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Steelers want to be sustainable, but numbers make it tough

Kevin Colbert AP

The Steelers went through a dramatic purge last year, having the get rid of older starters just to comply with the salary cap.

Things are going to be tight again this year, which has already raised the specter of more cuts, but general manager Kevin Colbert said the challenge is keeping the team sustainable.

“Last year, we let go of significant players,” Colbert told the NFL Network’s Albert Breer. “This year, that may or may not be the case. We never want to be in a position where we have to gut the team. We want to compete every year. And this year, we weren’t able to. We didn’t get in the playoffs. And that was a failure.

“But we want to avoid being in a position where we make that one-year, all-in run, then disappear.”

Last year, they cut James Farrior, Hines Ward, Aaron Smith and Chris Kemoeatu, and they all retired. This year, they have $100 million worth of a projected $121 salary cap invested in 10 players, which could make for some tough decisions.

Linebacker James Harrison’s already put out word he’s not taking a pay cut. And while safety Troy Polamalu might have more good football left in him, he didn’t play last season to a level worth a $10 million number.

They’re not the only ones in this situation, but they have to deal with a top-heavy roster and a flat cap.

“We’ve always tried to do things that made sense for the current year, but also do things that wouldn’t strangle you financially in the future,” Colbert said. “It’s no different this time. We’re getting in compliance. We’re gonna have to have some terminations, some extensions, some restructurings. Figuring out the combination of all that, that’s what we’re doing now. We don’t have to be compliant until March 12, so we have some time.”

With a significant free agent list (Mike Wallace, Rashard Mendenhall, Casey Hampton, Keenan Lewis), and upgrades needed, the Steelers need to count on their homegrown players to step into larger roles if they are to improve on last year’s record.

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Von Miller gives the entire AFC West a bottle of wine

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 17:  Denver Bronco Von Miller attends the Get Cut Event with Chef's Cut Real Jerky and Von Miller of the Denver Broncos at 24th Street Loft on November 17, 2016 in New York City.  (Photo by Brad Barket/Getty Images for Chef's Cut Real Jerky) Getty Images

Broncos linebacker Von Miller is in the Christmas spirit, and now, so is the entire division.

Via Nicki Jhabvala of the Denver Post, Miller sent a bottle of wine and a thank you note to every player in the AFC West, including practice-squaders and those on injured reserve. That’s nearly 300 bottles of wine.

Included with each bottle was a note which read:

It is an honor and a privilege to take the field and compete with you twice a year. We are so fortunate to have this opportunity to fulfill our childhood dreams of playing in the NFL. The blood, sweat, aches and pains, and endless hours spent watching film are a testament to the love and dedication we have for this game. So take a moment, reflect on all your successes, and enjoy your accomplishment. Appreciate those who have helped you get this far, and start working towards your next childhood dream.

Thank you for helping to make our game great!

-Von Miller

It’s quite the magnanimous gesture from Miller, the kind one can make after signing a $114.5 million contract. But regardless the price tag or his ability to pick it up, it was a nice touch or sportsmanship and generosity for the Super Bowl MVP.

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Bills expect a “big game” from Sammy Watkins

PHILADELPHIA, PA - DECEMBER 13:  Sammy Watkins #14 of the Buffalo Bills makes the catch for a 16 yard gain in the fourth quarter against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on December 13, 2015 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) Getty Images

Wide receiver Sammy Watkins sat out of practice on Wednesday with foot soreness and offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn said Thursday that the wideout is still dealing with a broken bone in his foot, but neither will keep him from playing against the Raiders this Sunday.

That was the word from Bills coach Rex Ryan on Friday while he was discussing the team’s injury situation ahead of their trip to Oakland. As is his habit, Ryan went a little further than just saying Watkins would be in the lineup for the second straight game.

“Sammy contributed in a big way last week and we expect a big game this week. He’s going to play,” Ryan said.

The Bills could use one. While Marquise Goodwin was at practice Friday after injuring his wrist on Thursday, the team has ruled out wide receivers Robert Woods and Percy Harvin. That leaves a thin group at wideout as the team tries to keep their playoff hopes alive against the AFC West leaders.

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Despite “good meeting,” Dickerson still wants no part of Jeff Fisher

LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 25:  Former NFL player Eric Dickerson attends the Cedars-Sinai Sports Spectacular at W Los Angeles – West Beverly Hills on March 25, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Rich Polk/Getty Images for Sports Spectacular) Getty Images

Hall of Fame running back Eric Dickerson still has a problem with Rams coach Jeff Fisher.

Dickerson appeared on ESPN this morning and said he had a great conversation with Rams COO Kevin Demoff last night, but Dickerson then reiterated that he still wants no part of Fisher.

“I had a very good meeting with Kevin Demoff. We talked for almost three hours,” Dickerson said.

So what’s his beef with Fisher? Dickerson said there are two issues: First, Fisher treated him disrespectfully in a phone call. And second, Dickerson doesn’t think Fisher is the right coach for the Rams. As a result of those two issues, Dickerson said he’s done going to Rams games while Fisher is there.

“I will not go back to the games as long as Jeff Fisher is there,” Dickerson said. “I don’t have a vendetta against Jeff at all . . . but no, I won’t, because I felt like the call to me was a very disrespectful call.”

Dickerson said he believes the Rams would be a better team if they fired Fisher.

“I think this football team would do better without Jeff. That’s just my opinion,” he said. “He’s had five years to turn this team around and he’s had all losing seasons.”

Dickerson — who made the trip to the ESPN studio to talk about the controversy — also said he’d rather not be talking about it.

“I’m really tired of talking about this, seriously,” Dickerson said.

Then perhaps Dickerson should stop talking about this. The reason the story has legs is that Dickerson, one of the Rams’ all-time great players, keeps talking about how much he dislikes the Rams’ current coach.

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Broncos defense thinks it is “too lax” at end of games

DENVER, CO - NOVEMBER 27:  Strong safety T.J. Ward #43 of the Denver Broncos pushes wide receiver Tyreek Hill #10 of the Kansas City Chiefs out of bounds in the first quarter of the game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on November 27, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Broncos defense has given up late touchdowns in each of their last two games, although they were able to avoid a loss to the Saints in Week 10 when a blocked extra point turned into two Denver points in a 25-23 win.

Their failure to close strong last week led to a loss against the Chiefs, however, and Broncos players feel that giving up two third down conversions and one on fourth down are a sign that the team isn’t doing the right thing in those situations. Linebacker Brandon Marshall pointed to mental errors and poor tackling as issues the last two weeks, while safety T.J. Ward believes the team is laying back too much.

“We have to be more focused. We’re too lax in those situations. We expect someone to make the play, but we have to expect ourselves to make the play first,” Ward said, via the Denver Post. “It’s not last year’s team, so don’t compare us to last year.”

The defense will be back on the field in Jacksonville on Sunday for a game they likely hope will be settled before the final minutes of the fourth quarter.

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A.J. Green says he hopes to return this year if cleared

DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 28:  Wide receiver A.J. Green #18 of the Cincinnati Bengals celebrates after catching a 5-yard first quarter touchdown against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on December 28, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images) Getty Images

Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green said he hopes to come back this year and was relieved that his hamstring injury wasn’t any worse, though when he describes it, it sounds pretty bad.

Via Katherine Terrell of, Green told reporters today that it wasn’t as bad as he first feared.

“Grade II tear — it was 50 percent torn,” Green said. “But it’s not bad, it’s not torn off the bone or nothing like that. No surgery needed.”

(Let this stand as our periodic reminder that all sports injuries are relative, and far less serious when they happen to someone else — because “not torn off the bone” is considered a positive.)

The Bengals wideout, who went down early in the Bills game two weeks ago and won’t play this week, said he initially thought it was just a cramp. But then when he tried to walk it off and couldn’t, he realized perhaps a cart ride was in his best interests. But he started doing some light jogging this week, and hopes to be able to return this year even though the Bengals are in a fairly hopeless situation at 3-7-1.

“I’m going to play it safe. I want to get back, no matter what kind of season we’re having,” he said. “I’m not the type of guy to pack it in. Whenever I’m ready, I’ll be ready to go, but I’m not going to rush it and have this as a continuing issue. . . .

“That’s not the type of guy I am. I don’t bail out on my team because we’re not having the season we want to have.”

Green was having a phenomenal year before the injury, with 964 receiving yards. If he can get back and get 36 more yards, he’d join Randy Moss as the only receiver with six straight 1,000-yard seasons to begin his career.

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Belichick on playing without Gronkowski: We’ll do what we do every week

FOXBORO, MA - NOVEMBER 13:  Rob Gronkowski #87 of the New England Patriots warms up before a game against the Seattle Seahawks at Gillette Stadium on November 13, 2016 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images) Getty Images

Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski is having back surgery on Friday and his family released a statement through the team saying that they expect Gronkowski will miss the rest of the regular season.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick didn’t add much information on top of that statement during his Friday press conference. Belichick said “we’re all disappointed” and that “hopefully things will work out as positively as possible with him.”

The coach wouldn’t speculate about whether Gronkowski will go on injured reserve, which would rule him out of returning this year now that quarterback Jacoby Brissett has been designated as the team’s only returning player for the season. Belichick was also said the team wouldn’t be doing veering from their usual routine when it comes to coming up with a game plan that accounts for Gronkowski’s absence from the lineup.

“We do it every day. We do it every week. That’s what we do,” Belichick said.

Tight end Martellus Bennett figures to have a big involvement in the Gronk-less offensive plans and Belichick didn’t rule out making a move to bolster the position if it is “what we feel is best for the football team.”

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Ivory, Hurns will miss game vs. Broncos

JACKSONVILLE, FL - AUGUST 20: Josh Keyes #50 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers tackles Chris Ivory #33 of the Jacksonville Jaguars as he runs with the ball during a preseason game on August 20, 2016 at EverBank Field in Jacksonville, Florida. Tampa Bay defeated Jacksonville 27-21. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Jaguars have ruled four players out for Sunday’s game vs. the Broncos, including running back Chris Ivory and wide receiver Allen Hurns.

Both Ivory and Hurns have hamstring injuries and didn’t practice all week. Also out are wide receiver Rashad Greene (Achilles) and defensive end Jared Odrick (shoulder). Tight end Julius Thomas is doubtful with a back injury and likely to miss a second straight game.

Running back T.J. Yeldon has been limited the last two games and this week in practice by an ankle injury, but he’ll be counted on to carry a heavier load with Ivory out.

The Jaguars await the release of the Broncos’ injury report later Friday. Broncos starting quarterback Trevor Siemian didn’t practice Wednesday or Thursday due to a sprained left foot. Rookie Paxton Lynch would start if Siemian can’t play.

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What is the Chargers’ L.A. end game?

SAN DIEGO, CA - DECEMBER 20: San Diego Chargers fans hold signs supporting the San Diego Chargers during a game against the Miami Dolphins at Qualcomm Stadium on December 20, 2015 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images) Getty Images

With roughly six weeks until the window closes on the Chargers exercising their right to join the Rams in L.A., someone is leaking to the media the notion that the Chargers are on the verge of doing just that. And something about that makes me wonder what’s really going on here.

There’s a chance this latest report of a move to Los Angeles isn’t really about the Chargers moving to L.A. but the Chargers staying in San Diego.

Confused? Intrigued? If only there was a way to get to the bottom of the point by clicking on a video on spending two minutes or so hearing the situation be explained in a way that includes a twist that may seem a little kooky on the surface, but that may ultimately make plenty of sense.

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Ryan Mathews out, Jordan Matthews questionable for Sunday

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - NOVEMBER 06:  Jordan Matthews #81 of the Philadelphia Eagles in action against the New York Giants  during their game at MetLife Stadium on November 6, 2016 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Eagles haven’t said whether they will have wide receiver Nelson Agholor back in the lineup for this Sunday’s game against the Bengals and his status may be tied to Jordan Matthews‘ health.

Matthews is listed as questionable to play this weekend because of an ankle injury. Matthews left last Monday’s loss to the Packers early in the second half because of the injury, but was able to get on the field for a limited practice on Thursday.

Agholor was inactive for the Packers game after a series of errors over the first 10 games of the season had him feeling mentally lost. One would imagine he’ll be active if Matthews can’t play and he might be part of the gameday roster even if Matthews plays due to the possibility that he’ll leave early due to the injury.

Running back Ryan Mathews has been ruled out for the second straight week because of a knee injury and right tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai will also sit out with a knee injury.

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Louisiana law make it easy for citizens to shoot to kill

PHILADELPHIA, PA - DECEMBER 18:  Joe McKnight #25 of the New York Jets warms up before the start of the Jets game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on December 18, 2011 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) Getty Images

It’s unclear why the man who shot and killed former NFL running back Joe McKnight has been released from custody. It’s even less clear why Louisiana has a law that can transform the streets of New Orleans into Deadwood, South Dakota.

Louisiana has a “stand your ground” law, which surely will be an issue in the trial of Cardell Hayes, who shot and killed former Saints defensive end Will Smith earlier this year.

“A homicide is justifiable . . . [w]hen committed in self-defense by one who reasonably believes that he is in imminent danger of losing his life or receiving great bodily harm and that the killing is necessary to save himself from that danger,” the law states. “A person who is not engaged in unlawful activity and who is in a place where he or she has a right to be shall have no duty to retreat before using deadly force as provided for in this Section, and may stand his or her ground and meet force with force.”

As to the McKnight killing, key factual questions include identifying the aggressor and determining whether either party had disengaged from the exchange before it became deadly. Although further investigation may lead to the conclusion that the man who shot McKnight was not acting in self defense, the authorities have heard enough at this point to neither arrest nor charge a man who shot and killed another person less than 24 hours ago.

Surely, the “stand your ground” law was a major factor in the decision to set the shooter free.

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Man who killed Joe McKnight released without charges

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - OCTOBER 08:  Joe McKnight #25 of the New York Jets returns a kickoff 100-yards for a touchdown in the third quarter against the Houston Texans at MetLife Stadium on October 8, 2012 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) Getty Images

The man who shot and killed former NFL player Joe McKnight was released without charges hours later.

Ronald Gasser, who was taken into custody after shooting McKnight, has been released, the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office confirmed.

Police said Gasser and McKnight exchanged words in a traffic incident in a New Orleans suburb. Gasser reportedly remained at the scene and handed his gun over to police voluntarily. Although he hasn’t spoken publicly, he is presumably claiming he shot McKnight in self-defense.

According to police, McKnight did not have a gun either on his body or in his car.

A New Orleans native, McKnight was named the national high school player of the year by Parade magazine in 2006. After a college career at USC he was a fourth-round pick of the Jets in 2010 and played there for three seasons. He later played for the Chiefs and has most recently played in the Canadian Football League.

McKnight was 28 years old.

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Trump takes credit for NFL ratings slide, again

CINCINNATI, OH - DECEMBER 01: President-elect Donald Trump speaks during a stop at U.S. Bank Arena on December 1, 2016 in Cincinnati, Ohio. Trump took time off from selecting the cabinet for his incoming administration to celebrate his victory in the general election.  (Photo by Ty Wright/Getty Images) Getty Images

Thirty years after Donald Trump took on the NFL and lost, he has taken on the NFL and won. According to him.

Via SportsBusiness Daily, the President-Elect declared during his first public rally since the election that the NFL’s ratings dropped because of the election.

“[T]heir ratings were so far down,” Trump said at a rally in Cincinnati. “And you know what the reason was? Because this business is tougher than the NFL. . . . Their ratings were down 20, 21 percent, and it was because of us.”

It’s not much different than Trump’s comments from October, when he both claimed credit for the dip in ratings and blamed Colin Kaepernick for it. The broader point is that the incoming Commander-in-Chief has the platform to make his voice heard, the willingness to say whatever he wants, and a lingering resentment of a billionaire’s club that consistently refused him admission.

Whether it’s making light of the league’s approach to concussions or pointing out the ongoing ratings struggles or anything else, the man who sits on the American throne could become a thorn in the side of America’s most popular sport. While some individual owners enjoy a positive relationship with him, the NFL may need to do some collective kissing of the ring (or some other area of the anatomy) in order to ensure that the next four years won’t include repeated body blows to a sport that some believe is currently being moved in the general direction of the ropes.

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Jarvis Jones knows his immediate future is out of his control

BALTIMORE, MD - NOVEMBER 6: Wide receiver Chris Moore #10 of the Baltimore Ravens is tackled by outside linebacker Jarvis Jones #95 of the Pittsburgh Steelers in the first quarter at M&T Bank Stadium on November 6, 2016 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) Getty Images

It seemed apparent that Steelers outside linebacker Jarvis Jones‘ days with the team were drawing nigh. But the former first-round pick may fade away even before his contract expires at the end of the season.

Via Joe Rutter of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said he didn’t want to use a five-man rotation for four outside linebacker spots. And since starters James Harrison and Anthony Chickillo seem entrenched and second-year linebacker Bud Dupree is back, it could be down to Jones and Arthur Moats for the final spot in that rotation.

And unlike Jones, Moats has sacks this year (3.5 of them), along with a contract for 2017.

“Do my job,” Jones said Thursday. “That’s all I can do.”

Jones said he was going to be motivated by the fact the Steelers didn’t pick up the fifth-year option on his rookie deal. But that hasn’t translated into any tangible results this season (he has 5.0 sacks in four seasons), and he seems to realize it’s out of his control at this point.

“I’ll prepare the same way,” Jones said. “I don’t make those decisions. Coaches do.”

It seems like the Steelers may already have, and Jones’ career with the team that drafted him 17th overall may be slinking to its inevitable end.

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Kareem Jackson plans to appeal fine for unnecessary roughness

HOUSTON, TX - NOVEMBER 27:  Kareem Jackson #25 of the Houston Texans hits Dontrelle Inman #15 of the San Diego Chargers and is called for unnecessary roughness in the fourth quarter at NRG Stadium on November 27, 2016 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Chargers put last Sunday’s game against the Texans away in the fourth quarter when quarterback Philip Rivers hit tight end Hunter Henry with a 12-yard touchdown pass that made the score 21-10 in a game the Chargers would ultimately win 21-13.

That touchdown was set up on the previous play when 15 yards were tacked on to a 25-yard gain by wide receiver Dontrelle Inman after officials called Texans cornerback Kareem Jackson for unnecessary roughness. Jackson came up to hit a stumbling Inman and their interaction ended with Inman’s helmet off.

Jackson said on Thursday that he’s been fined $24,309 for the infraction and that he plans to appeal the penalty.

“No, they didn’t explain it,” Jackson said, via the Houston Chronicle. “Didn’t say launching or anything.”

Jackson has been limited in practice by a hamstring injury both days this week, but appears on track to play against the Packers as the Texans try to remain on top in the AFC South.

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Mario Edwards worked out on grass Thursday

SEATTLE, WA - SEPTEMBER 03:  Defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. #97 of the Oakland Raiders looks on prior to the game against the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field on September 3, 2015 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images) Getty Images

Raiders defensive end Mario Edwards hasn’t played in a game yet this season, but the team hasn’t given up hope that he’ll make it back from his hip injury in time to help the team.

Edwards took another step toward that return on Thursday when he worked out on grass for the first time in the rehab process. Edwards posted a video of that work on Instagram and General Manager Reggie McKenzie said “hopefully he’ll graduate” to the next step soon. If he does and the Raiders designate him to return, there will be a three-week window for Edwards to practice with the team before they have to decide on adding him to the active roster.

Edwards wasn’t initially expected to be out for this long, but McKenzie said that the team has been working with Edwards to ensure he doesn’t experience any other problems.

“It was just a slower process,” McKenzie said, via the San Francisco Chronicle. “The one thing you want to be is asymptomatic, even if he’s just doing a little rehab with the trainers. But he wasn’t feeling right, whatever the little twinges of pain or whatever he had. We just scaled back from that particular rehab process. So it was all on him on how he felt. The injury is healed now.”

Edwards isn’t the only potential addition to the defense for the Raiders. Linebacker Aldon Smith is eligible to be reinstated from suspension, but McKenzie said Thursday that the team still hasn’t heard anything from the league on that front.

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