The Week That Was In Pittsburgh Sports

Trades, rehabs, contract disputes & a team collapse

Matt Koll
February 28, 2020 - 11:47 am
Kevin Colbert

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Five storylines from this week, with my take on the happenings. 

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5. Pitt's Season Collapse

Boy, that escalated quickly. The Panthers had been trending down for the past month or so as they trudged through the ACC season. It all came to a head on Wednesday when they got waxed by Syracuse 72-49 on Senior Night at the Pete. 

Xavier Johnson and Trey McGowens, who were supposed to be the players this program leaned on this year, continued what has been a frustrating and head-scratching campaign by only scoring 13 points combined. I think that might be the most concerning thing about this season as those two have been exposed especially in league play. 

Jeff Capel really opened up and let out his frustrations after the game Wednesday, hitting another level of criticism of his players."It's an honor to wear the jersey, it's a privilege, and it's something that you can't take for granted," Capel said."Unfortunately, I think we have some guys who are taking it for granted right now and that's extremely disappoiting, frustrating, and to be honest with you, it pisses me off."  

Whoa. That signifies a clear disconnect between what Capel and his staff expect from their guys and what they are putting forth right now. Justin Champagnie has emerged as their best player at this point and Capel has gone out of his way to compliment Delaware transfer Ithiel Horton, who he thinks will be a great player and will be eligible to play next year. I think the future is still bright under Capel but this season can't end quickly enough.  

4. NFL CBA Proposal Creates Player Strife 

At first, I was shocked that the vote for this proposal got past the 32 member leadership of the players union to the 2,000 or so players to vote. But at the same time, what has become clear is that the owners are showing once again why they are big B Billionaires. They're negotiators. They're high-level thinkers. They're savvy money people. And they've played this perfectly.

Offer the players just enough to garner interest and enticement but not enough for everyone to get on-board. Then watch the chaos ensue. And it has. The top players in the league hate it because the extra compensation for the 17th game isn't nearly enough (aka Maurkice Pouncey's NSFW Instagram rant) but the lower level players love it because it's an immediate $100,000 raise. 

Brilliant. 

It looks like it will work, too. NFL Network's Judy Battista told The Fan Morning Show Friday that she would be "stunned" if it doesn't pass at this point. So gear up for 17 games and expanded playoffs, folks. 

3. Colbert Talks Ben & Bud 

The Steelers set the football world ablaze over the past weekend by posting a simple 5 second clip of Ben Roethlisberger throwing a football in a gym somewhere in California. It spawned all kinds of takes, like this:

 

But Steelers GM Kevin Colbert went hard against that line of thinking, expressing his somewhat extreme optimism about Ben from the Combine, saying that we could even get a "better Ben" when he returns. 

I love a lot about Kevin Colbert and the job he has done and especially in how aggressive he's been over the last year or so (i.e trading up for Bush, trading a 1st round pick for Minkah Fitzpatrick, multiple free agent signings). But this is a little extreme for me. It makes me feel a little uneasy. It's such a strong, public statement of "we're putting all of our eggs in the Ben basket and going to speak this successful recovery into existence because we've got nothing else and we're screwed if it doesn't happen." At least that's what I heard. They haven't changed the QB situation behind him to his point, so here's to hoping we don't go down the same Rudolph-Duck-even Paxton Lynch hole too often again. 

Colbert also talked about Bud Dupree, saying he wants him to retire a Steeler. The team is continuing it's long battle to get him signed long-term while going up against the cap and I think that in the end the tag will be placed on Bud and his Steelers career may be over after 2020. Those words, while good intentioned, mean next to nothing. Colbert said the same things about Le'Veon Bell during his contract disputes and we know how that turned out. 

2. Penguins Active Trade Deadline 

Cagey veteran Patrick Marleau for a 3rd round pick and the return of Conor Sheary along with Evan Rodrigues for Dominik Kahun. That was the result of the work Jim Rutherford did at the trade deadline this week. 

With Marleau, there really isn't anything not to like. Another veteran presence who isn't being asked to do too much but just provide some secondary scoring and extra leadership and motivation in the room. As long as he can keep up, and there's really been no indications that he can't, this should be the perfect fit for the Pens and Marleau to make one last run at a Cup. 

Related: Kings Send Penguins To 4th Straight Loss, 2-1

I think Kahun is a slightly better player than Sheary and I really liked his chemistry with Evgeni Malkin when both were healthy. Unfortunately, we didn't see enough of it. Sheary is obviously a familiar face being brought back into the mix and has already been inserted on the top line with Crosby and Zucker. At the very least, the Penguins got better by getting deeper. 

The real key is getting healthy. Brian Dumoulin and John Marino practiced in full capacity Thursday and both may return Friday night against Anaheim and man, are they needed. Jack Johnson, while having a decent season to date, was exposed as a top pairing defenseman on Wednesday night in LA and the Penguins continued to scuffle, losing their 4th straight. ​

This serves as an important "right the ship and fend off the panic" kind of weekend as they face two more bottom dwellers in the West in Anaheim and San Jose. 

1. NFL Combine Brings About Steelers Draft Speculation 

The NFL has mastered the 365 day calendar to hold interest throughout in its league. It's remarkable, really. Now it's the NFL Combine where America gathers together to watch and read stories about guys running on a field, bench pressing and maaaaybe doing a few things related to their actual positions. And it's important. 

Hey, I've fallen into the trap I'll admit it. In fact, all of this Combine coverage as gotten my wheels spinning about where the Steelers could go in this year's NFL Draft and how they might spend their first pick at #49 overall in the 2nd round. 

There are so many areas of need, particularly on offense so they could legitimately go in about 6 different directions. Will it be running back to improve on a running game that fell completely flat last year? Receiver to give Ben more weapons? Tight end as insurance for the oft-injured Vance McDonald? What about an offensive lineman to supplement an aging core? Edge rusher for the impending absence of Bud Dupree? Defensive tackle for the impending absence of Javon Hargrave? Oh, the possibilities! 

For me, something tells me they go defense in the 2nd round. Edge or defensive tackle. Stick to their identity of stacking talent on that side of the ball. Just a hunch. From there, a running back or tight end makes sense in the 3rd round, with a wide receiver in a very deep class going in the 4th and an offensive lineman with the other pick in the 4th as well. But who knows, my mind might be changed by tomorrow. It's all part of the fun.  

Let the mock drafts, the projections, the speculations proceed. 

 

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