AFC North: Marcus Gilbert

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It will get done and is still a matter of when and not if, a stance that the Steelers have consistently maintained.
The Pittsburgh Steelers saved almost $4 million in regard to the 2015 salary cap when they restructured right tackle Marcus Gilbert ’s contract.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Team president Art Rooney II has said he wants Polamalu to play his entire career for the Steelers.
PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Steelers free safety Mike Mitchell said he will have surgery on the groin that hampered him all season.

Mitchell
 Mitchell arrived at training camp with a groin injury and spent more than a week on the physically unable to perform list before he started practicing with the Steelers.

Mitchell told the NFL Network after the Steelers’ 30-17 loss to the Baltimore Ravens last Saturday night that he played through the injury during the season rather than have surgery so he wouldn’t miss any games.

Mitchell downplayed the groin injury on Monday and said he simply answered a question about it when asked after the Steelers’ AFC wild-card loss.

“I hate that this is even a story,” Mitchell said. “We all play hurt. Everyone on the team has injuries so I’m no different than any other player.”

Mitchell played every game in his first season with the Steelers and finished second on the team with 71 tackles. He did not intercept a pass after making four picks for the Carolina Panthers in 2013 and became a magnet for fan criticism.

Mitchell said the groin did affect him but added that he refuses to use it as a crutch.

“It would be like having the brakes on your car not be right,” Mitchell said. “I’m not making excuses, I’m not apologizing for anything. One thing we don’t do here in Pittsburgh is we don’t seek comfort. Everyone plays hurt.”

A couple of notes:
  • Steelers coach Mike Tomlin will provide an injury update at his final news conference of the season today. One player who avoided a serious injury was right tackle Marcus Gilbert. The fourth-year veteran left the Ravens game with an ankle injury and did not return, but Gilbert apparently only suffered a sprain. “That’s good for him, that’s good for us,” left guard Ramon Foster said.
  • The Steelers signed seven players to future contracts Monday, including offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva, the former Army Ranger who is trying to make the NFL after a decorated military career and tight end Rob Blanchflower, a seventh-round draft pick in 2014. Also signing with the Steelers were wide receiver C.J. Goodwin, cornerback Kevin Fogg, defensive end Ethan Hemer, defensive lineman Joe Kruger and outside linebacker Howard Jones. All seven of the players who signed future contracts finished the season on the Steelers’ practice squad.
PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers are getting healthy as they make a push for an AFC North title and a return to the playoffs for the first time since 2011.

 Coach Mike Tomlin said it looks “positive” that outside linebacker James Harrison, right tackle Marcus Gilbert and cornerback Ike Taylor play Sunday against the visiting Kansas City Chiefs.

Gilbert has missed the past three games because of ankle and knee injuries while Harrison has been out the past two weeks because of a knee injury.

Taylor did not play in the Steelers’ 27-20 win over the Atlanta Falcons last Sunday because of shoulder and forearm injuries.

“We’ll work with those guys and evaluate as we prepare.” Tomlin said Tuesday at his weekly news conference.

Gilbert practiced last week and had been listed as probable for the Falcons game. The Steelers de-activated the fourth-year veteran, Tomlin said, because he simply wasn’t healthy enough to play in Atlanta.

“We’d been getting quality work from Mike Adams, who is healthy, so we decided to go with the healthy hand,” Tomlin said. “We’ll go through the same process this week.”

Two Steelers players will be monitored this week as they work through injuries.

Tight end Matt Spaeth hyperextended his elbow against the Falcons, while free safety Mike Mitchell strained his groin in the Steelers’ ninth win of the season.

If Mitchell is unable to play against the Chiefs, Will Allen will likely start at free safety, Tomlin said.

The Steelers will clinch a playoff berth if they beat the Chiefs.
ATLANTA -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Pittsburgh Steelers' 27-20 win over the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome:
  • The Steelers’ final road game of the regular season seemed like a home contest at times -- and the players and coaches noticed. “I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Steeler Nation,” coach Mike Tomlin said after the Steelers improved to 9-5. “They were special in the building today. We are used to seeing it, but it never gets old. Terrible Towel-waving fans were noticeably loud -- whether Steelers players were trotting onto the field for pregame warm-ups or the Steelers were making a big play on offense or defense. Steelers fans were loud enough that some of the Falcons players were asked if they felt like they had a home-field advantage Sunday. “I know that Pittsburgh fans travel well since I am from Philadelphia and I know that Philly fans travel well, too,” Falcons cornerback Robert McClain said. “The fans were there for us. We did not execute.”
  • Worilds
    The Steelers were generally tight-lipped about a penalty that went against outside linebacker Jason Worilds and helped the Falcons get back into the game. With the Steelers leading 13-0 in the second quarter, Worilds sacked Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan for an 11-yard loss. The play was wiped out, however, after Worilds was called for roughing the passer, even though it appeared to be a legal hit. Three plays later, Ryan threw a 17-yard touchdown pass to Devin Hester. Worilds declined to answer questions about the call after the game. So did Tomlin. “I’m not going to talk about that call because it was horrendous,” Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward said. The Falcons weren’t entirely happy with the officiating, either. A questionable holding call on Falcons cornerback Desmond Trufant with just over three minutes left in the game saved the Steelers from punting. And the Steelers were able to run out the rest of the clock. “You guys question a number of things. We have the same thing about the game as well, and officiating is one [part] of it,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said after his team fell to 5-9. “Unfortunately that’s not anything that we can talk about as the head coach in the National Football League.”
  • Several Steelers sustained minor injuries during the game, including inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons (back), strong safety Troy Polamalu (knee) and free safety Mike Mitchell (groin). All, however, returned to the game. Right tackle Marcus Gilbert missed his third consecutive game despite practicing every day last week. Gilbert, who is working through ankle and knee injuries, had been listed as probable on the Steelers’ final injury report of last week. Tomlin said Gilbert did not have a setback Saturday that caused him to miss the Falcons game but that, “We’ve got to go with the most healthy bodies.”
ATLANTA -- The Pittsburgh Steelers won’t have to worry about Julio Jones, the NFL’s leading receiver, but they do have some injury concerns of their own Sunday when they play the Atlanta Falcons.

The Steelers, who are trying to improve to 9-5, will be without right tackle Marcus Gilbert, outside linebacker James Harrison and cornerback Ike Taylor.

Gilbert will miss his third consecutive game because of ankle and knee injuries, and the fourth-year veteran is a surprise scratch for the 1 p.m. ET game at the Georgia Dome.

Gilbert practiced last week and had been listed as probable on the Steelers’ final injury report of the week. Mike Adams will start in his place at right tackle.

Harrison had been listed as questionable after he was only able to practice on a limited basis last week. He will miss his second consecutive game because of a knee injury.

Taylor is also out as expected after the 12th-year veteran did not practice last week because of shoulder and forearm injuries.

The Steelers’ four healthy scratches Sunday are rookie running back Dri Archer, wide receiver Justin Brown, quarterback Landry Jones and defensive end Clifton Geathers.

The Falcons' Jones, who leads the NFL with 1,428 receiving yards, had been listed as questionable on the Falcons’ final injury report of the week because of a hip injury. The Falcons will also be without starting safety William Moore, who hurt his ankle last Monday night in Green Bay.
PITTSBURGH – The Pittsburgh Steelers will likely be without cornerback Ike Taylor on Sunday when they visit the Atlanta Falcons.

Taylor
Taylor did not practice all week because of shoulder and forearm injuries and the 12th-year veteran is listed as doubtful for the 1 p.m. ET game Sunday on the Steelers’ final injury report of the week.

Outside linebacker James Harrison is listed as questionable after he practiced on a limited basis Friday for the second consecutive day. Harrison did not play last Sunday in Cincinnati because of a knee injury.

All of the Steelers’ players on the injury report are listed as probable for Sunday, including right tackle Marcus Gilbert. The fourth-year veteran practiced all week after missing the last two games because of ankle and knee injuries.

Gilbert will start at right tackle Sunday, barring a setback.

Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones, who hurt his hip last Monday night in Green Bay, is listed as questionable. The status of Jones, who had 259 receiving yards and a touchdown before leaving the game against the Packers on Monday, will be a game-time decision.
PITTSBURGH – Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor did not practice for the second day in a row, adding more questions to his availability for Sunday.

Taylor did not play in the fourth quarter last Sunday in Cincinnati because of a knee contusion. He is questionable to play against the Atlanta Falcons because of shoulder and forearm injuries.

If Taylor does not play against the Falcons, William Gay and Brice McCain will start at cornerback, with Antwon Blake serving as the Steelers’ nickel back.

Gay practiced Thursday after missing drills Wednesday because of a quadriceps injury. Outside linebacker James Harrison, who did not play against the Bengals because of a knee injury, practiced on a limited basis.

Right tackle Marcus Gilbert practiced for the second day in a row, keeping the fourth-year veteran on track to play Sunday in Atlanta. Gilbert has missed the last two games because of ankle and knee injuries.

Center Maurkice Pouncey surfaced on the Steelers’ injury report as he was limited in drills because of an ankle injury.

In other Steelers news, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and running back Le’Veon Bell were voted the NFL FedEx Air and Ground Players of the Week, respectively.
PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Steelers right tackle Marcus Gilbert practiced Wednesday, putting the fourth-year veteran on track to play Sunday in Atlanta.

Gilbert
Gilbert, who has missed the past two games because of ankle and knee injuries, was a full participant in drills a day after coach Mike Tomlin said the Steelers need to see how well he moves in practice before deciding on his availability for Sunday.

A handful of Steelers players did not practice because of injuries Wednesday, including outside linebacker James Harrison (knee) and cornerbacks Ike Taylor (shoulder, forearm) and William Gay (quadricep).

Tomlin did not mention Gay Tuesday when he gave a Steelers' injury report. Gay's health is worth monitoring for several reasons. He is the Steelers' best cornerback and Taylor is questionable to play Sunday against the Falcons.

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, tight end Heath Miller and defensive end Cameron Heyward were all given veteran's days off as far as practice.
PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers could be without right outside linebacker James Harrison for another week.

 Harrison, who didn’t play in a 42-21 at Cincinnati because of a knee injury, is questionable for the Steelers game Sunday in Atlanta.

Coach Mike Tomlin said the Steelers will see how much Harrison is able to practice this week before making a decision on his availability for the Falcons game. The same also applies to right tackle Marcus Gilbert, who has missed the past two games because of ankle and knee injuries.

“We’ll watch his movement and ability to anchor,” Tomlin said Tuesday at his weekly news conference.

Tomlin said Jarvis Jones, who is listed behind Harrison at right outside linebacker on the depth chart, responded well physically after playing against the Bengals in his first game since dislocating his right wrist in a Sept. 21 win at Carolina.

“We feel really good about him moving forward from a health standpoint,” Tomlin said. “Steve McLendon the same thing.”

McLendon returned to action against the Bengals after missing the previous two games because of a shoulder injury. The fifth-year nose tackle helped limit Cincinnati to 86 rushing yards on 21 carries.

Rookie linebacker Ryan Shazier played against the Bengals after missing the previous three games because of a high-ankle sprain, but the first-round pick only saw action on special teams.

Tomlin said Shazier, who has missed seven games because of knee and ankle injuries, has to win back the starting job opposite Lawrence Timmons.

Vince Williams and Sean Spence have been splitting snaps at weakside inside linebacker.

“Obviously [Shazier] is a viable option for us,” Tomlin said. “He’s a talented young man, but guys like [Williams and Spence] have done an above the line job in their contributions.”
CINCINNATI -- The Pittsburgh Steelers will be without two starters today against the Cincinnati Bengals and rookie running back Dri Archer is among the five players who are healthy scratches for the 1 p.m. ET game.

Archer
Harrison
Harrison
Outside linebacker James Harrison will miss his first game since re-signing with the Steelers in September because of a knee injury. Right tackle Marcus Gilbert will miss his second consecutive game because of ankle and knee injuries.

Archer is the surprise on the Steelers’ seven-man inactives list as Pittsburgh will go with Josh Harris, who has yet to carry the ball in an NFL regular-season game, and fullback Will Johnson behind starting running back Le’Veon Bell.

Archer practiced all week and was not listed on the Steelers' final injury report last week. Not dressing Sunday is another step back for the third-round draft pick who lost his job as the primary kickoff returner earlier this season and has been a non-factor on offense.

Joining Archer as healthy scratches for the Steelers are wide receiver Justin Brown, cornerback B.W. Webb, defensive end Clifton Geathers and quarterback Landry Jones.

Linebacker Ryan Shazier will return to action after missing the last three games because of a high-ankle sprain. Nose tackle Steve McLendon is back after missing the last two games because of a bad shoulder.

Outside linebacker Jarvis Jones will play in his first game since dislocating his right wrist on Sept. 21 in a win at Carolina.
PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers will continue to put a patchwork defense on the field Sunday when they visit the Cincinnati Bengals.

Starting outside linebacker James Harrison is doubtful for the 1 p.m. ET game after hurting his knee last Sunday. With Harrison expected to miss his first game since re-signing with the Steelers in September, the Steelers will likely go with a rotation of Arthur Moats and Jarvis Jones at right outside linebacker.

Harrison
Harrison
Jones is still on the injured reserve/designated to return list, but the Steelers are expected to activate the second-year man from that list, something that would probably happen Saturday.

Jones has been out since dislocating his right wrist in a Sept. 21 win at Carolina, but defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said Thursday there is a "good chance" that Jones plays against the Bengals.

The Steelers will be without a starter on the other side of the ball as right tackle Marcus Gilbert has been ruled out for Sunday because of an ankle injury. Gilbert, who said he is also dealing with a knee injury, will miss his second consecutive game and third one this season.

Mike Adams will start in his place at right tackle.

All of the other players on the Steelers’ final injury report of the week are listed as probable for the first of two games they will play against the AFC North-leading Bengals this month. That includes linebacker Ryan Shazier (ankle), nose tackle Steve McLendon (shoulder), and cornerback Cortez Allen (thumb).

The Bengals will be without Vontaze Burfict, their top linebacker, as he has been ruled out for Sunday because of a knee injury.
PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers’ chances of making the playoffs are just over 30 percent according to numberFire.com, a website that uses metrics to calculate NFL teams’ chances of winning the remaining games on their schedule.

The Steelers are one of 11 AFC teams that are at least two games over .500 and one of six teams that are 7-5 at the three-quarter point of the season.

According to numberFire.com, the Kansas City Chiefs have the best chance of making the playoffs (47.2 percent) among the 7-5 teams and the Steelers are fourth (31.2 percent).

The Steelers are looking to guarantee themselves a spot in the playoffs by winning their final four games.

If the Steelers can accomplish something they haven’t done since 2005, they will finish 11-5 and win the AFC North.

“If any team can do it, we can do it,” starting right tackle Marcus Gilbert said. “Last year, everybody counted us out when we were 0-4, and we proved that we’re a team that can finish strong. With the veteran leaders we have on this team, I just think we can do it. We’re a better team than last year.”

The Steelers, who won six of their final eight games in 2013, have four contests to prove that they have indeed turned a corner after missing the playoffs the past two seasons.

“It’s all about us right now,” quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said, “and that’s the mentality.”

Roethlisberger talked last week about the need to approach a game against the New Orleans Saints with a playoff mentality. Pittsburgh promptly fell flat in a 35-32 loss at Heinz Field on Sunday.

The dispiriting defeat left the Steelers little margin for error as they embark on a four-game stretch that includes two contests against the AFC North-leading Cincinnati Bengals. The Steelers visit the Bengals on Sunday for a 1 p.m. ET game.

“I’ve been here a long time, so it’s easy for me to know what this game means and what this part of the season means,” Roethlisberger said. “We’ll keep an eye on the young guys and make sure they understand the importance of it as well.”
PITTSBURGH – Steve McLendon practiced Wednesday and the Pittsburgh Steelers' starting nose tackle is optimistic he will be able to play Sunday in Cincinnati.

McLendon has missed the last two games – and four games total – because of a nagging shoulder injury. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said McLendon has to regain strength in his injured shoulder before he is cleared to play again.

McLendon said he plans to practice Thursday after taking part in drills Wednesday.

“I felt good at practice,” the fifth-year veteran said. “It felt good to be at practice.”

Also participating fully in the Steelers’ first practice of the week were linebacker Ryan Shazier (ankle) and cornerbacks Cortez Allen (thumb), Brice McCain (hamstring) and Ike Taylor (shoulder).

Right tackle Marcus Gilbert (ankle) and outside linebacker James Harrison (knee) did not practice because of injuries and strong safety Troy Polamalu was out held out drills because of an illness.

Gilbert, who didn’t play in the Steelers’ 35-32 loss to the New Orleans Saints last Sunday, said he got some work in individual drills Wednesday. Gilbert is cautiously optimistic that he will play Sunday even though he said he is also working through a knee injury.

“Tomorrow hopefully there will be some [practice] reps and Friday get more reps and Saturday see where we are,” Gilbert said.

Practice took an interesting turn when newly signed defensive end Clifton Geathers got into a fight with several of the Steelers’ offensive linemen.

”He was probably working his butt off in his mind, but my story is that we just played (90) snaps last game. There is no sense in going that hard in practice,” starting left guard Ramon Foster said. “I saw him push one of our guys to the ground and I lost it.”


Center Maurkice Pouncey and tackle Mike Adams jumped into the fray before the two, as well as Foster, were separated from Geathers.

“Just doing my job,” Geathers said after practice. “It’s all good. We’ve got an understanding; it’s over with.”

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