The Pittsburgh Steelers have a controversy on their hands and it has nothing to do with what happened on the field.
The team voted to wear the name of Antwon Rose Jr., — a black teenager killed by police in Pittsburgh in 2018 — on the back of their helmets during each game this season. But in Monday night’s season-opening win over the Giants, one player, offensive lineman Al Villanueva, taped over the name and put in its place the name of Army Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn Cashe, a Black soldier who was killed on duty in Iraq and was posthumously awarded the Silver Star for heroism.
Villanueva is a former Army Ranger and received permission to make the change from head coach Mike Tomlin, but did not discuss it with any of his teammates — and some of them didn’t seem pleased.
“I was surprised by what Al did,” defensive lineman Cam Heyward told reporters Wednesday. “You’ll have to talk to him in the future, but in this country, we’re given the freedom to do and support those that mean a lot to us.”
Ben Roethlisberger added: “I did not know about Al’s choice for the back of his helmet. That’s his choice. That’s the amazing thing about the country we live in. Unfortunately, it is what it is.”
Tomlin defended Villanueva’s right to honor a different person.
“He did discuss that with me,” Tomlin said Tuesday. “And this is in line with everything we said about participating in elements of social justice this offseason. As an organization- and myself as a head coach of an organization- we are going to support our players in however they choose to participate and express themselves or to not participate or not express themselves, as long as they do so thoughtfully and with class.”
Rose’s mother, Michelle Kenney, wrote Tuesday on Facebook that she was unhappy with the change.
“Let me [be] very very very clear,” Kenney wrote, according to ESPN. “The Pittsburgh Steelers took a team vote. Obviously one person didn’t like the results so they chose to do something different. I have nothing against vets and absolutely appreciate everything that they have done and continue to do for us. But this one person showed us exactly who he is and obviously he didn’t approve of how the vote turned out. In my opinion; that’s for his coach, team and organization to address NOT ME! While he was so busy being negative what it actually did now forced more people to engage in this conversation… I’m going to use this negative press and negativity to motivate me to hold the Pittsburgh Steelers even more accountable!!!”
Villanueva made headlines in 2017 when the Steelers opted to stay in the locker room during the national anthem before a game in Chicago after President Trump criticized players for not standing for the anthem. Villanueva, who served tours in Afghanistan, decided to stand in front of the tunnel in the stadium so he could see the flag.
Villanueva told Roethlisberger of his plan at the time, but Villanueva later said he was sorry for putting his team in an uncomfortable position after pictures were seen of him watching the anthem on his own.
Jets Are Worst Team in NFL
The Jets are the worst team in the NFL right now and it’s not really close. They were embarrassed yet again on Sunday, losing to the Colts, 36-7. They are 0-3 and have been outscored by 57 points. They have not been competitive. To break down the disastrous game and season far, Brian Costello and I bring you a brand new episode of the “Gang’s All Here” podcast.
I open the show going on a rant, venting frustrations from the fans about where the team is at right now. People need to stop making excuses for Sam Darnold and start looking at his poor decision making as a big problem. He threw three interceptions Sunday, including two pick sixes, that cost the team 17-21 points. The roster is awful. Adam Gase needs to be fired. It’s pathetic that the team is not competing in games. Coz responds to my rant pointing to the blame needing to go to everyone, Darnold needing to avoid continuing to make rookie mistakes and the argument for Trevor Lawrence. If this team does end up with the No. 1 pick, should they take Lawrence and trade Darnold? Coz sees Lawrence being a generational QB in the NFL. We look ahead to Jets-Broncos Thursday, if Gase gets fired Friday if they lose and why the Jets will probably beat the Broncos.
Brandon Tierney, a rabid Jets fan and co-host of Tiki & Tierney on CBS Sports Radio and CBS Sports Network, then joins the pod. Tierney starts off by talking about the nightmare state of the franchise right now, Darnold being in a better position with Gase gone, and who the potential head coaching options are. Does Eric Bieniemy make this team any better if he came in? Tierney talks about the Jets having the worst roster in the NFL, Joe Douglas needing an overhaul, Darnold missing too many targets, the bleak future, his son expecting the worst watching this team (he’s 5) and understanding why Joe Benigno always expects the worst.
Catch up on all episodes of “Gang’s All Here,” a New York Jets podcast, by subscribing to the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. Follow Coz and Jake on Twitter @BrianCoz and @JakeBrownRadio for updates on the show. The next episode of the podcast drops Friday following the Jets-Broncos game Thursday.
Lamar Jackson’s next contract: How the Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes deal will affect Ravens negotiations
Patrick Mahomes became the highest-paid quarterback in the NFL this summer with his record 10-year, $450 million contract extension with the Chiefs. Lamar Jackson, who succeeded him as league MVP last season, is now waiting for his big second payday from the Ravens in 2021.
MORE: Comparing contracts of Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson
Mahomes’ average annual salary was set at $45 million by the Chiefs, knowing that the QB market was going to get exponentially expensive. He got $63 million guaranteed at signing, but the big number was the $141.481 million in total guarantees. He also can earn up to $503 million with incentives and bonuses.
Mahomes wanted to be secured in Kansas City long-term and team officials, fresh off seeing him lead the franchise to its first Super Bowl victory, didn’t mind locking in at a lucrative level for a decade after his spectacular play before age 25.
Jackson might want to take a different approach with Baltimore when he’s looking for a big raise from his rookie contract. As the No. 32 overall pick in 2018, Jackson, who serves as his own agent, got four years for $9.47 million, with $7.575 million. That’s not quite the bargain of a later-round QB who starts right away, but Jackson has been well under-payed, having far outplayed that.
Deshaun Watson decided to go a different route than Mahomes when he got his new deal from the Texans. He got more guaranteed at signing ($73 million) while accepting a four-year, $156 million extension through 2025. His average annual salary falls behind Mahomes but ahead of every other quarterback at $39 million a season. Watson has a higher percentage of his deal in total guarantees, however, with $110.7 million.
So in relation to the duration, Watson made out well and gave him some flexibility to land a bigger deal sooner with his free agency closer.
Dak Prescott, taken in the fourth round of the 2017 draft by the Cowboys after Mahomes and Watson went in the first, is playing on the franchise tag for 2020. He’s earning $31.4 million guaranteed for this season, and should he get tagged again in 2021 and play on another tender, he would essentially earn a combined $69.2 million guaranteed at signing, or right in the middle of what Mahomes and Watson got.
Prescott should be looking to a similar short deal as Watson, that is to get the important money up front but open the door to be the new pace-setter of the market should his second-contract performance merit that.
MORE: SN’s updated NFL quarterback rankings, 1-32 for 2020
Mahomes had the advantage of having a Super Bowl ring in hand after Year 3, timed well with his near-future Chiefs’ contract negotiations. So far, that’s eluded Watson and Prescott and with the Texans (0-3) and Cowboys (1-2) struggling out of the gate this season, Mahomes is much more likely to get two rings before either gets one.
However you look at it, Mahomes deserved that major salary and length bump over both. Jackson, like Mahomes, broke out to NFL MVP status in Year. 2. Jackson knows if he can continue to follow Mahomes’ path by ending Year 3 as Super Bowl MVP, he would have a shot to match Mahomes in both years and overall money.
Should Mahomes and the Chiefs again be better at the end than Jackson and the Ravens in 2020, Jackson would be better off going shorter-term, presumably after the Cowboys take care of Prescott without a second tag in spring or early summer.
Whatever happens, Jackson shouldn’t accept anything less than $40 million in average annual salary and has a case to push for $43 million, a little closer to Mahomes than Watson. After Jackson in 2021, Kyler Murray, the Cardinals’ first overall pick in 2022, would be next in line to get in the mega-contract conversation. There’s also an older QB, Russell Wilson, current MVP front-runner in line for a big bump before the final year of his current deal in 2023.
Wilson, last April, signed a four-year contract extension at $140 million, putting him at $35 million in average annual salary. He got $70 million guaranteed at signing and $107 million in total guarantees. Looking at what Watson got from Houston, that was very much in line with what Wilson got in Seattle, adjusted for inflated market value a year later.
Jackson getting to four years and $160 million will be easy in relation to Watson. Depending on how he and his team perform in Week 3, he should shoot to surpass $170 million overall and hit $120 million in total guaranteed money.
It’s possible that Jackson pushes for a Mahomes-like long lock-in deal with the Ravens. But it’s more probable and practical that he slots in between Watson and Mahomes, making sure he’s ahead of whatever Prescott gets over three or four years. The NFL QB market has never been richer, and for that reason it’s smarter to go shorter for the non-Mahomes elite crowd.
Broncos narrow down unbelievably sad quarterback decision
As Broncos starting quarterback Drew Lock continues to nurse a shoulder injury, Denver head coach Vic Fangio said Monday he will deploy either Jeff Driskel or Brett Rypien against the Jets on Thursday night.
The 0-3 Broncos had signed Blake Bortles to a one-year deal less than a week ago in wake of Lock’s injury, which has a recovery timeline of three-to-five weeks. Fangio told reporters Monday that it would be “unrealistic” for the team to put Bortles in after just two practices.
The Jets are still looking for their first win of the season after falling to the Bills, 49ers and Colts in the first three weeks of the 2020 season.
Driskel started in the Broncos’ 28-10 loss to the Buccaneers on Sunday, but was benched for Rypien in the fourth quarter. Rypien completed 8-of-9 passes for 53 yards and an interception in relief.
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