterbacks are the ones who can step out of that box and know when to step out of that box to make it work.

In bringing the point they made to life, Trubisky raised an example from Buffalo last year.

“It was a touchdown,” he said. “I think it was Cover 2, and the safety was sunken inside. And he kind of just held him, and then went deep outside. It was a good two-on-one, and some coaches are like, When you get a two-high look let’s check the ball down, or get to a run. But in Buffalo, they like to be aggressive, and it’s like, Yo, if we can control that safety like Josh [Allen] does so well, and go down the field with it, why not exploit them and get a touchdown? And he got Emmanuel [Sanders] one on that.”

Trubisky couldn’t remember which game the play was from. So I looked it up for him and circled back with a 35-yard touchdown throw to Sanders from the team’s October win in Kansas City. He said that wasn’t it, then sent me the one he was referencing—a 34-yard bullet in the Bills’ playoff rout of the Patriots.

The mix-up only drove his point home. He called the plays “almost identical,” showing that these instances weren’t rare with Allen, and in seeing Allen make the offense his own, after his previous experiences, Trubisky felt like a kid at Disney World.

“Absolutely,” he said. “It was awesome. It was definitely eye-opening to me. It made me say, Why can’t I add that to my game? And that’s what I’m trying to do.”

Even better, the guys in Buffalo will vouch for that. In fact, Trubisky actually went to Brandon Beane after he riddled his former team in the preseason last year and articulated it to the Bills’ GM—who would’ve welcomed Trubisky back if the shot to start elsewhere hadn’t materialized for him.

“[Brian] Daboll and [Ken] Dorsey allowed Josh the freedom, if something else is there, to improvise, and make plays and basically play free,” Beane said. “Talking to Mitch, I know he felt like, as we were getting into preseason last year, he was starting to gain confidence and trust it, and play free, too. And generally, you follow the rules. But sometimes you see something, and the last time they gave you that look and you ran something, it would’ve been there. So you come back to it.”

Which is how, in a certain way, playing in Buffalo led Trubisky to start to see playing the position as an art again, rather than just a science.

“The difference between my experience in Chicago and what I saw in Buffalo is they allow Josh to go out there and play his game,” he continued. “In Chicago, they wanted me to play the coaches’ game. Call it whatever you will, that’s just how it felt to me. That was my experience, from what I saw in Chicago to what I saw in Buffalo.

“My experience in Buffalo, you’re not just going through progressions, you’re seeing the field. Sometimes I’d be on the sidelines, and I’d be like, He had a completion right here. But based on what the defense was doing, he also had [Stefon] Diggs on a deep post and we scored a touchdown. Those are things you’re seeing on the field that you can’t see from the sidelines, and vice versa.”

So how does that translate now to Pittsburgh? Trubisky, when he signed, thought there’d be similarities, from Sean McDermott and Daboll in Buffalo to Tomlin and coordinator Matt Canada in Pittsburgh. It’s too early, at this point, to know how all of that will manifest when everyone is in pads and everything is happening at full speed.

But philosophically, Tomlin is on the same page as Trubisky, which is why Trubisky’s confident the Steelers will give him the kind of latitude he could operate with in Buffalo.

“I want him to play and have fun,” Tomlin said. “We hadn’t talked a lot about his experiences prior to getting here, because really in terms of what we’re doing it’s irrelevant. But I assume he’s experienced some negativity and so forth, and so I just want him to have fun. I want him to play fast and free. I don’t want to work with him overly concerned, thinking about making mistakes and things of that nature.”

Tomlin then added that it’s his experience that if he can get a player like Trubisky to play fast and free, “You’ll get a chance to see the best of him.”

As for whether he’s seeing that yet from Trubisky, Tomlin laughed and responded, “We’re 48 hours in, man. You gotta come back next week or something.” And he gave me a similar response when I asked whether Trubisky’s his starter—“Keep coming back. Keep coming back.”

But if the Steelers can get Trubisky’s best, and have their first-round pick, in Pickett, and incumbent, in Rudolph, pushing him, there’s a decent chance they’ll be O.K. in Year 1 A.B. (After Ben). Which is the whole idea the team took, in giving itself multiple shots to get it right.

So new quarterback, new GM, totally new look in Pittsburgh?

Not really. The Rooneys are still here. Tomlin is too, as is much of the roster, coaching staff and personnel department. And that’s a big key to why the Steelers have been so good for so long. Since Noll made his first playoff appearance, in 1971, the Steelers have been under .500 on just seven occasions, and none since 2003 (the year before Roethlisberger was drafted).

But that doesn’t mean, to Tomlin, change has to be bad, and, in a chicken-and-egg sort of way, he’d point to the reason for the Steelers’ steadiness to prove it.

“We don’t hide behind stability,” he said. “Stability is good when we’re doing what it is that we’re supposed to do. We understand what drives the bus—winning and putting together a good, solid product, and working to be a world champion each and every single year. And that’s our individual focus this year. So stability is not a crutch for us. We don’t seek comfort in it, it’s just something that exists when you’re doing what you’re supposed to do.”

It’s a good bet, based on the past, that the Steelers will do that.

If they do, it just won’t look the same.

Kirby Lee/USA Today network © Provided by Sports Illustrated Kirby Lee/USA Today network

Deebo and DK Get Paid

All that drama, and Deebo Samuel signed less than a week into camp.

The 49ers and their All-Pro receiver agreed on Sunday to a three-year, $71.55 million extension (with upside to $73.5 million) that takes him and the team through 2025. There’ll be a lot to break down on the back end of this, of course, as far as cashflow and structure of the guarantees (full vs. injury), as well as how the pact will affect Samuel’s role going forward—he wasn’t wild about being used as a traditional tailback down the stretch last year.

But for now, to me, maybe the most interesting piece of this is what it says about the state of the receiver market in the NFL. Samuel was the 11th wideout to get a deal worth $20 million per year or more this offseason alone. Before this March, just four receivers (Julio Jones, DeAndre Hopkins, Amari Cooper, Keenan Allen) had hit that benchmark … ever.

And the deal itself comes on the heels of DK Metcalf signing his with the Seahawks (after which he delivered this gem of a quote: “I was going to be here, as much as I bluffed to [GM] John [Schneider]. I wasn’t leaving, just to let you all know. I wanted to be here. I wanted to play here and I’m glad that we got something done.”)

So good for Samuel and good for Metcalf, who fell like a stone in the 2019 draft and gave us one of the most memorable scenes from that weekend, when he tearfully thanked Schneider and Pete Carroll for taking him in the second round. It’s fair to say Metcalf delivered on his promise to the Seahawks’ brass. And we do have a few more details on that contract

• $30 million signing bonus.

• $41 million through the first two years of the deal.

• His new-money APY of $24 million ranks sixth among receivers (ahead of Samuel).

Also, as to where his deal ranks, the truth is that some others have high back-end numbers, whereas this deal expires just after Metcalf turns 28, positioning him for another big deal, which makes it similar to how Samuel’s gets him back to the market in his 20s.

That brings us back to the big-picture part of this.

At the start of the offseason, those two, and their draft classmates Terry McLaurin and A.J. Brown, were looking for deals like these. All four got them. Tyreek Hill got one too. As did Davante Adams. And Cooper Kupp. And Stefon Diggs. And D.J. Moore. And Mike Williams. And Chris Godwin.

Again, that’s 11 of them over five months, after only four such deals had been done for receivers previously in the history of the league—and a handful of those deals weren’t just scraping to $20 million, they were racing past it.

Meanwhile, a couple pretty smart teams, in the Chiefs and Packers, moved off their big-money receivers, with part of the thinking being it’s never been easier to find impact players at the position in the draft than it is now (those teams also have big quarterback contracts on their books, which is a factor).

So who will look smart here four or five years from now?

It’ll be fascinating to see.

Ken Blaze/USA TODAY Sports © Provided by Sports Illustrated Ken Blaze/USA TODAY Sports

TEN TAKEAWAYS

By the time you read this Monday, it’s possible a decision will have already come from Sue L. Robinson, meting out the discipline Deshaun Watson receives as a result of the 24 sexual misconduct civil suits against him (20 of which have been settled, four of which remain ongoing). If it hasn’t, then it will come soon. And my educated guess is that once Robinson rules, that’ll be that, and her decision will stand. The NFLPA already put out a statement saying that it will stand by Robinson’s ruling. Why? Well, simply put, this will be the third time that Watson’s case has been before a judge, counting the two grand jury rulings. At this point, as the union sees it, that’s enough. I also don’t think the league will fight Robinson’s ruling, whatever it is, and the tea leaves have looked that way for quite some time.

Remember: A month ago, the league wasn’t shy about letting it be known that it sought a yearlong suspension in settlement talks and would pursue an indefinite suspension if the case got to the hearing stage, which it did at the end of June. Robinson, in turn, wasn’t pleased that the NFL made its position so public. So why would the league risk angering the arbitrator? The NFL’s too savvy to do that for no reason. And a lot of folks feel, and have felt for a month, that this case didn’t go the league’s way during the hearing, so the NFL leaked its desired outcome to say, “We tried,” before accepting Robinson’s ruling.

Of course, Robinson could sideline Watson for the whole year or give him an indefinite suspension. Or if his suspension is for less than that, Roger Goodell could overturn Robinson’s decision. But I think the likelihood is that it will come in at less than a year, and the league will leave that alone to avoid undermining a process it negotiated with the union two years ago (and potential litigation from Watson’s side).

Josh Allen seems like he’s in a really good place. And he and I had some fun with the epic playoff game against the Chiefs, when we sat down last week. I asked him if he’s gotten sick of talking about it. “Which one’s that one?” he answered. He got me for a minute. I repeated, The Kansas City game. “Huh?” he said.

He laughed, and then responded with this: “At the end of the day, we lost the game. And whether we lost by, I think it was six, or by one, or by 50, we didn’t get the job done. So just trying to use that and understand that can fuel us going forward and we got to find a way at the end of the day. And we didn’t. But we’ll learn from it and we’ll grow. It’s water under the bridge now, and there’s nothing we can do about it but move forward.”

Allen then said he tries to avoid the unending clips and highlights that played all offseason. “It pops up on the Twitter feed every once in a while. I just try to scroll past it. There’s no running from it, it is what it is.”

And here’s the thing: I actually do think the Bills’ players, coaches and staff, with Allen at the front of the line, took a valuable lesson from the experience. Specifically, it’s how games like that are won on the margins (situational football, turnovers, etc.), and how it revealed the importance of the details to a Buffalo group that’s been knocking on the door for a few years now.

“If you’re a competitor, it has an effect on you, regardless if you’re Josh or anyone else,” coach Sean McDermott told me. “If you love to win, love to compete, a piece of it is you learn from it, and a piece of it is you want another crack at it, but you’re not guaranteed it. … That’s the challenge, but it’s also the fascinating part of our league, what drives you and makes you want to do it again.”

“He played a hell of a game, but he’s probably thinking, ‘What about this possession that something didn’t happen? What if we had done some things earlier in the game to not get behind?’” Beane said. “But that’s it; he could’ve said, ‘That was bad luck, we lost the coin toss.’ Josh said the right thing, like, ‘There was things we could’ve done too.’ That’s what I would say too.”

So like I said, I think Allen is in a good place. As is a really loaded Bills team.

(We’re gonna have a lot more on Allen and the Bills coming a little later in the summer.)

We also have a lot more coming on the Bengals, but I thought Zac Taylor’s perspective on where Joe Burrow can grow this year was worth sharing. Here’s what he said …

“I think his role now and going forward is always to help us as a coaching staff get the offense up to speed and the team up to speed,” Taylor said, when he and I met at camp on Friday. “When you add up new faces—three new O-linemen, you got Hayden Hurst, it’s [Burrow’s] job outside of the structure of the meeting rooms to help facilitate that growth quickly to where we don’t skip a beat. I think that’s great quarterbacks’ jobs, to make sure you’re the extension of the coaching staff when we can’t be doing it.

“And even his voice gets louder now in meeting rooms, whereas the installs are less Callie [offensive coordinator Brian Callahan] and I saying, ‘This is how we’re doing it.’ It’s now way more, ‘Joe, you got anything you want to add? Joe, you want to lead us off here with how you see this?’ And I think that will just continue to grow over time.

“So his growth, I think people always want to hear quarterbacks having more accuracy, seeing things fast. Those are things that you’d say about young quarterbacks. For him, it’s more just continuing to grow his ownership, which he has full reins of now. I think every year, that’s just gonna continue to grow.”

Remember, Burrow was at LSU 30 months ago. He played in his first pro game less than 23 months ago. So my next question was the obvious one: How rare is it that you’ve got a guy that young basically becoming a surrogate of the coaching staff?

“It’s hard for me to speak to the rarity of it, because I’ve been around some guys that are really talented, guys that really had a command of the system early,” Taylor continued. “So I can’t compare them to the 100 other guys who have gone through this over the last 20 years. But I know enough to know that he’s really special that way, and you’re lucky when you got one like that. And you just gotta appreciate it.”

Which is pretty much why I wouldn’t bet on him, or the Bengals, backsliding much. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again—there are more parallels to Tom Brady with Burrow than any player who’s come into the league since Brady did 22 years ago.

The damage has been done with Kyler Murray. A week later, I’m still having a hard time wrapping my head around the clause the Cardinals put in their star quarterback’s five-year, $230.5 million extension—and how no one stepped in and said, “You know what? This is a really bad idea.” But I do think I know how it happened.

Bottom line, there have been lingering questions about Murray’s leadership going back to when he was drafted, and his in-and-out participation in the offseason program the last two years (hence, the outsized workout bonuses in the contract) and handling of the end of the 2021 season, with his injury and otherwise, has only created more consternation. Then, you had the report from ESPN’s Chris Mortensen on Super Bowl Sunday, which led to Murray’s camp getting restless about getting paid (remember, Murray saw what his old teammate Baker Mayfield got for being patient), then the statement, and, well, this wasn’t a normal negotiation from the start. And if everyone’s not on the same page? Well, then people look for protection—Murray’s camp in the form of a solid guarantee structure and strong cashflow, and the team in the form of the workout bonuses.

For what it’s worth, based on what I know, I don’t think this is so much about Murray putting the time in as it is about how he allots his time. He’s as good as anyone when it comes to taking care of his body, but the Cardinals want him to do more on the mental side of the game. He’s gotten his teammates together for off-campus passing camps in Arizona and Texas, but too often, maybe, it’s been on his time and not within the context of the team. And clearly, the Cardinals were trying to rectify that with a player who’s been dogged for having a so-called baseball-player mentality (as a sort of independent contractor) more so than a quarterback mentality.

But very clearly, this was an incredibly clunky way to do it. They had to know news of the independent study clause would get out. And did they really think Murray setting the clock on his phone for 40 minutes a day to stare at his iPad would do anything? The extra work only makes a difference if a guy’s engaged, and that’s probably not a great way to get him there. In the end, as we’ve seen, there was so much downside to putting these provisions in there. And I’m not sure there was any real upside to doing it whatsoever.

Ryan Jensen is a massive loss for the Buccaneers. Among the raft of free agents Tampa Bay had to negotiate with after Tom Brady announced in March he was coming back, maintaining some semblance of continuity along the offensive line was a priority, particularly after Ali Marpet retired. The team chose to get aggressive to keep Jensen on board, and let Alex Cappa go, in part because having a good, experienced center would really help in breaking in new guards.

Now, with Jensen down? The Bucs are going to have a completely new interior between bookend tackles Donovan Smith and Tristan Wirfs. Shaq Mason gives them an experienced hand, and one who’s worked with Brady before, at right guard. But the other two projected starters would be Aaron Stinnie and Robert Hainsey, who have one regular-season start between them (Stinnie did start in the playoffs during the team’s Super Bowl run after Cappa got hurt). Maybe Hainsey, a third-round pick in 2021, will be a revelation (though if the Bucs thought that was coming, they probably would have let Jensen walk in the offseason). Maybe Stinnie’s better than his first four NFL seasons, with two teams, would indicate.

I just know that if I were Bucs GM Jason Licht, I’d be keeping a few vets like J.C. Tretter on speed dial. There’s too much on the line for that team this year, too narrow a window to win with Brady, and too many bad memories from what the line’s injury woes did to the offense down the stretch last year not to have some sort of backup plan in place.

Robert Goddin/USA TODAY Sports © Provided by Sports Illustrated Robert Goddin/USA TODAY Sports

I think getting Matt Ryan for a third-round pick is going to look like larceny by mid-October. And it’s not just that I think Ryan’s still got plenty in the tank—though I do. It’s also because, as I see it, and as the Colts see it, the offense is set up ideally for a quarterback with his strengths. For one, any quarterback is going to benefit from having Jonathan Taylor alongside him, and we’ve seen what Ryan was when he had Michael Turner earlier in his career, and Kyle Shanahan operating a run game fueled by Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman during his MVP season.

But more than just that, Ryan’s got a balanced group around him, with depth at receiver and tight end bolstered through the draft, and Nyheim Hines paired with Taylor in the backfield. Being able to attack with all five skill players, at least as far as Frank Reich envisions it, should leverage the very best out of the experienced Ryan, in that it’ll allow him to use the whole field and play point guard out there. And then there’s this: He’s really not that old. He’s a year younger than Philip Rivers was when he arrived in Indy two years ago, and his birthday’s not that far off from a couple other guys who were traded the last couple offseasons.

• Ryan: May 7, 1985.

• Matthew Stafford: February 7, 1988.

• Russell Wilson: November 29, 1988.

Is Ryan going to be Brady? Probably not. But my sense is the Colts believe he’s got three good years in him. And especially if they can support him the way they play to. “He’s not coming here for it to be a one-man show,” Reich told me after the team’s Saturday practice. “We’re a good team already, but I think he can play an important role in helping us take that next step in those three or four critical games that are nail-biters against good teams. And we’ve won our share of those, but we need to win a higher percentage of those. We need to win three out of four of those, which a quarterback can affect.” And which Ryan has a history of affecting over the course of his career.

I thought Chiefs GM Brett Veach’s comments on OT Orlando Brown Jr. over the weekend were really interesting. “The agency has advisors around him, and we respect his decision,” Veach said. “And it’s not gonna limit our pursuit of him next year. We’re gonna continue to try to get him locked up.”

The key advisor: former Saints tackle, and Brown’s fellow Oklahoma alum, Jammal Brown. My understanding is he’s been a factor in negotiations and Orlando Brown’s desire for a market-shifting deal. Should he have just taken the Chiefs’ offer? Well, here are the details on what Kansas City put in front of the left tackle it traded for a year ago …

• A six-year, $139 million extension.

• $95 million in the first five years.

• $38 million fully guaranteed.

• $52.25 million guaranteed against injury.

So how did the Chiefs come up with that? Well, the deal, in its structure, was not unlike the one that Ryan Ramczyk signed with the Saints last summer. And if you look at the new-money cashflow on a five-year extension, it’s really not far off from what Trent Williams ($104.8 million) and Ronnie Stanley ($98.8 million) got, and the full guarantee is just past what two franchise tags would cost the Chiefs ($36.6 million). Taking that into account, the question becomes how confident Brown is that he’ll be as good at left tackle this year, and whether he should be paid in the stratosphere that Williams and Stanley (legit top-five tackles) are. Clearly, the elder and younger Brown both thought he should be, so we are where we are. And we’re probably hurtling toward a second tag for Brown, at a cost of a shade under $20 million, a year from now.

The Guardian Caps are certainly noticeable. If you’re out at a camp, you’ll see them—all linemen, running backs, tight ends and linebackers are required to wear them at practice from now through the second full weekend of preseason games. So on Sunday, I reached out to Commanders coach Ron Rivera, one of four coaches on the competition committee that recommended the change (along with Reich, Tomlin and Mike Vrabel).

Rivera told me that, for his part, as both a coach and former player, the decision was easy. “Very easy,” he emphasized via text, before we got on the phone. Rivera added later that he had players come to him to complain about the caps early in camp, but those complaints dissipated quickly. A few days into wearing them, a couple guys circled back and told the coach, “I don’t feel the difference as much as I hear it.” And that, as Rivera looks at it, is actually an important thing. “You don’t hear the clack of the helmet at practice—you’re just not hearing that sound anymore,” he said. “So you can tell it’s absorbing the shock. Secondly, I think it’s making our guys more aware of what they’re doing, and the guys are keeping their heads up more. It’s there, and it’s helping remind the guys on the right way to do things. So to me, it’s been a huge plus. And I think it’s something we should take a long look at, for how we handle OTAs and minicamps.”

The idea for the new helmets first came up back at the combine. It was discussed thereafter with the NFLPA and presented to the owners by the competition committee at the league’s March meeting, where it wound up being voted on and passed. The numbers that were presented showed that one player wearing a Guardian Cap lessens the impact of a helmet-to-helmet collision by 10%, and that number jumps to 20% if both guys are wearing them. Which is why Rivera says, for him at least, the decision to push for the new rule, was academic. “The truth is, when you hear how it helps and changes the effect of two helmets coming together, and absorbs the shock, takes that shock away from the head, it just makes sense.”

Van Jefferson’s knee issues were a reason the Rams brought in Allen Robinson in March. So I wouldn’t expect that the team will overreach if Jefferson gets bad news after meeting with a specialist Monday (as my buddy Ian Rapoport reported he would). The bottom line is the Rams went into the offseason with three receivers on their roster coming off knee procedures: Jefferson, Odell Beckham Jr. and Robert Woods. And that’s why, ultimately, after Von Miller walked, it made sense for Sean McVay and Les Snead to get themselves a proven insurance policy with the cap space created (you can read more about that in last Monday’s MMQB column).

Robinson, given his track record, is a decent one to have. And even if his tape wasn’t great last year, and that is why his market cratered a bit in free agency, both Matthew Stafford and Cooper Kupp were involved in the decision to bring him, so you’re going to have real investment in making that work. After that? Well, very clearly, the door’s open for Beckham to come back, with the hope that his most recent ACL surgery will bring a more positive result than the last one did. So the Rams have plenty of options at the position. They’ll be fine.

And we’ve got quick-hitters for you coming off my first week on the road.

• Amari Cooper is quietly a pretty important member of the Browns. The team’s excited about Donovan Peoples-Jones and Harrison Bryant, and Nick Chubb and David Njoku are established there. But having a bona fide No. 1 to take the pressure off everyone else would really help make those guys that much more effective.

• The Bengals were able to diagnose Joe Burrow’s appendicitis last week because he just happened to mention to his coaches that he didn’t feel right throwing the ball to start camp—and it’s a good thing he did, because he might be out a little longer if they hadn’t figured it out early. He’ll be fine, and the Bengals at least got Brandon Allen a little work with the starters, which is valuable, because Burrow doesn’t like to give up reps in practice.

• Other such opportunities exist in Buffalo and Indianapolis now, too. As the Bills allow CB Tre’Davious White time to get fully healthy coming back off his ACL, Dane Jackson and first-rounder Kaiir Elam are gobbling up first-team reps. And with Colts All-Pro Shaquille Leonard down, E.J. Speed and Zaire Franklin, two linebackers the team loves, but hasn’t had a ton of playing time for, are getting a lot of work. Building depth there, of course, in both cases, will allow those teams to be smart with how they bring their stars back.

• Throw White in with Chase Young (Rivera said he doesn’t expect Young back for the opener) and it does seem like teams are being a little more cautious than they have been in the past in bringing guys back from ACL surgeries.

• If the Patriots have made a decision on who’ll call offensive plays, there are people in that building who haven’t been apprised of it. And I don’t think I’d totally rule out Bill Belichick being pretty involved, at least early in the year. The team’s preseason opener, a week from Thursday, should at least provide an indicator or two of which way it’s going.

• While we’re there, I love this nickname that I heard Nick Saban has for Mac Jones: McEnroe, because the hypercompetitive Jones used to flip out on people in practice. It’ll be interesting to see if we start to see a little more of that from Jones as camp wears on. He’s not a rookie anymore, after all.

• Both George Pickens and Calvin Austin III have a shot to contribute as rookies in Pittsburgh. And Pickens, in particular, is an interesting one. Were it not for his ACL surgery before his junior year, and some character flags coming out of Georgia, he may have become a top-10 pick. He’s that kind of talent. He’s also now in a place that’s been a good one for receivers to develop.

• I will say I’m surprised the Lamar Jackson contract isn’t done yet. But he and the Ravens still have six weeks until the opener, and the circle is small on those involved in that particular negotiation. Remember, Baltimore paid a heavy price for waiting to do Joe Flacco’s extension, and it followed Flacco for the rest of his career. I’m not sure they’d want to go down that road with a quarterback again.

• I like hearing from Tyreek Hill more. It also seems like he’s everywhere, and I know the Chiefs had to do a lot to manage him over his last year there. So I wonder where this goes with the Dolphins, if things aren’t perfect early on.

• My favorite thing from camp thus far: seeing players interact with kids after practice again. I remember being that kid, and how awesome it was, so I’m a sucker for those moments we see splashed all over social media this time of year.

SIX FROM THE SIDELINES

1) I don’t know if I’d want Kevin Durant, if I were the Celtics. He’s 34. He’s had an Achilles injury. And it seems like he’s perpetually unhappy—so what would stop him from deciding he wants a change again a year from now? Add that to how much I like Jaylen Brown as a player … and I’m not sure I’d do it if I were Brad Stevens.

2) R.I.P. Bill Russell. A legend in every sense of the word, and one of the greatest winners in sports history, with a legacy that goes far beyond what he did on the court.

3) I’d say the Red Sox are done, but I’ve made that mistake before. Let’s just say things don’t look good.

4) I don’t pay as much attention to baseball as I used to, but are Juan Soto and Shohei Ohtani really gonna be traded before the deadline on Tuesday?

5) Barrio Tacos is awesome. I had it at 11:30 p.m. on Tuesday in Cleveland, because it was one of the few places with a kitchen that was open near my hotel. As such, my expectations weren’t high. And it was fantastic all the way around.

6) An underrated part of Ohio, Michigan and Indiana: the late summer sunsets. Colts practice on Saturday night at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. was incredible, in part because it looked like the sky was on fire. Great setting.

BEST OF THE NFL INTERNET

Really cool scene as one of the underrated pieces of the Legion of Boom defenses called it a career.

Remember how I said I was a sucker for this stuff?

Well, this one got me. … I was actually with Allen right after this and noticed he wasn’t wearing shoes. I had no idea why. Now I know.

Very complete first week for Allen.

I feel like calling in on something like that would be a lot of work.

Does Marshall have a Rivals rating yet?

Another cool element of camp: seeing players’ families hanging out after practice.

Whit couldn’t keep himself away for long, clearly.

I do like the honesty here.

Love seeing these kinds of signs when you’re on the road. And this one’s pretty cool.

The truth comes out! (Maybe.)

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

I’ll be with the Packers Monday, Vikings Tuesday, and then I hop on planes to go to Kansas City, then out west. And yes, there are ways for you to follow along with me. One would be on Twitter, another’s on Instagram and a third (and fourth) would be through our camp observation quick-hitter posts and videos—which are all here.

Be sure to check all of that out this week. We’ll keep the content coming, and I may even throw a Twitter live or two in there for you in the next few days.

More NFL Coverage:

  • Cardinals Still Have Damage to Repair Over Homework Clause
  • Steelers Training Camp: Two Rookie WRs Impress
  • Why Football Can’t Just Ignore Donald Trump
  • Attention on Watson and the Browns Nothing New in Cleveland

Seattle Seahawks at Pittsburgh Steelers preseason game: Live stream, date, time, odds, how to watch .
Both the Seahawks and Steelers will embark on new eras at quarterback. Geno Smith and Mitchell Trubisky, respectively, have an early edge to start.For Seattle, which traded Russell Wilson to the Broncos in March, the competition now comes down to Geno Smith, who has been with the team since the 2020 season, and Drew Lock, who was part of the Denver trade. Head coach Pete Carroll said Tuesday that Smith has taken an early lead in the position battle and will start Saturday, though Carroll did add that both Smith and Lock would get equal reps with the starting receivers.

See also