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2018 NFL Combine Steelers Stock Report: See whose stock is rising and falling

Time to see whose stock is rising, and falling, as we progress through the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine.

NFL: AFC Divisional Playoff-Jacksonville at Pittsburgh Steelers Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

Speculative thinking is, of course, a fundamental axiom of the pre-Draft, pre-free agency proceedings of the NFL offseason. Will the Steelers sign Le’Veon Bell to a long-term contact? Which veteran players are on the chopping block? Should Rob Gronkowski retire in order to become a professional wrestler?

In that spirit, let’s do a combine stock report that bears little relevancy to the event itself:

Stock up: Middle linebackers

Earlier this week, Steelers GM Kevin Colbert confirmed that linebacker Ryan Shazier will not play in 2018, which was an expected development but a depressing one nonetheless. In making this direct confirmation, though, Colbert has made it clear that inside linebacker is indisputably Pittsburgh’s most pressing immediate need, and it seems likely that the team will look to add a day-one starter in free agency or the draft. The latter destination is clearly the more attractive option, since it could allow the Steelers to unearth a young, inexpensive, and malleable prospect, but the team should at least kick the tires on a few veterans.

Derrick Johnson, formerly of the Chiefs, could be a decent starter for another year, despite his age (107 years old) and injury history (joking aside, he’s ruptured his Achilles tendon twice, so that fact that he can even walk blows my mind). So, too, could erstwhile Steeler Lawrence Timmons, who’s expected to be released by the Miami Dolphins just one season after signing a two-year, $12 million contract last spring. Jerrell Freeman and Demario Davis are similarly alright veteran options, and if Brian Cushing could just this once not shoot human growth hormone and rhinoceros tranquilizers into his buttcheeks perhaps he is also worth a look. It’s open season on middle linebackers in these here parts.

Stock up: Le’Veon Bell

This man is living the dream. A few weeks ago, he changed his Instragram name from the dumb-sounding “steelersrb26” to the much more dignified and professional “LeveonBell.” Unsurprisingly, people freaked out. Then, a few days ago, Bell changed his Twitter avatar from a photo of him in Steelers garb to one of him in a red hoodie. NOT BLACK AND GOLD OH GOD. So, we all freaked out again. Actual news outlets published actual articles about Bell’s social media alterations. Welcome to 2018.

In fairness, every one of Bell’s actions are rooted in intentionality. He has to know that people are painstakingly travailing his online profiles, searching for even the most esoteric hints concerning his future with the Steelers. This is precisely why, for every changed username or fresh avatar, Bell posts a photo of himself wearing Steelers gear, or tosses up a post acknowledging his love for the fanbase. I have no doubt the Bell is ruthlessly gaslighting his massive online following, and, friends, I am here for that action. He’s going to get paid regardless, so there’s no point feigning professionalism in his online consciousness. Have fun, my guy. You deserve it.

Stock down: Old dudes in the secondary

William Gay and Mike Mitchell are rightfully doomed, and I will be shocked if both do not end up being cap casualties in the weeks ahead. Gay’s play has declined steadily over the past season or two, so his release, at this point, is probably long overdue. Mitchell, on the other hand, is banged-up and expensive, carrying a cap hit somewhere in the ballpark of $8 million this season. The Steelers could conceivably draft a safety in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft (there are some good ones to be had, including Florida State’s Derwin James and Alabama’s Ronnie Harrison), though Jordan Whitehead from Pittsburgh is a familiar name who should be available on Day Two.

Importantly, the open market is littered with big-name safeties, ranging from former first-round draft picks to established veterans. Morgan Burnett, Kenny Vaccaro, Marcus Gilchrist and Eric Reid are all names that could be on Pittsburgh’s radar.

Stock up: Martavis Bryant

In the same presser in which he addressed Shazier’s future, Colbert “dismissed” reports that the Steelers are actively shopping Martavis Bryant—though, it is worth mentioning that Colbert corroborated earlier reports stating that the team had fielded calls from potential buyers. (As an aside, this is exactly what I would say if I was, in fact, listening to offers for an immensely talented, but somewhat expendable receiver, but I’ll digress). Bryant, who hasn’t been particularly furtive when it comes to discussing his prospects elsewhere, has just one year remaining on his rookie contract and will be looking to parlay a strong 2018 campaign into a date with the Brinks truck. The 2018 season will almost certainly be Bryant’s last as a member of the Steelers, but even if Colbert et al are answering the phone, they don’t have a ton of leverage in trade proceedings.

Marcus Peters, debatably the best cornerback in the NFL, was recently traded from the Kansas City Chiefs to the Los Angeles Rams for a package of draft picks. The reported haul for a 25-year-old All-Pro performer at a prime skill position? A fourth-round pick in 2018, and a second rounder in 2019. That’s literally it. Of course, we can’t draw too many parallels between Peters and Bryant and Kansas City and Pittsburgh because there are various nuances differentiating each circumstance. Still, it is important to keep Kansas City’s reported compensation in mind: is there any chance the Steelers could net anything close to that in a Bryant trade? Absolutely not, unless the team on the other end of the trade was certain that Bryant was willing to sign a long-term deal at below market value. Frankly, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to flip Bryant for, say, a fourth-round pick when simply letting him play out the remainder of his contract would maximize your “win-now” chances.

So, barring some insane trade, the Bryant/Steelers marriage will continue through 2018. A new squad and a shiny new contract should be plenty to incentivize Bryant to ball out accordingly.

Stock down: Sean Davis

A family north of Pittsburgh has filed a lawsuit—which, among other things, includes claims of libel and cyberbullying—against Davis related to an incident that occurred at local Chick-fil-A back in December. The lawsuit indicates that, after navigating Chick-fil-A’s drive-thru—and, a personal vignette, I used to live in Cranberry Township and visited this very Chick-fil-A more often than I’d care to admit, so I can confirm that its drive-thru lines are wild—Davis posted a video to his Snapchat account in which he remarks on his server’s stature, saying “[t]his kid like 8-years-old. No wonder the lines be so long at Chick-fil-A.”

While the alleged content of the video itself doesn’t strike me as especially sinister, the poor Chick-fil-A employee was apparently mocked by his idiotic classmates upon returning to school, which sucks. It can be reasonably assumed that this was not Davis’ intention.

Regardless, Davis could stand to take lessons in social media from some of Pittsburgh’s resident online savants, including Vince Williams, Chris Boswell and JuJu Smith-Schuster.