The Pittsburgh Steelers announced on Thursday that they have extended the contract of head coach Mike Tomlin to keep him with the team through the 2018 season. The Steelers' official website announced the extension, which included a statement from team president Art Rooney II that read, 'Mike has proven he is one of the top head coaches in the National Football League, and we are confident he will continue to lead the team in our pursuit of another Super Bowl championship."
Tomlin became the Steelers' head coach in 2007, and is just the third person to hold the position since 1969. Since taking over the team, Tomlin's Steelers have won the AFC North four times, have been to the playoffs five times with four wins, and have appeared in two Super Bowls, winning one. Tomlin’s record as a head coach is 82-46 and has had the best eight-year start of any coach in Steelers' history.
ESPN's Jeremy Fowler reports that Tomlin's extension is worth around $7 million per year, which puts him in the top-five coaching salaries in the NFL. He is currently the sixth-longest tenured head coach in the league, behind Bill Belichick, Marvin Lewis, Mike McCarthy, Tom Coughlin and Sean Payton. Tomlin, though, is not concerned with the financial value or the timing of the contract, saying to Steelers.com that, "I very much appreciate this contract extension, but my sole focus has been and will continue to be meeting the challenges that lie ahead for the 2015 season. These past nine years in Pittsburgh have been a wonderful experience for my family, and I look forward to pursuing what is the Steelers' goal every year—bringing another Super Bowl championship to the City of Pittsburgh."
Baltimore Ravens: Guard Marshal Yanda is 2014’s Top Offensive Lineman
One of Grantland's NFL experts, Robert Mays, broke down the NFL’s top 10 offensive linemen from the 2014 season, and the Baltimore Ravens' Marshal Yanda ranks No. 1. Mays wrote, "I'd be willing to argue that aside from J.J. Watt and Aaron Rodgers, no one in the league had a more comfortable margin as the best player at his position than Yanda. Last season was Yanda's fourth trip to the Pro Bowl, and in 2014 he was a wrecking crew." He continued, "watching Yanda in the run game last season was something to behold. In some ways, you can't even call it a clinic because so much of it wouldn’t translate to another person…Right now, no offensive lineman is dominating the line of scrimmage like he is."
Mays isn't wrong about Yanda's prowess, particularly as a run-blocker. Pro Football Focus ranked Yanda their top guard for 2014, giving him a positive +43.4 overall grade, mostly owing to his +34.2 grade in run-blocking. The No. 2 guard, the Philadelphia Eagles' Evan Mathis, didn’t even come close to Yanda, with a +25.8 grade overall and a +17.3 grade in run-blocking. That's up from being tied for 15th a year before.
The reason? The run-friendly zone-blocking scheme that last year's offensive coordinator, Gary Kubiak, helped put into place. Mays says that Yanda is, "the perfect zone-blocking guard," and that "he just never stops. His eyes are constantly downfield, and his feet are always moving in the direction of the play." And he's primed to repeat that performance in 2015, given that new coordinator Marc Trestman runs a strikingly similar system to Kubiak's. Also of note is that Yanda is an unrestricted free agent after this season, and the Ravens will likely be scrambling to come up with the cash to pay the NFL's best offensive lineman.
Cincinnati Bengals: Bengals Offense Needs a Healthy Tyler Eifert
Last year, Cincinnati Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert seemed primed to have a breakout sophomore season. But instead, his year was cut short by a brutal elbow dislocation he suffered in Week 1. Now he’s healthy and ready to get back on the field—but for the Bengals' sake, they will need him to stay that way.
The Cincinnati Enquirer's Paul Dehner Jr. and Jim Owczarski have been taking a look at the biggest storylines and question marks for the Bengals for this summer and into this season and have found a big problem on the team’s roster—a dearth of experienced tight ends. Behind Eifert on the Bengals' depth chart are two drafted rookies, Tyler Kroft (Round 3) and C.J. Uzomah (Round 6), and behind them are a collection of undrafted rookies and practice-squad odds and ends. And none of these tight ends, save Eifert, have played an NFL snap.
Kraft or Uzomah could prove to be useful to the Bengals, depending on what happens in training camp and the preseason. But neither will be able to completely fill in for Eifert should the tight end again suffer a season-ending or season-affecting injury. Further, Uzomah was a blocking tight end in college at Auburn, which means his chances to be a impact player in the passing game in his rookie year are practically nil.
Though the Bengals aren’t lacking for weaponry to help out quarterback Andy Dalton, given they boast receivers A.J. Green, Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu alongside pass-catching running back Giovani Bernard, having a receiving tight end is a must in today’s NFL. Eifert fills that role, but if he gets hurt, it’s hard to tell who has the talent to step up. It doesn’t look likely that they will bring back Jermaine Gresham, either; the team let the veteran go in free agency, and he has been visiting teams recently, but none have been the Bengals.