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Preseason Power Rankings No. 15: Pittsburgh Steelers

Ben AP

I’ve been accused of both being a Steelers fan and hating the Steelers.  Neither statement is accurate.

Here’s one that is:  After spending most of my life living in and within 100 miles of Pittsburgh, I know the Steelers as well if not better than any NFL team.

And here’s one thing I know:  When they are expected to be bad, they usually find a way to be pretty good.

In 2013, that theory could get its toughest test in years.  The roster is in transition, with a mix of aging veterans who are getting close the being kicked to the curb (including one with really long hair), a nucleus of players who are in their prime and who need to lead like it, and youngsters who’ll be relied upon to step up or step off.

For now, the consensus of the six PFT scribes placed the Steelers at No. 15.  Plenty of people think they’ll end up much worse.  Which tells me that there’s a good chance they’ll finish much better.

Strengths.

Perhaps the greatest strength of this franchise, year in and year out, comes from the franchise itself.  The Rooney family leads the team with a steady hand, never getting too high or too low in response to whatever may be happening at any given moment, month, or year.  Their patience could be tested over the next year or two, if the effort to change a flat tire on a moving car doesn’t work out very well.

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger remains a strength, but he could be an even stronger presence in three ways.  First, he needs to become a real leader of the team, not just a leader in word or title.  When former teammate Hines Ward pointed earlier this year to a lack of leadership earlier this offseason, he was pointing directly at Roethlisberger.  It’s time for Ben to prove the MVP of Super Bowl XL wrong.  (Unless the MVP of Super Bowl XL is right.)

Second, Roethlisberger needs to do less.  In the two seasons the Steelers won Super Bowls with Roethlisberger at the helm, he had his two lowest full-season per-game passing-yard averages, other than his rookie season.  The Steelers have been trying to achieve greater balance between run and pass, and Roethlisberger needs to buy in to that approach completely.

Third, he needs to stay healthy.  Though Roethlisberger apparently has recovered quickly from late-offseason knee surgery, there’s a sense that his very large body will betray him sooner than later, making it very hard for him to match other franchise quarterbacks by playing deep into his 30s.

In contrast to the Patriots’ inability to find quality receivers in the upper rounds of the draft, the Steelers have mastered the art of reaching into the haystack and pulling out mid-to-late-round needles.  Even with Mike Wallace (a third-rounder) gone to the highest bidder, the Steelers have a paid of solid replacements in Antonio Brown (a sixth-rounder) and Emmanuel Sanders (a third-round pick).  This year, the Steelers reached for two more needles, picking Markus Wheaton in (where else?) round three and Justin Brown in (where else?) round six.

The offensive line has been a perennial weakness.  The fact that it isn’t this year sort of makes it a strength.  Marcus Gilbert steps in for Max Starks at left tackle, and Mike Adams will handle the right side.  Maurkice Pouncey anchors the middle, with Ramon Foster on Pouncey’s left and a fully-healed David DeCastro, a first-rounder in 2012, to the right of the apologetic Hernandez apologist.

On defense, the ongoing presence of ageless coordinator Dick LeBeau will be needed more than ever, as the team adjusts to the departure of linebacker James Harrison and the highly unlikely return of nose tackle Casey Hampton.  But the Steelers have shown over the last 20-plus years an ability to interchange parts and still have a strong defense.  Regardless of the names and faces, the end result will be a fierce, hard-hitting defense.

Weaknesses.

The Steelers desperately need leaders with the will and the ability to influence teammates, on both sides of the ball.  Last year, they simply weren’t able to adjust to the sudden departure of leaders like Hines Ward and Aaron Smith.  This year, it will be very hard to turn around the perceived status of the team without players who take the criticisms personally and motivate those around them to take it up a notch, or three.

The running back position is perhaps less of a weakness than it is unsettled.  Rashard Mendenhall has left via free agency, and the Steelers hope Le’Veon Bell can make a Franco-style impact as a rookie.  If Bell doesn’t, it’ll be up to a revolving door of journeyman to provide the balance the team needs on offense.

The tight end position could be an issue for the Steelers, if Heath Miller has trouble recovering from a torn ACL suffered late in 2012.  If he does, David Johnson (who tore an ACL last August) could get a chance to shine.

The defensive line isn’t necessarily a weakness, but it’s not as strong as it used to be, making it harder for the largely anonymous trio to tie up blockers, which allows linebackers to get to the ball.

Changes.

On offense, a quartet of big names has bolted:  Mike Wallace, Rashard Mendenhall, Max Starks, and Willie Colon.  On defense, James Harrison has hit the road after rejecting a pay cut.  Casey Hampton didn’t even get a chance to turn down an offer; his contract expired, and the Steelers moved on.  (We still wouldn’t be completely shocked if he returns.)

New faces on offense include backup quarterback Bruce Gradkowski, who displaced Byron Leftwich and Charlie Batch.  Rookie quarterback Landry Jones has prompted Batch to suggest that, if Jones develops well, he could eventually displace Roethlisberger.  Three rookie skill-position players, led by Le’Veon Bell, will help the offense find its groove in year two under coordinator Todd Haley.

First-round linebacker Jarvis Jones, if his neck really is a non-issue, could make a huge impact from the get-go, making Steelers fans forget all about Harrison.  (Until, of course, Harrison is chasing around Roethlisberger when the Bengals face the Steelers.)

Position battles.

The Steelers want Le’Veon Bell to become the bell cow back, but he’ll have to earn it.  Other contenders include Isaac Redman, Jonathan Dwyer, Baron Batch, and diminutive-but-effective La’Rod Stephens-Howling.

Beyond Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders, the spots on the receiver depth chart are up for grabs. Don’t overlook Plaxico Burress, who’ll have his first full offseason and training camp to prepare for an NFL campaign in five years, as the primary red-zone target.  The slot job could come down to Jerricho Cotchery and rookie Markus Wheaton.

Pencil in Jarvis Jones as the replacement for James Harrison, but Jones will need to fend off Jason Worilds.

Despite the return of starting corners Ike Taylor and Cortez Allen, the return of William Gay could make things interesting, especially if Allen slips.

At safety, it could be hard to keep rookie Shamarko Thomas off the field, even with Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark on the roster.  (It also could be hard for Thomas to avoid the inevitable nickname of “Sharknado.”)

At punter, incumbent Drew Butler will battle it out with Brian Moorman, who was the incumbent in Buffalo a year ago.

Prospects.

The Steelers feel like a team in transition that borders on turmoil.  They missed the playoffs in 2012, and many see them as the third-best team in a competitive AFC North.

But the Steelers have a way of finding their groove when they’re being doubted, and it should surprise no one if coach Mike Tomlin wills the team toward postseason contention.  If they get there, they’ve still got enough talent and experience to cause problems for supposedly “better” teams in the AFC and, if it comes down to it, the NFC.

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Datone Jones suspension arises from marijuana possession

medical-marijuana Getty Images

As expected, the one-game suspension imposed on Packers defensive lineman Datone Jones came from a violation of the law relating to a banned recreational substance.

According to Jason Wilde of ESPNWisconsin.com, Jones was cited for marijuana possession in Green Bay on January 19, one day after the Packers lost the NFC title game in Seattle.

The following month, Jones paid an $880 fine to dismiss the charge. It now gets a lot more expensive, due to the suspension.

He’ll lose $65,088 in base salary for the one-game suspension (1/17th of his 2015 salary of $1.106 million), and he’ll be subject to the forfeiture of $57,677 in signing bonus money (1/17th of the 2015 allocation of his $3.922 million signing bonus).

That’s a total cost of $122,765 for possession a substance that is now legal in two of the 22 states in which the NFL does business — including the state where Jones had been simply one day before he was caught with marijuana in his possession.

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Talk of imminent Dez Bryant deal won’t go away

Dez Getty Images

For four days now, rumors and reports have suggested that a long-term deal between the Cowboys and receiver Dez Bryant is imminent. For four days now, nothing has happened.

The latest rumors and reports point to a deal maybe, possibly being announced Monday. Which would be a fairly impressive feat; as one source with knowledge of the situation tells PFT, Cowboys owner/G.M. Jerry Jones and COO Stephen Jones currently are in Italy.

In theory, that doesn’t stop a deal from getting done by Monday. And it doesn’t keep a deal from already being in place, with the two sides simply waiting for the right time to unveil it.

But it would be very hard to keep a true accord under wraps. Bryant or someone close to him would say something to someone, and inevitably it would be leaked. In this specific case, there are enough hints of a looming deal to invite curiosity regarding whether something is happening.

Something may indeed be happening. And if something is going to happen, it’ll happen by Wednesday, July 15 or not until after the 2015 regular season.

If it does indeed happen, it’ll cut against months of inaction fueled by a fundamental disagreement regarding what Bryant wants and what the Cowboys will pay him. If a deal is going to be announced early next week, it means that the two sides have found a way to bridge the gap with only scattered rumors and reports pointing to a deal but nothing concrete to suggest that the longstanding impasse has been broken.

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Hernandez judge allows juror misconduct investigation to proceed

Jurors AP

When a Judge E. Susan Garsh ruled declined earlier this week to throw out the guilty verdict against former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez in connection with the murder of Odin Lloyd, it didn’t end her work on the case. Still pending is the question of whether Judge Garsh will allow the attorneys to investigate whether a juror lied regarding knowledge of other allegations against Hernandez.

Via Jenny Wilson of the Hartford Courant, Judge Garsh has authorized Hernandez’s lawyers to subpoena Verizon for phone records that would reveal the identity of the person who provided an anonymous tip to defense lawyer James Sultan regarding the alleged juror misconduct.

The tipster told Sultan that the juror in question was present for discussions regarding the separate double-murder case pending against Hernandez, arising from an unrelated shooting in Boston nearly a year before Lloyd was killed. Evidence regarding the other case was barred from the trial regarding Lloyd’s murder.

Judge Garsh stopped short of allowing any additional efforts to investigate the situation.

“Whether the defendant can make a colorable showing sufficient to warrant a post-verdict interview of the juror may well depend on specific details yet to be proffered by the caller and the caller’s credibility, all of which cannot be determined as long as the caller remains anonymous,” Garsh said in the written ruling, via the Courant.

In English, this means that the investigation starts with finding out who made the tip to Sultan, and then learning more about the tipster’s story. Which probably is more than the tipster bargained for when calling Sultan from a blocked number.

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Reason for Datone Jones’ one-game suspension not known

Jones Getty Images

Thursday’s quartet of suspensions included three guys who were suspended for four games each, and one player who was suspended for only one game.

Packers defensive end Datone Jones received a one-game suspension under the substance-abuse policy. But no one will talk about the specific violation that triggered the one-game suspension.

The formula for discipline under the substance-abuse policy doesn’t include a one-game suspension. It’s possible Jones initially faced a longer suspension than one game, and that the suspension was reduced to one game via negotiations between the NFL and NFL Players Association.

It’s also possible that the one-game suspension was imposed upon Jones for a violation of the law relating to substances other than alcohol. For example, an arrest for marijuana possession typically results in a one-game suspension, if the case is resolved with the player taking any type of responsibility for the infraction.

As to Jones, Green Bay’s first-round pick in 2013, no reports have emerged of any brushes with the law. Which would be unusual given the current obsession with NFL news.

But it wouldn’t be unprecedented. Two years ago, Rams running back Isaiah Pead received a one-game suspension. There were no reports of any brushes with the law, but it turned out that he’d been arrested for marijuana possession the prior year.

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NCAA scrutiny on potential Top 5 pick Laremy Tunsil

Laremy Tunsil AP

Ole Miss left tackle Laremy Tunsil, a potential Top 5 pick in the 2016 NFL draft, is facing scrutiny from the NCAA about his contact with agents.

Tunsil was arrested last week and accused of punching his stepfather. Now his stepfather, Lindsey Miller, has com forward to say that the fight between them started when Miller warned him to stay away from agents.

Miller told the Clarion-Ledger that he is aware of NCAA violations and has met with the NCAA. Tunsil is permitted to meet with agents, but Miller says their contact has gone beyond just meeting and includes gifts in violation of NCAA rules.

Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze has been supportive of Tunsil, both regarding the NCAA investigation and regarding the arrest for the altercation with his stepfather.

“We are aware that Laremy and his family have met with potential agents, which is within his NCAA rights as a student-athlete,” Freeze said in a statement. “Regarding the altercation, we will continue to gather facts and cooperate with the proper authorities.”

Tunsil is only two years out of high school, so he would not have been eligible for this year’s regular draft, or the supplemental draft. If the NCAA rules that he can’t play for Ole Miss, he won’t be playing football at all until he gets to the NFL next year.

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If Dez is going to skip games, he needs to say so

Dez Getty Images

Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant has threatened to miss regular-season games if he doesn’t get the contract he wants by July 15, the deadline for signing franchise-tagged players to a multi-year deal. It was obvious from the moment owner Jerry Jones said he’s confident Bryant will be leading the charge in Week One against the Giants that the Cowboys don’t buy it.

And so the latest report that the Cowboys don’t buy it wasn’t a surprise. Neither was the report that the Cowboys believe Bryant needs the money; as Clarence Hill of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram said on Friday’s PFT Live on NBC Sports Radio, the Cowboys have known all about Bryant’s total financial condition for years, since the team has been helping him manage it.

To get the Cowboys to take his threat seriously, Bryant will have to something surprising, to the point of shocking. He’ll need to publicly declare that he will not show up for the regular-season opener if he doesn’t have a new contract before July 15. And he’ll need to be prepared to reiterate that vow after July 15, if he doesn’t get a new contract.

Meanwhile, there are indications that a new contract is possible before July 15. Earlier this week, some in Dallas believed a deal was imminent. (A source with knowledge of the situation told PFT that nothing would be happening soon.)

With 12 days to go until the window closes on a long-term deal, time is running short. And in a deadline-driven business like the NFL, the time is getting ripe to work something out.

Ultimately, the question is whether an intersection can be found between what Bryant wants and what the Cowboys will pay. It’s easy to protect the team against potential off-field issues. The more significant challenge will be to come up with a structure and a total payout that gives Bryant what he deserves, especially since he could make more than $28 million under the tag over the next two years before hitting the market in 2018.

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Poll in San Diego has large majority picking comic books over Chargers

SAN DIEGO - JULY 24:  Comic-Con attendees pose during Comic-Con 2010 on July 24, 2010 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images) Getty Images

The city of San Diego has been able to hang onto one of its civic institutions, and apparently, it’s the more important one.

According to U-T San Diego, the city has signed a two-year extension to its deal to host Comic-Con, keeping the pop-culture convention there through 2018.

The eye-opening part is that people there may prefer that to the Chargers, by a pretty large margin.

In a poll on the newspapers website, a one-or-the-other choice between a comic book convention and NFL football has the guys in tights with a 17-point edge. (That’s as of the moment this was published, with 887 of the 1511 votes cast going against the Chargers, or 58 percent.)

Granted, this is far from scientific, or an apples-to-apples choice. While the convention sells out plenty of hotel rooms and pumps money into the local economy, it’s a one-shot deal compared to 10 games and storylines that fill the calendar.

But it may also signal the civic ambivalence that has kept San Diego from getting a stadium built, which has the team looking for greener pastures in Los Angeles.

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Rush Limbaugh: Media “kind of mean” to RGIII because he’s Republican

Washington Redskins v Oakland Raiders Getty Images

In 2003, Rush Limbaugh resigned from a shortly held job on ESPN after his opinion that the media overpraised Donovan McNabb because it was “very desirous” to see an African-American quarterback do well in the NFL was met with much criticism.

More than 10 years later, Limbaugh finds the media singing a different tune when it comes to another African-American quarterback. On his radio show Thursday, Limbaugh was discussing Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III’s recent address to the United Nations about protecting the oceans. Limbaugh wasn’t crazy about that message — “we couldn’t destroy the ocean if we tried” — but also found something to criticize about the media’s coverage of Griffin.

“RGIII, the quarterback — don’t know for how long — of the Washington Redskins, came into the league amidst great fanfare,” Limbaugh said, via CBS DC. “First-round draft choice. Daniel Snyder, the owner of the Redskins, traded up to get RGIII, and he’s had some injuries and he just hasn’t maxed his potential. Well, some people think he’s bombed. And the media, it’s kind of strange, because here we have an African-American quarterback and yet the media has been kind of mean to RGIII. And one of the reasons is that it’s suspected that RGIII is a Republican.”

There’s one notable bit of Griffin criticism that involves his presumed political leanings — Limbaugh’s fellow former ESPNer Rob Parker’s stance that Griffin isn’t authentically African-American named his support for Republicans as one of the reasons — but the majority of the criticism of Griffin has been directly related to his play over the last two seasons. Just as it has been for Geno Smith, EJ Manuel, JaMarcus Russell and several other African-American quarterbacks (including McNabb) who have come under fire in the media regardless of their political opinions.

The opposite has been true for Peyton Manning, whose donations to GOP candidates hasn’t led to much of a backlash from a media that’s named him the NFL’s MVP five times.

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Mike Tice talks up the Raiders’ offensive line

Oakland Raiders v Chicago Bears Getty Images

Mike Tice is in his fourth different stop as an NFL offensive line coach this season with the Raiders, and he thinks he now has his most physically imposing group yet.

“I’m pretty excited about the group I have to work with. First of all, it’s the biggest – I was telling my wife and some friends the other day – it’s the biggest, most athletic group of guys I’ve worked with before,” Tice said on SiriusXM NFL Radio.

Tice singled out Gabe Jackson, a 2014 third-round pick who started 12 games for the Raiders as a rookie.

“I think the guys on the offensive side are very impressive. We have a good blend of older and middle-aged and some younger guys that are going be to rising stars in the league,” he said. “I think a guy that’s had the best offseason of everybody, and that’s Gabe Jackson out of Mississippi State. [I’ve] had some familiarity with him in the Senior Bowl two years ago, when we coached the Senior Bowl when I was in Atlanta, he was on the opposing team and I got to spend some time with him. Gabe is a big, athletic, strong — great football background. His dad was a high school football coach. I think he’s a rising star. I think he has a chance to be a really good one.”

The Raiders think they have their franchise quarterback in place in Derek Carr. If Tice is right about the talent he inherited, they’ve also got a line in place to keep Carr healthy at the helm for years to come.

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Virgil Green welcomes higher expectations with Broncos

Denver Broncos OTA's at Dove Valley AP

The Broncos re-signed a free agent tight end this offseason, but it wasn’t their biggest name at the position.

Julius Thomas is now in Jacksonville while Virgil Green has remained in Denver for a fifth season. Green’s first four seasons have seen him spend a lot of time as a blocker, which has resulted in just 23 catches. Even with Owen Daniels on board, that number is expected to go up in 2015 with head coach Gary Kubiak’s offense frequently targeting tight ends. Green likes those expectations.

“I believe I can do what’s needed of me,” Green said, via ESPN.com. “They didn’t need me to catch a lot of passes, but I think that’s part of my game where I can still make things happen. I love to block, I take pride in moving somebody against their will in those situations, but I take pride in receiving and I think I can do it. I want those expectations. I’ve always believed in my abilities and what I can do. It’s all about opportunity and I think there will be more opportunity now.”

The Broncos Offense is going to look different this season after all of the changes since we last saw them in their playoff loss to the Colts. If Green is able to meet the expanded expectations for his contributions, the chances that different will mean less productive will be a little slimmer.

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Everyone else is off, but PFT Live isn’t

pftlive

OK, so I had a couple of weeks of vacation last month. And, yeah, I’ve got more vacation coming up.

But today is a holiday for plenty of people, but I’ll be manning the Mr. Microphone at PFT Live on NBC Sports Radio. Primarily since it’s really not any different than having a really long telephone conversation about America’s favorite sport.

Today’s really long conversation about America’s favorite sport will include regular contributions from producer Rob “Stats” Guerrera, along with visits from Clarence Hill of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and Kevin Acee of U-T San Diego.

Through the really long conversation about America’s favorite sport, we’ll be keeping an eye on the possibility for another bad-news dump.

Which could be good news when it comes to the effort of trying to fill that really long conversation about America’s favorite sport.

The conversation begins at 12:00 p.m. ET, and it ends at 3:00 p.m. ET. You can listen on Sirius 213, XM 202, ProFootballTalk.com, and NBCSportsRadio.com.

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Eagles QB coach Ryan Day: “Sky’s the limit” for Sam Bradford

Sam Bradford AP

Eagles quarterbacks coach Ryan Day and head coach Chip Kelly go back a long way.

Day played quarterback when Kelly was the offensive coordinator at New Hampshire and then joined the coaching staff, which gave him a close view of Kelly’s evolution as an offensive coach. Day says Kelly would “go from Run ‘n Shoot to the Wing-T to the Veer” as he formed his offensive viewpoint.

The experimentation hasn’t stopped in the NFL and it now extends to personnel moves like the trade for quarterback Sam Bradford this offseason. Day says it is “an exciting opportunity” to work with a “really, really talented” quarterback who hasn’t gotten a chance to show off his full skill set as a pro because he’s been hurt so often.

“I think it really has been [injury],” Day said, via Birds 24/7. “When you’ve had the season-ending injuries he’s had, it’s hard to kinda put the foot on the pedal and roll. So I think sky’s the limit for him that way.”

Bradford’s not the only big gamble that Kelly took after assuming control of personnel this offseason, but he may wind up being the one that has the most to say about how close the Eagles can get to 16-0 during the 2015 season.

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Zach Ertz: Eagles’ goal is 16-0

Dallas Cowboys v Philadelphia Eagles

Eagles tight end Zach Ertz isn’t spouting cliches about taking it one game at a time when asked what he expects from the coming season.

Asked on NFL Network about his goals for 2015, Ertz said that he and his teammates are looking to win every game.

“We want to win each and every game we go out there, and that’s the goal, 16-0 for us right now,” Ertz said.

That goal might be slightly unrealistic, but we wouldn’t exactly expect Ertz to say his goal is to go 4-12. Unfortunately, the track record for players talking about going 16-0 isn’t great: Ndamukong Suh said the Lions could go 16-0 before a season when they went 10-6, and Roddy White said the Falcons could go 16-0 just before they lost their first game of the season in 2012.

And, of course, the only team that has gone 16-0 ended up losing the Super Bowl. If Ertz is going to look ahead and set his sights high, winning the Super Bowl would be a better goal.

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PFT Live: Cowboys talk with Clarence Hill, Chargers talk with Kevin Acee

San Diego Chargers v San Francisco 49ers Getty Images

The holiday weekend is getting underway, but we’ll still have three hours of PFT Live on Friday to get you up to date on all you need to know about the NFL before the fireworks go off on Saturday night.

Clarence Hill of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram will join Mike Florio on the show to discuss the latest on wide receiver Dez Bryant’s push for a new contract. We’ll see if Hill thinks Bryant is bluffing about missing time in the regular season and whether the Cowboys will be moved to offer him more to avoid finding out.

Hill will also talk about linebacker Rolando McClain’s four-game suspension, which was one of four bans handed down on Thursday. Chargers tight end Antonio Gates was also on that list and Kevin Acee of U-T San Diego will update us on the team’s plans for life without him early in the season.

We also want to hear what PFT Planet thinks. Email questions at any time via the O’Reilly Auto Parts Ask the Pros inbox or get in touch on Twitter at @ProFootballTalk to let us know what’s on your mind.

It all gets started at noon ET and you can listen to all three hours live via the various NBC Sports Radio affiliates, through the links at PFT, or with the NBC Sports Radio app.

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Are contract expectations undermining Russell Wilson’s image?

Wilson Getty Images

The apparent desire of Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson to become the newest highest-paid player in the NFL conflicts with the “Go ‘Hawks!” mentality Wilson regularly projects. As Wilson’s unsettled status beyond 2015 continues to linger, that disconnect could be starting to take a toll on Wilson’s reputation in Seattle.

Larry Stone of the Seattle Times writes that “Wilson’s image is absorbing some serious puncture wounds” amid the increasing focus on his contractual expectations.

“I’ve heard and read more Wilson backlash in the past three weeks than in the previous three years combined,” Stone writes. “When it came to throwing an interception on the decisive play of the Super Bowl, Wilson largely got away blame-free. But when a story leaked last week that he wanted to become the highest-paid player in the NFL, well, the notion of a greedy Wilson began to be put forth on talk shows and comment threads.”

The problem isn’t whether Wilson wants to be the highest-paid player in the NFL, because the bar remains at a mere $22 million per year. The problem is whether Wilson wants to clear the current high-water mark by $3 million or more per year.

That’s where “Go ‘Hawks!” gives way to “pay me.” Most fans believe Wilson can’t be both a pom-pom waving team-first system quarterback and a shrewd, squeeze-out-every-dollar businessman. (And there’s nothing wrong with being a shrewd, squeeze-out-every-dollar businessman; that’s what pretty much every NFL owner is.)

Compounding the problem is that Wilson has been readily available to the media, doing radio interviews and speaking at his various passing camps and sitting down with ESPN and appearing on Jimmy Kimmel’s show. Although Wilson continues to avoid saying he wants to be paid more than anyone else in the game, the fact that he’s not saying he doesn’t is reinforcing the perception that he does.

Especially when he blurted out $25 million as a possible alternative to his $1.5 million salary for 2015.

As training camp, the preseason, and the regular season approach, Wilson will continue to be asked questions about his contract. At this point, the only way to keep the situation from becoming a major distraction for the 2015 season will be to do the best deal he can with the Seahawks or shut down all negotiations until February.

Given that healthy franchise quarterbacks always work out long-term contracts, it’s odd that the story has gotten so big so long before the 2016 offseason. Some would blame Wilson for that. Others would blame his agent, Mark Rodgers. Others would blame the team for not paying Wilson what he’s worth. Others would blame the media for making Mt. Rainier out of a raisin.

Maybe the blame should  on one or more or all of those parties. Regardless, the current size of the story and the potential that it will become dramatically bigger once the time comes to play games that count necessarily becomes a factor Wilson must consider when assessing the offer the Seahawks put on the table before Week One.

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