Pittsburgh Steelers: Levi Brown

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers have nine picks in the 2014 NFL draft and this is the fifth in a series that looks at the nine positions they could address in just over a week. Keep in mind that the Steelers are likely to draft two cornerbacks so they may not take a player at every position covered in this series.

Our fifth look is at offensive tackle.

Added: None

Lost: Levi Brown (unsigned free agent)

Skinny: Draft analysts generally consider tackle a need for the Steelers, and ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. has them taking Notre Dame's Zack Martin at No. 15 overall in his latest mock draft. I'd be surprised if the Steelers use their first-round pick on a tackle unless one of the top three -- Auburn's Greg Robinson, Texas A&M's Jake Matthews or Michigan's Taylor Lewan -- falls to them, and that is highly unlikely. The Steelers are more likely to entrust left tackle to Kelvin Beachum, who proved to be revelation there last season, and let Mike Adams compete with Marcus Gilbert for the starting job at right tackle. The Steelers could take a tackle later in the draft but with as many other needs that they have it's hard to imagine them using their first pick on one -- especially since they have invested a pair of first-round picks and two second-round selections on the offensive line since 2010.

Draft likelihood: Medium

Extra points

Last OT drafted by the Steelers: Adams, second round in 2012

Last OT drafted by the Steelers in the first round: Jamain Stephens, 1996

Last OT taken 15th overall in the draft: Branden Albert, Chiefs, 2008

OTs drafted under Kevin Colbert/Mike Tomlin: Four

OTs drafted under Colbert/Tomlin still with the Steelers: Two

General manager Kevin Colbert said recently rebuilding will never be acceptable to the Steelers.

The organization has provided more than lip service to that credo after a quiet couple of weeks.

The Steelers, who are trying to rebound from consecutive 8-8 seasons, have added and subtracted from their salary cap in the last two days. In the process they have kept their financial situation tenable while also keeping franchise cornerstones in Troy Polamalu and Heath Miller along with one of their best young defensive players in Jason Worilds.

ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter reported the Steelers saved $4.5 in salary cap money in 2014 with the three-year, $20 million contract that Polamalu signed.

Assuming they got a similar salary-cap return on the three-year contact that Miller also signed on Wednesday then those two deals essentially offset the one-year, $9.75 million contact that Worilds signed on Tuesday, a day after the Steelers slapped a transition tag on the fourth-year veteran.

If that is the case the Steelers are only around $5.5 million over the cap and they have until Tuesday to get in compliance with the 2014 spending ceiling.

That is a small figure, especially considering the Steelers can easily get under the cap with a couple of moves.

They will clear $6.25 million in cap room by releasing offensive Levi Brown, who got hurt before playing a down for the Steelers following an in-season trade. They can save $7 million by releasing Ike Taylor or getting the veteran cornerback to accept a significant paycut.

There are several other contracts that can be restructured, and more salary-cap savings can be generated by signing quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to a new contract.

The Steelers’ salary-cap situation is frequently portrayed as dire. But in the last two days they have kept their top free-agent from hitting the open market next week while also retaining two veterans who are still vital players for them.

They still have a salary cap situation that is more than manageable with time and flexibility to get under the 2014 spending limit.

Salary cap woes?

Not so much for the Steelers.
With the start of the NFL new year eight days away, it has been largely quiet on the Steelers’ front.

Expect that to change this week as the Steelers have to shed roughly $5.75 million to get in compliance with the salary cap and also clear enough room so they can sign free agents.

Now that the spending ceiling has been set at $133 million for 2014, the Steelers don’t have to work the salary cap based on projections, and they should have more flexibility with the cap rising $10 million from last year.

Releasing offensive tackle Levi Brown will save the Steelers $6.25 million and put them under the cap for 2014, albeit with more moves to make.

Cornerback Ike Taylor, whose base salary in 2014 is $7 million, is a candidate for a significant pay cut, and the Steelers could cut ties with the 11th-year veteran. Given how thin they are at cornerback, it would make sense for the Steelers to bring Taylor back for one more season, assuming the two sides can reach common ground on a number that works for both of them.

The Steelers could also restructure the contracts of a couple of players by converting base salary into signing bonus money that can be spread out as far as cap hits over the length of the contract. Re-signing players going into the final year of their contract is another way to clear more cap room this year.

Tight end Heath Miller, whose cap number is $9.47 million in 2014, is a prime candidate for a long-term deal.

Whatever combination the Steelers employ to clear cap room, look for them to start making moves this week.

Here a few morning links:
  • Jason Worilds tops the list of the 21 Steelers players who can become free agents on March 11. If the Steelers don’t re-sign the outside linebacker prior to the start of free agency, it may be difficult to keep him in Pittsburgh. The reason: Worilds, who turned 26 today, will be one of the top pass-rushers on the open market.
  • Wide receiver Plaxico Burress is eyeing a return to the playing field after missing last season with a torn rotator cuff. Burress, who will be a free agent on March 11, doesn’t appear to be in the Steelers’ plans but he doesn’t want an injury to bring an end to his career.
  • Alabama’s C.J. Mosley didn’t generate much buzz at the NFL scouting combine as he only participated in a handful of the physical tests and did not run the 40-yard dash. He is still expected to be a first-round pick – and a player who could interest the Steelers – and Mosley received a strong endorsement from Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban.
PITTSBURGH -- With the start of the NFL’s new year less two weeks away, the Steelers still have some work to do to get in compliance with the salary cap. But the organization is in pretty good shape, especially with the anticipated spike in the cap for 2014.

ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter has reported that the cap is expected to jump from $123 million to $130 million. ESPN NFL Insider John Clayton has reported that the spending ceiling could come in at $132 million.

Based on the lower figure, the Steelers are currently around $8.5 million over the cap, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

They can lop $6.25 million off their cap number by releasing offensive tackle Levi Brown, who suffered a season-ending triceps injury last October and didn’t play in a game after the Steelers acquired the former first-round draft pick from the Cardinals.

The Steelers are also expected to seek pay cuts from a couple of veterans and restructure some contracts to not only get in compliance with the cap but clear enough room so they can sign free agents.

Cornerback Ike Taylor's base salary in 2014 is $7 million, and the 11th-year veteran won’t return to the Steelers unless he agrees to a significant pay cut. Outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley is also a candidate for a pay cut following three injury-plagued seasons and limited return on the six-year, $61.5 million contract he signed in 2011.

If Woodley balks at accepting less money, the Steelers won’t clear any cap room if they release him before June 1. But they can spread the amount of dead money ($14.17 million) in his contract over the next two years if they designate him as a post-June 1 release.

Whatever combination of cuts and contract restructures that the Steelers employ to clear cap room, they should have the flexibility to sign their own some of their free agents and be more active in free agency than they have been in recent years.

Pittsburgh Steelers' mailbag

January, 25, 2014
Jan 25
Here is the latest Pittsburgh Steelers mailbag and thank you for all of the great questions. Those who sent questions that weren't answered they are at the top of the list for next week's mailbag. Please keep the questions coming and send them via Twitter to @ScottBrown_ESPN with the #steelersmail.

And away we go:


OT Rashad Butler leaves Steelers

December, 2, 2013
PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers have lost another offensive tackle before he played a game for them.

Rashad Butler has left the team for personal reasons, two days after the Steelers signed him to provide depth for their battered offensive line.

Butler is still listed on the 53-man roster, but it appears as if he is gone before even practicing with the Steelers.

The Steelers lost offensive tackle Levi Brown this season before he played in a game. Brown suffered a triceps injury while warming up for a game against the Jets, and the Steelers placed the seventh-year veteran on injured reserve.

The Steelers signed center Eric Olsen and Butler last Saturday after placing center Fernando Velasco on injured reserve because of an Achilles injury. Depth at tackle might still be an issue with Kelvin Beachum and Mike Adams dealing with knee and ankle injuries, respectively.

The Steelers returned to work today, practicing in preparation for their Sunday game against the visiting Dolphins.

Roster limits changes Tomlin can make

November, 4, 2013
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Mike Tomlin was so mad after the Pittsburgh Steelers lost at Oakland -- and managed two touchdowns on the same field where the Eagles' Nick Foles threw seven scoring passes a week later -- that he fired his punter.

Never mind that Zoltan Mesko played his best half of football following the one that apparently sealed his fate in Pittsburgh. Someone had to pay for the Steelers’ third consecutive loss in Oakland, and Tomlin takes a hard line when it comes to punters.

Just ask Drew Butler.

[+] EnlargeMike Tomlin
Mark L. Baer/USA TODAY SportsMike Tomlin may want to shake up the roster after the Steelers' 2-6 start but his options are limited.
Mat McBriar, signed to replace Mesko, may be a little uneasy after his line-drive punt resulted in a 43-yard return by New England’s Julian Edelman on Sunday. That miscue set up the touchdown that unleashed an avalanche of scoring, which buried the Steelers in New England and pretty much for the rest of the season.

After the Steelers’ 55-31 loss to the Patriots Tomlin strongly hinted that changes could be coming. The question is will the seventh-year coach go beyond scapegoating a punter after yet another dispiriting loss?

“You re-evaluate everything, you have to after a performance like that and we will,” Tomlin said after the Steelers gave up the most points in a game in franchise history. “That doesn’t necessarily mean we will change, or we will change for the sake of changing. But we will look at every aspect of what we are doing and who we are doing it with because we can’t have performances like that. Those people that were lacking effort won’t be playing. It’s just that simple."

Steelers fans probably rolled their eyes when they heard or read that last quote -- and note that tough talk or inferences after the Oakland loss were followed by the release of Mesko.

Truth be told Tomlin is limited in what he can do because of the constraints of a 53-man roster.

The roster size means that in-season changes mainly have to come from within, and Tomlin has at least tried them during the Steelers’ first 2-6 start since 2006.

Ziggy Hood, Jarvis Jones, Cortez Allen and Mike Adams are among the players who have lost their starting jobs. Several players lost their starting job and their roster spot, and the Steelers even tried to trade for a left tackle after Adams flopped there.

Levi Brown didn’t make it through one pregame warm-up before sustaining a triceps injury that may have ended his Steelers career before it started.

That is the kind of season it has been for the Steelers, and of the many things for which Tomlin can be criticized an unwillingness to shake things up isn’t one of them.

There isn't a whole lot more the seventh-year coach can do at this point, and no, signing street free agents is not the answer, either.

The challenge Tomlin now faces is trying to salvage the season with veterans such as Brett Keisel, Ike Taylor, Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark while also taking a long look at younger players such as Adams, Allen and rookie wide receiver Markus Wheaton.

This is certainly not where the Steelers expected to be at the halfway point of the season. But they got a harsh reality check of where they are as a team -- and perhaps an organization -- following a meeting with old nemesis Tom Brady.

“It was something in my 12 years that has never happened here,” Keisel said of the New England loss. “This is a disgusting test and nobody likes it, and the only thing you can do is dust yourself off and get back to work.”

Tomlin open to Steelers making a trade

October, 29, 2013
PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers have already made two trades this season, and coach Mike Tomlin hasn’t ruled out the team making more moves before the 4 p.m. ET trading deadline today.

“I’m open to it,” Tomlin said of the Steelers making a trade. “We’ll see.”

The Steelers earlier traded for running back Felix Jones and left tackle Levi Brown, and Tomlin said he is open to evaluating any position as the team tries to bounce back from a 2-5 start.

Tomlin has already made changes in his starting lineup, and the latest one is at right outside linebacker.

Jason Worilds has moved ahead of rookie Jarvis Jones there. Tomlin benched Mike Adams after the fourth game of the season and Kelvin Beachum has started the past three games at left tackle.

Brown suffered a season-ending shoulder injury before playing a game for the Steelers.

Zoltan Mesko’s future with the team has been a source of speculation, and Tomlin sent mixed signals when it comes to the Steelers’ punter.

Inconsistency continues to plague Mesko as he bobbled a snap against the Raiders that resulted in a partially blocked punt and also had a 30-yard kick. But the left-footer also boomed several kicks in the 21-18 loss at Oakland, including one that the Steelers downed at the Raiders 1-yard line.

“Obviously he needs to perform better,” Tomlin said. “But along with the obvious negativity in the game I did think he rebounded well and really finished the game strong.”

When asked specifically if the Steelers are considering bringing in a replacement for Mesko, Tomlin said, “I’m not opposed to evaluating anyone at any position that’s capable of helping us get better.”

Teams typically work out free agents and evaluate them in the early part of the week, and Tomlin said, “We’re probably going to do some of that this week.”
TEMPE, Ariz. -- The Levi Brown era officially ended in Arizona two weeks ago, but any ties lingering from his trade to the Pittsburgh Steelers were officially severed Tuesday.

The Cardinals will not receive the conditional draft pick originally included in the trade, according to an NFL source, because Brown was placed on injured reserve Tuesday. Before he could take a snap with the Steelers, the left tackle suffered what is reported to be a torn triceps tendon during warmups before Sunday’s game against the New York Jets. He will miss the remainder of the season.

Brown also spent all of 2012 on injured reserve after tearing his left triceps during the preseason.

Language in trades involving players who spent the previous season on IR typically requires the player to be active for at least five games for the compensation to be awarded.

In the end, losing the conditional pick won’t hurt the Cardinals despite General Manager Steve Keim’s ambition to rebuild this team through the draft. It’s a small price to pay, however, to move on from Brown, who underperformed during the first four games this season.

Brown reportedly had trouble punching while with the Steelers, an issue that plagued him during training camp in Arizona. His tenure with the Cardinals was tumultuous and ended with Brown being blamed for the poor start by Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer.

The Cardinals were ready to move on from Brown, the fifth pick in the 2007 NFL Draft. Cardinals coach Bruce Arians expected more than Brown produced, even saying last winter the left tackle was “elite.” When Brown failed to live up to those expectations, the Cardinals began looking for his replacement and on Sept. 1 signed Bradley Sowell, who’s started the last two games. Then Brown was traded on Oct. 2.

The Brown chapter has officially been closed and the Cardinals have nothing to show for it.

Mike Tomlin's take on Steelers

October, 15, 2013
PITTSBURGH -- Here are some highlights from Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin’s weekly news conference:

-- Defensive end Brett Keisel is dealing with more of a muscle issue than a rib injury, but the 12th-year veteran is expected to play against the Ravens after practicing on a limited basis during the week. The same, Tomlin said, applies to outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley, who is dealing with inflammation in his knee. Wide receiver Markus Wheaton (finger) will miss his second consecutive game.

-- Tomlin said the Steelers opted to promote Isaiah Green from the practice squad rather than sign an offensive tackle to take Levi Brown’s spot on the roster because he can help them in special teams. The Steelers signed tight end Richard Gordon, who worked out for them Monday, to take David Johnson’s spot on the roster, Tomlin said, because the two have similar skill sets.

-- Inside linebacker Sean Spence, who suffered a career-threatening knee injury in a 2012 preseason game, will practice on a limited basis this week after coming off the PUP (physically unable to perform) list. Tomlin said there is a chance Spence, who will take part in individual drills this week, could play this season.

-- Somersaulting into the end zone is apparently a thing of the past for Steelers players. Tomlin put the kibosh on it after wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders vaulted into the end zone at the end of a 55-yard catch against the Jets last Sunday. “There’s a potential for injury,” Tomlin said. “It’s silly.”

-- Tomlin said he had “no idea” if his ban on playing games in the Steelers’ locker room had any correlation to the 19-6 win against the Jets. Tomlin also said he hasn’t given any thought about whether to lift the ban.

Upon Further Review: Steelers Week 6

October, 14, 2013
A review of four hot items from the Pittsburgh Steelers' 19-6 win over the New York Jets.

[+] EnlargeGeno Smith
AP Photo/Kathy WillensThe Pittsburgh defense on Sunday made life miserable for Jets quarterback Geno Smith.
Statement game: The Steelers’ defense made a stand after an atrocious showing in a 34-27 loss to the Minnesota Vikings on Sept. 29. The Steelers allowed their fewest points in a road game since 2008 (Washington), according to ESPN Stats & Information. They also showed how effective they can be when they force teams to play from behind -- when it comes to the sticks or the scoreboard. The Steelers didn’t allow the Jets to convert one time on a third down when New York needed at least 6 yards to move the chains. Two of the Steelers’ three sacks came on those third downs, and Geno Smith threw both of his interceptions when the Jets trailed by double digits. “Finally we got a lead to play with,” defensive end Brett Keisel said, “and we can do good things when teams are forced to throw the ball.”

LT still in flux: What is next for the Steelers at left tackle if Levi Brown is lost for the rest of the season with a torn right triceps? Kelvin Beachum played admirably Sunday as he settled down after a shaky start, but he is probably better suited for the interior of the line and is not a long-term fix at left tackle. If the Steelers need a stopgap while Beachum fills in until the coaches are ready to give Mike Adams another shot at left tackle, Max Starks is among the veteran offensive tackles who are unsigned. The Steelers brought back Starks in October 2011 after they cut ties with the two-time Super Bowl winner, so there is certainly precedence there.

A steady hand: Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger impressed coach Mike Tomlin with his command of the game as much as his pinpoint passing. “He did a great job of communicating,” Tomlin said. “Sometimes in hostile environments that becomes difficult.” Roethlisberger and offensive coordinator Todd Haley did not have any communication issues even though the former initially disagreed with what turned into the call of the game. On third-and-1 from the Steelers’ 45-yard line early in the third quarter, Roethlisberger thought the Steelers would try to run for the first down. Haley called for a play-action pass and Roethlisberger hit a wide-open Emmanuel Sanders for a 55-yard touchdown. “That was a great call on his part,” Roethlisberger said of Haley. “I was a little hesitant at first. After we broke the huddle I thought that this was a good play call.”

Getting his kicks: The Steelers would have blown the Jets out had they been able to finish more drives. But what a weapon Shaun Suisham has become when the Steelers have to settle for field goals. The ninth-year veteran banged home four of them Sunday, including a pair from beyond 45 yards. Suisham has made 42 of his last 43 attempts inside of 50 yards. He has also made a personal-best 17 consecutive field goal attempts between 40 and 49 yards.

Brown, Johnson could be lost for season

October, 13, 2013
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Injuries were an issue for the Pittsburgh Steelers even before kickoff Sunday, and they may have cost the team two more players for the rest of the season.

Levi Brown, acquired recently from the Arizona Cardinals to help shore up the left tackle position, hurt his right triceps during pre-game warm-up, and he was unable to play in the Steelers’ 19-6 win over the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium.

Kelvin Beachum had been slated to start at left tackle even before Brown got hurt, but the latter was expected to push for the starting job as he got more comfortable with the Steelers' offense.

Brown missed the 2012 season with a torn right triceps, and the Steelers have to hope he did not sustain the same injury though coach Mike Tomlin acknowledged that it is “potentially serious.”

Tight end David Johnson sustained a serious injury early in the game, one that is expected to end his season. Johnson said he dislocated his left wrist, and the injury that will require surgery also chips away at the Steelers’ depth at tight end.

Johnson, who has caught four passes for 70 yards, missed all of last season with a torn ACL.

Starting defensive end Brett Keisel sustained a rib injury that sidelined him for most of the second half.

But the 12th-year veteran said he will play next Sunday against the visiting Ravens. Tomlin said Keisel will probably just be limited in practice during the early part of the week.

“He should perk up towards the end of the week,” Tomlin said.

Rapid Reaction: Pittsburgh Steelers

October, 13, 2013

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- A few thoughts on the Pittsburgh Steelers' 19-6 win over the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium.

What it means: The Steelers' season still has life. Let's not go all Ryan Clark and say the Steelers are on their way to the playoffs, but they finally stopped the bleeding following a shaky start at MetLife Stadium. The Steelers controlled the game after falling behind 3-0 in the first quarter. The offense didn't piece together a Picasso, but it made drastic improvement after netting 8 yards on its first two possessions.

Stock watch: The defense is trending up after keeping the team in the game until the offense settled down. It also atoned for an atrocious performance in the London loss to the Vikings that dropped the Steelers to 0-4 for the first time since 1968. The Steelers limited the Jets to 165 yards through the first three quarters while building a double-digit lead. They also avoided becoming the first team in NFL history to go the first five games of a season without a takeaway. Clark ended the turnover drought in the third quarter when he intercepted a pass that Geno Smith threw into heavy coverage. But he also dropped an interception in the fourth quarter, and the Steelers later needed a Lawrence Timmons pick to put away the Jets.

Getting by at LT: Kelvin Beachum is clearly not the long-term answer at left tackle after getting flagged twice for holding and nearly yielding a sack that would have given the Jets an early safety. The problem for the Steelers is their options are really limited when it comes to protecting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's blind side. Levi Brown, acquired from the Cardinals in a recent trade, injured his right triceps during pregame warm-ups, and he couldn't play against the Jets. Brown missed the 2012 season with a torn right triceps so his injury could be a worrisome one for the Steelers. Starting defensive end Brett Keisel (ribs) and tight end David Johnson (wrist) sustained injuries during the game.

What's next: The Steelers hope to build off their momentum next Sunday when they play the Ravens in a 4:25 p.m. ET divisional game. The defending Super Bowl champions dropped to 3-3 following a loss to the Packers in Baltimore, but they have beaten the Steelers the past three times the fierce rivals have met during the regular season at Heinz Field.

Levi Brown out with triceps injury

October, 13, 2013
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The Pittsburgh Steelers got off to a bad start before even the opening kickoff at MetLife Stadium.

Levi Brown, recently acquired from Arizona to help shore up left tackle, hurt his right triceps during pre-game warm-ups and he won’t be available for today’s game against the New York Jets.

Brown wasn’t slated to start -- Kelvin Beachum will get the nod at left tackle -- but Guy Whimper is the Steelers’ only reserve offensive lineman with Mike Adams inactive.

Inactives can't be changed once they are submitted 90 minutes before kickoff.

More worrisome for the Steelers is Brown hurt the same triceps that he tore in 2012.

The injury caused the seventh-year veteran to miss the entire season.
PITTSBURGH -- Barring a setback with left guard Ramon Foster, coach Mike Tomlin will only have to make one change along his offensive line prior to the Pittsburgh Steelers visiting the Jets on Sunday.

Kelvin Beachum and Levi Brown are still vying to replace the demoted Mike Adams, and offensive coordinator Todd Haley said both could “potentially” play Sunday.

Haley said a decision has not yet been made about whether Beachum or Brown will start at left tackle.

“The main thing was trying to get Levi up to speed one way or another, and at the same time get Beachum ready to go,” Haley said of how first-team repetitions have been split between the two at left tackle. “Mike Adams is working his backside off to get ready to go also.”

Adams has fallen far since the last time the Steelers played.

Tomlin demoted the Steelers’ second-round draft pick in 2012 to third team after Adams’ play bottomed out in a 34-27 loss to the Minnesota Vikings.

Adams, whom the Steelers still consider a part of their long-term plans, has taken the benching in stride.

“What are you going to do, sit around and feel sorry for yourself?” Adams said. “I don’t think that’s really the way to handle it.”

That is the approach the Steelers wanted Adams to take when they sent a pointed message to the former Ohio State star.

“It’s part of the game,” Haley said of Adams’ benching, “and it’s just really a matter of him responding to a little adversity and coming back stronger and better than ever.”

Adams is working to become more consistent with his technique.

“The way I look at it is you control your own destiny,” Adams said. “If I get better, then I’ll probably play again.”

If Adams doesn’t show marked improvement, Brown is probably the answer at left tackle this season, even if Beachum starts Sunday against the Jets.

Beachum best helps the Steelers in the role of super sub since his versatility allows the coaches to plug him in anywhere in the event of an in-game injury.

Brown, meanwhile, has plenty of experience at left tackle. He’s also got an edge to him, said Haley, who coached Brown for two seasons when he was the Arizona Cardinals’ offensive coordinator.

“He’s got a little nasty temperament to him,” Haley said. “Not somebody that you’re always real comfortable going up to and asking a lot of questions.”