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After their tight ends finished with the NFL’s fewest receiving yards in 2019, the Pittsburgh Steelers signed veteran Eric Ebron Jersey in free agency to help fix the problem.

The production improved this season as Ebron finished in the top half at his position in most receiving categories. Trouble was, he also was among the league leaders in drops and penalties.

Ebron and fellow veteran Vance McDonald Jersey also never developed into a formidable tandem that some envisioned entering the season. McDonald became an afterthought in the passing game and was targeted just 19 times. After the wild-card playoff loss to Cleveland, McDonald ended his eight-year career by announcing his retirement.

That decision left Ebron as the only viable tight end on the roster. The four others under contract have combined for two catches and 9 yards in the NFL.

Ebron also returns at a high cost. The two-year, $12 million contract he signed last March was backloaded in terms of base salary. It rises from $1 million last year to $5.5 million in 2021, and his contract will count $8.5 million against the salary cap.

While the Steelers might need to trim high-cost veteran players from the roster to comply with the salary cap this year, they would be left with a position room devoid of NFL experience by cutting Ebron.

Helping Ebron’s cause is his production increased as he got more familiar with the Steelers’ system. He had all three of his seven-reception games in the second half of the season and postseason, finishing with seven catches for 62 yards and a touchdown in the 48-37 wild-card playoff loss to the Browns.

For the regular season, Ebron totaled 56 catches for 558 yards and five touchdowns. Among all NFL tight ends, he ranked No. 10 in receptions, No. 15 in yards and tied for No. 13 in touchdowns. He also finished No. 11 in yards per catch and No. 12 in yards after the catch.

Ebron also was prone to drops: His seven were tied for the third-most among all tight ends, according to Pro Football Focus. His seven penalties were tied for most at his position, and the website’s subjective grading system ranked Ebron No. 41 out of 49 qualifiers who were targeted at least 25 times.

Unless the Steelers sign a low-cost veteran in free agency or use a draft pick on a tight end, they will enter the offseason workout program with former fifth-round pick Zach Gentry as the backup. Gentry was inactive for the first eight games of the season, then appeared in two before he suffered a season-ending knee injury.

Gentry’s lone NFL reception came in 2019, the same year Charles Jones made his only catch while playing for Jacksonville. Jones is one of several tight ends the Steelers signed to futures contracts a week after the season ended. Dax Raymond, who also spent time on the practice squad last year, was given a futures contract, too.

Pine-Richland’s Kevin Rader Jersey opened the coaching staff’s eyes when he made his NFL debut in the season finale and contributed three tackles on special teams. He played 20 snaps on special teams in the playoff loss. His blocking ability could earn Rader a role in 2021.

Offseason outlook: TEs

Returnees

Eric Ebron, 1 year left on contract, $8.5 million cap hit for 2021

Zach Gentry Jersey, 2 years left on contract, $936,115 cap hit for 2021

Kevin Rader, 1 year left on contract, $780,000 cap hit for 2021

Others under contract

Charles Jones, 1 year left on contract, $780,000 cap hit for 2021

Dax Raymond, 1 year left on contract, $780,000 cap hit for 2021

Free agents

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There has been a familiar refrain that plenty of my BTSC community brethren have been more than happy to enthusiastically remind me of since the Steelers disappointing end to the 2020 NFL season. The NFL is not a family, it’s big business. Although I personally believe it has to be a bit of both; especially for a franchise with the unmatched legacy of the Pittsburgh Steelers, there is no denying that the NFL is an empire worth billions. However, the moment any business forgets what truly sets them apart and makes them special, they usually cease to be just that.

The 2021 NFL season will be a contract season for Steelers WR James Washington Jersey and the implications of a productive campaign could be huge for his future earnings and stability as a professional. Problem is there are a plethora of unanswered questions that still need answered, ranging from who will be the Steelers starting QB next year to just where Washington will stack up in the WR depth chart when the season rolls around. Both answers will undoubtedly impact Washington’s production in 2021.

Last season Washington was a valuable member of a stacked wide receiver group that went four deep, five actually when you consider seldom used jack of all trades Ray Ray McCloud. He finally was able to develop a solid rapport with Ben Roethlisberger Jersey, to the point where the Steelers veteran signal caller openly expressed his trust in Washington to come down with contested catches in the key moments of the game. That was a far cry from his rookie year where he failed to make any sort of a positive connection with Roethlisberger.

Washington may very well see an substantial uptick in targets next season if everything transpires as expected, but a wise man learns to always expect the unexpected. If the rumors are to be believed, free agent WR JuJu Smith-Schuster is looking to take his brand to a bigger market. While Smith-Schuster denied the rumor shortly after; expressing his desire to remain with the Black and Gold, the logistics of such a move in free agency make perfect sense, both personally and financially.

JuJu Smith-Schuster is from the west coast, and his family still resides there. The latest rumor states that the Las Vegas Raiders are interested in acquiring his services. The Raiders have both cap space and a real need to improve their talent at wide receiver. Closer to home, plus a much larger market for his brand. A talented young receiver taking star billing in the Sin City. What’s not to like if you are Smith-Schuster? Also, JuJu can only guess who the Steelers starting QB will be next year, and the following season. The Raiders QB situation is arguably more stable at the moment.

All this reality would seem to bode well for Washington’s immediate future with the Steelers. Last season he had to compete for targets with the talented trio of JuJu Smith-Schuster, Chase Claypool Jersey, and Diontae Johnson Jersey. Not to mention the talented but unreliable TE Eric Ebron Jersey. If Smith-Schuster does take his talents elsewhere, Washington moves up a spot in the pecking order and sees an increase in opportunities.

Washington will need to continue working hard this off season to expand his route tree and improve his footwork necessary to achieve greater separation on said routes. He made noticeable strides in his game last season. Washington has a knack of gaining a quick three or four yards separation on his deep routes, but defenders easily recover because he lacks true long speed. This requires that Washington and whoever is playing QB moving forward have a strong connection and superior timing.

The Steelers are notorious for selecting a wide receiver during the first couple days of the NFL Draft each year, quite successfully I might add. They are constantly looking to discover inexpensive young talent at the position. That strategy has served them well in the past, but that may not be an option this draft.

First off, one day soon they may no longer have a future Hall of Famer as their starting QB to help the young newcomers shine. Secondly, they have too many holes to fill along the offensive line and at linebacker to use a earlier round selection on another receiver. A stud tight end is entirely possible, but not another receiver. It’s a luxury that the Steelers simply can’t afford this season.

Washington is not as talented as JuJu Smith-Schuster Jersey, but I trust he is more than capable of stepping up his game and getting the job done if JuJu does indeed take his talents elsewhere.

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PITTSBURGH — In more than a decade as the Pittsburgh Steelers’ coach, Mike Tomlin’s index of signature sayings has grown every season.

And for the first time — at least in recent memory — he debuted a new one as he described the difference in his team from the first half to the second in the aftermath of the Steelers’ 28-24 comeback victory over the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday.

“It’s a fine line between drinking wine and squashing grapes, as we say in this business,” Tomlin said, not a laugh or hint of sarcasm in his voice.

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Wait, what? Who says that in this business?

Only one man in the NFL utters phrases like that, and he’s been the head coach of the Steelers for the past 14 seasons. In using catchphrases, slogans and mantras, Tomlin, 48, effectively communicates with his players and the media members who cover his team. The phrasing is different from the locker room to the news conferences, but Tomlin’s approach is consistent.

“A lot of the message is similar,” former Steelers defensive end Cheap Brett Keisel Jersey said. “I think when he is thinking of ways to motivate the team and how he’s going to do it, and the process of which he’s going to say things, because let’s be honest, in this business, it is fan-driven, and they want to hear content from their coach. They want to hear content from their players. They want to hear reactions.

“He understands that that is all part of this great game. And so he’s found a way to get his voice out there, not only to the fans and to the public, or even the ownership, but also to his players. And he’s very smart about it. He spends time on it. The guy loves football, like deep down in his soul.”

In Tomlin, tight end Cheap Eric Ebron Jersey  found something of a kindred spirit. Hard as it might be to believe given their differences in personality and approach with reporters, the fun-loving, candid Ebron instantly connected with the all-business coach.

And it’s all thanks to Tomlin’s mantras.

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin has developed over the years his own unique way to deliver messages to his players directly or through the media. Keith Srakocic/AP Photo
“I can relate to Mike Tomlin because some of my friends used to say I talk in Ebronics, which used to be funny because I’d have these weird sayings or these weird notions, too,” the 27-year-old Ebron said. “I can relate to Mike T. It’s something that clicks, it’s something that you haven’t heard but you won’t forget.”

Tomlin’s constant reminder about the importance of game days is an especially meaningful message for Ebron.

“One of my favorite ones is, ‘We show up in stadiums,'” Ebron said. “To me, it resonated because it doesn’t matter what happened throughout the week, it doesn’t matter what’s going on in your life throughout the week. On Sunday or Thursday or whenever we play, when you’re in that stadium, it’s about everything going on with that football game. No matter what, whatever it is outside, whatever happened, whatever, we perform in stadiums.

“That kind of resonated with me, like game day is our day. It’s basically like our day to have fun, to go out there and enjoy it.”

Safety Cheap Minkah Fitzpatrick Jersey also latched on to one of his coach’s sayings — “Make it a great day” — after the Steelers acquired him in a trade early last season. Fitzpatrick didn’t understand what his coach meant at first, but the more he heard him, the more Tomlin’s saying stuck with him.

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“He doesn’t say, ‘Have a great day’ or ‘Be great today’; he says, ‘Make it a great day,'” Fitzpatrick said. “A lot of times we wake up in the morning at 5:25, really wanting to make it a great day. We have all the reasons in the world to not make it a great day. It’s kind of a consistent choice that you have to make in every single little detail throughout your day to make it great.

“It took me a little while to understand what he meant by it, and he explained it one day, it was kind of exactly what I said. He lives it. He has every excuse in the world to not work as hard as he does because he’s accomplished pretty much everything you can accomplish as a head coach in the NFL. Every single day he’s out here. He’s one of the first people in the building, one of the last people in the building, pays attention to all the details. He does the things to make it a great day.”

In a season that’s been anything but consistent, Tomlin’s sayings and method of messaging have been constants, creating the most stable environment possible in an ever-changing world.

Not all of his messages, though, are easy to understand. Some of his current and former players helped translate a few of his most memorable Tomlinisms, used in his locker room and in news conferences.

‘The standard is the standard’
What it means: “No one knows what the hell that truly means sometimes. It’s such a broad thing. And what it means for him is, there’s one singular goal every day, to be working toward a win. And no matter who’s on the field, no matter who you play against, that standard is an individual thing, but it’s also a thing that’s unique to your team.” — ESPN analyst and former Steelers defensive back Cheap Ryan Clark Jersey

Pittsburgh Steelers pass rusher TJ Watt is a front-runner for NFL Defensive Player of the Year and is getting all kinds of praise for his incredible 2020 season. But a recent comment made by Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin about TJ prompted a cool response from his brother, JJ Watt.

Speaking to the media this week, Tomlin was asked what makes TJ Watt so special. Tomlin joked that “TJ is visiting from another planet” a la Superman.

JJ Watt took notice of Tomlin’s funny comment and responded. “Explains why my Christmas gift took so long to get here…” Watt tweeted on Wednesday.

That joke got plenty of attention on Twitter and for good reason. In less than a day since posting it, JJ Watt’s tweet has over 34,000 likes.

As for TJ Watt, the high praise he’s been getting is even more deserved. Watt leads the NFL with 15.0 sacks and 23 tackles for loss – both career highs.

His dominance is a big reason that the Steelers have gone 12-3 with the league’s No. 2 defense. Needless to say, the Steelers will be relying on him to play that well in the playoffs.

TJ Watt is one of the fastest rising stars in the NFL right now, and 2020 could prove to be the year he establishes himself as its premier defender.

Will TJ Watt finish his career with more accolades than his brother JJ?

‘The kitchen’
What it means: “The kitchen, I think is just our everyday household. So in that household, it’s the Steelers organization. They’re focused on that AFC North kitchen. Baltimore, Cincinnati, Cleveland, that’s what’s in the kitchen, and that’s what you got to stir in the pot and eat and move forward.” — Keisel

The meaning of Mike Tomlin’s sayings isn’t always obvious at first. Keith Srakocic/AP Photo
‘Nameless gray faces’
What it means: “It really means like everybody else is just a smiley-face T-shirt, like, we don’t care about you. That if we go out and if the Pittsburgh Steelers do what the Pittsburgh Steelers are supposed to do, we beat anybody.” — Clark

‘I don’t do hypotheticals’
What it means: “It means he, like, he ain’t into guessing, right? You’re going to deal with what’s in front of you. Don’t tell me there’s a chance. No, either it’s 100%, this is what we’re doing and this is how we’re going to figure it out, or we’re not discussing it. … He always said, ‘Talking to people about things they have no control over is sport bitching, you just talking.'” — Clark

‘Don’t be patient, just work while you wait’
What it means: “It was when I was on the practice squad last year, and he just would always try to encourage those guys. He said those words to me, and I didn’t really know exactly what he meant. I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m not going to be patient. I’m definitely going to keep working.’ I didn’t know when it was going to happen, and he probably didn’t know when it was going to happen, either. But that’s the beauty of it. Just keep working because once your opportunity does come, then you’ll be 100% ready.” — Steelers safety Cheap Marcus Allen Jersey

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Tomlin went back to a favorite saying in his weekly availability Tuesday as he described the Steelers’ mentality going into a Week 17 matchup with the Cleveland Browns, featuring Cheap Mason Rudolph Jersey and not Cheap Ben Roethlisberger Jersey as the starting quarterback. It’s the phrase that’s screen-printed on team T-shirts and displayed on the walls of Heinz Field.

“We intend to do our job,” he said. “We intend to prepare with that mindset. And ultimately lead us to that destination. We’re not seeking comfort. We’re not grading ourselves on a curve. This game is on the schedule, and so the guys that will be on the field will represent us in the standard that is the Pittsburgh Steelers — will be the standard.”

But what does Tomlin mean when he says “the standard is the standard?” Allow the coach to explain in his own words.

“What I mean specifically is our job is to win,” he said Tuesday. “Maybe the formula looks a little bit different. Maybe the process is a little bit more uncomfortable based on circumstances and so forth, but the bottom line: Football is our game, our business is winning and our intentions are to handle business. That’s what the standard is the standard means every single time I say it.”