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Steelers bracing for changes after 8-8 season

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Steelers bracing for changes after 8-8 season

PITTSBURGH (AP) The Pittsburgh Steelers spent all fall claiming the chatter generated by various off-the-field issues was only so much background noise.

Through Mike Wallace's contract status to the relationship between quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and Todd Haley to the injury problems that kept bold-faced players out of the lineup for long stretches, the Steelers insisted they were focused.

Standing in the corner of a quiet locker room after an 8-8 season ended with a 24-10 win over rudderless Cleveland, wide receiver Antonio Brown begged to differ.

``We wasted a lot of energy worrying about things that were out of our control, pointing a finger here, pointing a finger there,'' Brown said. ``People mad here. People mad there. And as a team collectively you can't have that.''

And the Steelers know they can't have another season like 2012, one that included flashes of brilliance but also too many times where they shrank from the task. Pittsburgh lost five games by a field goal, most of them the result of uncharacteristic mistakes in critical situations by players used to the guys in the other uniform being the ones who fail to deliver in the clutch.

``The good teams, the dominant teams, aren't necessarily dominant inside stadiums but they are dominant largely in moments, and they do what is required to get out of stadiums with victories,'' coach Mike Tomlin said. ``We didn't do that consistently enough.''

The revamped offense brought in by Haley designed to take some of the pressure off Roethlisberger operated in fits and starts over the second half of the season. Having the franchise quarterback miss three games with a sprained shoulder and dislocated rib didn't help. Neither did injuries along the offensive line that made getting any sort of rhythm in the running game impossible.

Still, Tomlin refused to place blame in any one specific place, be it the relationship between Roethlisberger and Haley or the running back rotation that failed to produce consistently. Taken as a whole, it just wasn't enough. The Steelers finished 21st in total offense - down from 12th in 2011 - and averaged 21 points a game, less than a point more than the year before.

``Offensively I thought we started off on the right foot in terms of dominating time of possession and converting third downs,'' Tomlin said. ``We did what was required in those areas to possess the ball and win football games. Obviously we didn't ascend in the second half of the season in those areas. It was an Achilles' heel for us.''

The defense finished No. 1 overall for the fifth time in the last decade but had issues generating turnovers. Pittsburgh's 10 interceptions were tied for the second fewest in franchise history and the Steelers needed seven takeaways in the final two games to reach 20 on the season.

Safety Troy Polamalu, linebackers James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley and cornerback Ike Taylor - fixtures on a team that's made two Super Bowl appearances in the last five seasons - all missed extended time with injuries and the backups were disciplined but not exactly dynamic. The lack of playmakers enabled opponents to take advantage late in games, namely road losses to woeful Oakland and Tennessee that put Pittsburgh in an early 2-3 hole.

``It was a really good defense in the latter portions of season, particularly in those settings,'' Tomlin said. ``I think the statistics show that. But again, not enough significant plays in those moments at the early portion of the season that produced wins.''

Even so, don't expect 75-year-old defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau to go anywhere. LeBeau pledged to return in 2013, a decision Tomlin endorsed on Monday.

``He's a special guy, a special man and a special coach,'' Tomlin said.

He's also one of the reasons Pittsburgh remains a sea of calm in a constantly evolving league. Pittsburgh is perhaps the best team in the NFL in providing continuity, there is a sense significant change is coming.

Fixtures like nose tackle Casey Hampton, linebacker Larry Foote and running back Rashard Mendenhall will become unrestricted free agents. So will Wallace and cornerback Keenan Lewis.

Wallace pledged Sunday he would love to return, though the math could make that impossible. The Steelers will have to get creative to get under the salary cap next year, and Wallace is expected to be in high demand on the open market.

``It's a business, but at the end of the day this is all I've known,'' Wallace said. ``I want to be here.''

If Wallace does come back, he won't holdout as he did during training camp, the start of a season-long list of distractions that led to four months where things never really fell into place.

If he bolts, the Steelers believe they have the parts in place to return to their usual spot in the postseason. Starting in 2000, the Steelers have missed the playoffs every three years - 2003, 2006, 2009 and 2012. If the pattern holds, they'll be playing into January next year, hopefully a wiser group than the one that let this season slip away.

``The best team that I've been on is when a group is collectively a team, people not playing for money or playing for (themselves),'' Brown said. ``A collective effort for the team and that's the mentality we've got to carry around next year.''

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Tim Connelly won’t take top Wizards job, to stay in Denver

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Tim Connelly won’t take top Wizards job, to stay in Denver

There won’t be a Tim Connelly reunion with the Washington Wizards after all.

Connelly passed on the opportunity to become the Wizards President of Basketball Operations, and instead will remain in the same capacity with the Denver Nuggets, a source confirms to NBC Sports Washington. ESPN first reported on Connelly's decision.

Washington received permission to meet with Connelly late Thursday evening. He left the NBA Combine in Chicago and flew to Washington Friday for a discussion with Leonsis, a source told NBC Sports Washington. On Friday, Connelly reportedly received the offer to fill the front office vacancy created by the firing of Ernie Grunfeld on April 2.

While the interest in the Wizards was genuine from the Baltimore native, Catholic University alum and former member of Washington's front office, Connelly could not leave the "stable" situation with significant promise in Denver, a source told NBC Sports Washington.  

Connelly, 41, was named Denver’s general manager in 2013. The Nuggets won 54 games and finished the 2018-19 regular season as the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference. The roster, headlined by All-NBA center Nikola Jokic and guard Jamal Murray, is the second-youngest in the NBA. "Tough to give that up," the source said. "Too much to risk."

The Wizards are coming off a polar opposite campaign that ended with a 32-50 record. Significant uncertainty exists going forward with five-time All-Star John Wall expected to miss a large chunk of the 2019-20 season as his four-year, $170 million supermax contract extension kicks in.

Leonsis began a deliberative search process for a new President of Basketball Operations after dismissing Grunfeld, who held the position for 16 years.  While other candidates were interviewed during the process, including interim GM Tommy Sheppard, Connelly’s name was linked to the opening almost from the start.

Connelly considered Leonsis' handling of the discussions first class, according to a source.

Sheppard, former Hawks GM Danny Ferry and Thunder assistant GM Troy Weaver are the other known primary candidates.

In April, NBC Sports Washington first reported Connelly considered the Wizards his “dream job,” according to sources. The Catholic University alum began his NBA career as an intern with Washington in 1996 before holding various full-time front office positions under Grunfeld. He left for New Orleans in 2010.

The Wizards face significant challenges before re-entering contention in the Eastern Conference. With Wall injured, two-time All-Star Bradley Beal is the only healthy returning starter. 2018 first round pick Troy Brown Jr. is the only other valued long-term asset beyond the ninth overall selection in the 2019 NBA Draft,

More than half of last season’s roster is entering some form of free agency. Washington could have limited salary cap space depending on which players return.

The situation requires the kind of roster-shaping creativity Connelly demonstrated in Denver. The Wizards now must look elsewhere for their new front office leader.

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Baltimore Ravens Roundup: Roster is set heading into start of OTAs

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Baltimore Ravens Roundup: Roster is set heading into start of OTAs

Kick off your Monday with the latest Baltimore Ravens news including the full 90-man roster heading into the beginning of OTAs.

Player/Team Notes: 

1. The Baltimore Ravens have officially announced the full 90-man roster that will be competing for an official team roster spot in OTAs this summer. Ravens OTAs begin Monday.

2. With the return of Pernell McPhee and the addition of Shane Ray, it's clear that the Ravens are searching for the right pass rushers for their defense. The two veterans join draft pick Jaylon Ferguson in the quest to create a dynamic defense.

3. Marquise Brown is expected to miss OTAs due to continued rehab on his foot from Lisfranc surgery. However, Brown is expected to be ready by the start of training camp in August.

Looking Ahead:

July 15: 4 p.m. deadline to get a long-term deal done with designated franchise tag players.

The 2019 NFL schedule is set! See the Baltimore Ravens defend the AFC North at M&T Bank Stadium this season. Get your tickets now at www.BaltimoreRavens.com/tickets.

Credit: Rotoworld and Baltimore Ravens for news points.

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