Take 5: Colts, Contracts and Corruption


Sam Riche | TNS

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (19) reacts after a second-half touchdown against the Indianapolis Colts Sunday, Nov. 12, 2017, at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. The Steelers won, 20-17.

By The Pitt News Staff

The Pitt News sports staff tackles a variety of football-related topics this week, from the implications of Andrew Luck’s sudden retirement to the NCAA’s questionable transfer rules.

National Collegiate Amoral Association

In Week 0 of college football action we saw Tathan Martell take the field alongside his new teammates at the University of Miami, despite his inability to beat our redshirt first-year quarterback Jarren Williams. Martell’s transfer out of the Ohio State football program was notable because both he and the transfer quarterback that replaced him in Columbus, former Georgia Bulldog Justin Fields, received waivers from the NCAA that allowed them to participate in this season. Normally, a transfer has to sit out one year after changing schools under NCAA regulations.

You know who didn’t receive one of these special waivers? Brock Hoffman, a former two-star offensive lineman at Coastal Carolina who transferred to Virginia Tech this offseason. Hoffman’s motivation to transfer was slightly different from the playing time complaints that drove Fields and Martell to their new programs. Hoffman transferred so he could be a caregiver to his mother, who was diagnosed with a non-cancerous tumor back in 2017. But still, his waiver request was denied, as was the appeal of that decision. According to The Athletic’s Virginia Tech beat writer Andy Bitter, the two years between the diagnosis and the transfer were just too long for the NCAA.

The transfer process is a deeply flawed system that has been designed to allow nameless administrators to decide which transfers are allowed to play immediately and which are not. Even when we ignore the harsh truth that we already know about the NCAA — that its priority is revenue, not the players who generate it — this is a new low for an organization whose lack of empathy never ceases to amaze.

— Ben Bobeck, Staff Writer

Monumental season awaits Washington

The Pittsburgh Steelers improved to 3-0 on the preseason with a convincing win over the Titans Sunday night. One of the longest — and perhaps most significant — plays came on a 41-yard touchdown pass from Mason Rudolph to second-year wideout James Washington.

Through three preseason games, Washington has nearly matched his receiving yards total from the 2018 regular season while leading Pittsburgh in receiving yards in all three games. The NFL preseason is often viewed as meaningless, but don’t be so fast to scoff at Washington’s production.

Washington was expected to shine in 2018 and had a nice preseason, but mostly failed to produce aside from a Week 2 touchdown against the Kansas City Chiefs. He finished the year with just 16 catches for 217 yards. After a crucial drop against Denver in Week 12, he became subject to criticism from the media, as well as his own quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger. Washington’s 2018 struggles visibly took a hit to his confidence. But with Antonio Brown out of Pittsburgh and JuJu Smith-Schuster stepping into the number one role, Washington can no longer be invisible. With a clear path to the number two receiver spot, a newfound confidence and 15 pounds shed this offseason, Washington is poised for a breakout year. Pick him late in fantasy drafts and pay close attention. By season’s end, Washington may just have his first 1,000-yard campaign in the books.

— Kyle Saxon, For the Pitt News

Show me the money

As the start of the NFL season creeps ever closer, it’s up in the air whether two of the league’s premier running backs will play this year. Like Le’Veon Bell last season, Los Angeles Charger Melvin Gordon and Dallas Cowboy Ezekiel Elliott have money on their mind. As the days go by and the franchises refuse to cater to their talented tailbacks, it’s becoming more and more likely that they, like Bell, will miss some action.

Gordon is on the final year of his rookie contract and set to earn only $5.6 million this year, well below his worth. The Chargers reportedly offered him a deal averaging around $10 million annually, but it hasn’t been enough. LA has two talented backs in Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson that could fill in if Gordon sits out.

Elliott is looking to be the highest-paid running back in the league. The Cowboys’ most recent offer would land him somewhere close behind Todd Gurley, who sits at $57.5 million over four years with $45 million guaranteed. But Zeke isn’t budging, and the Cowboys backfield of Tony Pollard and Alfred Morris is a much more significant dropoff than the Chargers situation.

Through all this, one thing is clear — owners and running backs have come to a stalemate these past two seasons, and it likely won’t end anytime soon. Three of the best backs in the league — Saquon Barkley, Christian McCaffrey and Alvin Kamara — are in the infancy of their careers and putting up numbers that should translate to monster deals. The question is, will their franchises pay them? If not, what teams will? 

— Nick Carlisano, Senior Staff Writer

Seventh for the Steel City

The Pittsburgh Steelers are out for revenge this season after what transpired at the end of last year. The Steelers were firing on all cylinders during the first half of 2018, as they stood with a 7-2-1 record around Thanksgiving. 

Pittsburgh went on to finish the season with a 9-6-1 record, losing four of its final six games. The Steelers’ mediocre play down the stretch resulted in their missing the postseason for the first time since 2013. 

On top of the on-field issues, the issues off the field took over the headlines.

Wide receiver Antonio Brown was responsible for much of the drama. He refused to play for the team during the crucial last week of the season, and this caused problems with Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Running back Le’Veon Bell, meanwhile, created problems by holding out the entire season due to contract disputes.

Last season’s drama is now behind the Steelers, as they shipped Bell to the New York Jets and Brown to the Oakland Raiders in the offseason. And while Bell and Brown were looking to leave the organization, wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and running back James Conner each had breakout seasons.

Pittsburgh’s offense is just as strong as it was last year with these players, while the defense got an upgrade with the addition of rookie linebacker Devin Bush. Barring any injuries, the Steelers will win their seventh Lombardi Trophy this season. 

— Tyler Moran, Staff Writer

Colts out of Luck

Following the shocking news about Indianapolis Colts star quarterback Andrew Luck retiring, it’s time to evaluate what direction the team is heading. While it may seem bleak, the Colts are primed for a competitive team. Though Jacoby Brissett may seem like an average starter due to his last stint, Indianapolis will still field a team that can help take the load off of his plate.

Colts general manager Chris Ballard sought to protect the oft-injured Luck and keep him on his feet. In doing so, the Colts fielded the fourth-ranked run blocking line and second-ranked pass blocking line last season, according to Football Outsiders. A great offensive line is a luxury that many young quarterbacks don’t have, and Brissett will be able to rely on his linemen. On the other side of the ball, the Colts will field one of their best defensive rosters in years led by 2018 Defensive Rookie of the Year Darius Leonard.

The last time Brissett filled in for Luck, he had an average season and the Colts found themselves with a 4-12 record in 2017. However, he was playing behind the 18th-ranked run blocking line and the worst pass blocking line in the league. Fortunately for Brissett, Indianapolis and its front office discovered that one person can’t carry a team and it requires a well-built roster. Unfortunately for Luck, the lesson was too little too late. 

— Sami Abu-Obaid, Staff Writer

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