Xavier Grimble Jersey

Jesse James has been the one steady presence at the tight end position for the Pittsburgh Steelers over the past four seasons. Originally drafted in the fifth round in 2015 to learn behind Heath Miller and Matt Spaeth, both of the elders statemen retired the following year, leaving him as the only carryover.

The Steelers brought in Ladarius Green to start, but his health limited him to just six games, leaving James to function as a full-time starter for most of the year, through much of it looking as though he were in over his head. Injuries to the next option, Vance McDonald the following year, saw him continue to function as the starter more often than not.

In spite of the fact that he took more of a back seat in 2018 with McDonald’s emergence, however, he put together his best and most complete season, and he was able to parlay that into a very nice contract for himself with the Detroit Lions.

Which leaves the Steelers with a hole to fill. While they already have their starter in McDonald, the only other options remaining on the roster are Xavier Grimble, whom the Steelers tendered as a restricted free agent, and Bucky Hodges, who was on the practice squad a year ago.

One name that could return later in the offseason is Jake McGee, who spent 2017 on the practice squad but suffered a season-ending injury in the spring of 2018 that resulting in him spending all of last season on injured reserve.

The Steelers did not offer to re-sign him as an exclusive rights free agent, but that should not be particularly shocking if he is not fully healthy. If that is actually the case, then he can be re-signed once his medicals are where the team is comfortable with.

All three of these players—Grimble, Hodges, and McGee—have shown a little something here and there, but it doesn’t exactly create the most inspiring depth chart. The latter two, for one thing, have never been on a 53-man roster before. Grimble has never served as more than a number three tight end, though he has been given niche packages and has served as the number two when others have been injured.

Can he be a full-time number two tight end, the player who would start if McDonald were injured? That’s a much different question. The Steelers do like him—there would have been no reason to tender him if not—and he can catch and block. He is well-liked and is a hard worker.

That won’t prevent them from drafting a tight end, however, something that they have been teasing to pull the trigger on for the past few draft classes already. Having lost their number two tight end, it’s more like than ever that this actually happens. But even if it does, Grimble still figures to fit into the picture. After all, he’s made it for this long.

Joe Haden Jersey

Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Joe Haden said he “can’t wait” to cover Odell Beckham Jr. twice per season after the superstar wide receiver’s trade to the AFC North-rival Cleveland Browns.

New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham, left, and Cleveland Browns cornerback Joe Haden, right, exchange jerseys after an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2016, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)

On Tuesday, TMZ Sports provided comments about the high-profile matchup from Haden, who spent the first seven years of his NFL career with the Browns.

“I’m happy for Cleveland. That’s a great football city,” Haden said. “They deserve everything. Odell, that’s one of my good friends … he’s gonna bring a lot of flash and flare there.”

When asked about the potential head-to-head clashes with OBJ, the corner replied: “I can’t wait. You gotta go against the best to be the best.”
Haden is coming off a solid second season in Pittsburgh. He tallied 63 total tackles, 12 passed defended, two interceptions and a forced fumble across 15 appearances. Pro Football Focus graded him as the league’s 38th-best corner.

The Steelers have won the AFC North three times in the past five years, but the Browns have emerged as a serious threat for that crown thanks to their rebuilt offense.
Beckham joins a pass-catching group that also features fellow wideouts Jarvis Landry and Antonio Callaway, as well as tight end David Njoku. Add in running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, who will join the unit after serving an eight-game suspension, and there should be no shortage of playmakers at the disposal of franchise quarterback Baker Mayfield in 2019.

It could force Haden into a lot of one-on-one coverage against OBJ, and he’s not shying away from the challenge.

Jon Bostic Jersey

With the signing of Mark Barron, Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Jon Bostic knows that his starting days are probably done after he joined the team one a two-year, $4 million contract last offseason. His role had already been becoming subsumed by L.J. Fort late in the year, and he was taken off the field in the dime defense anyway.

Steelers-Barron Football

Earlier this offseason, General Manager Kevin Colbert was pretty clear in his assessment of the Steelers’ ability to address the inside linebacker position in 2018 in the wake of Ryan Shazier’s injury, which doesn’t necessarily reflect well on Bostic.

“No, we didn’t do enough [to replace Shazier] because we’re 9-6-1. We’re not going to hide from that, and if we do, we won’t”, Colbert said. “We’re going to recognize that as we go forward for sure, but we have more than one position that we want to continue to look at and upgrade and there may be players that are available to us that we don’t need that are going to upgrade us and they make us that much better that that deficiency may be overcome by having that player”.

As we sit here today, it figures to be Vince Williams and Barron, who signed a two-year, $12 million contract after he was released by the Los Angeles Rams, as the team’s two starters along the inside. The draft can change that, and could push Bostic even further down the depth chart, perhaps even off the roster, in the worst-case scenario.

But he is willing to do whatever it takes to remain on-board in Pittsburgh. “For me, I am willing to do whatever is asked”, he told the team’s website recently in an article by Teresa Varley published yesterday. “Whatever we have to do to win I am down for it. I like to play fast, play physical. That is what it comes down to”.

Truly, Bostic does have two feathers in his cap. Most importantly, he is a very clean tackler, easily among the best on the roster. He doesn’t miss many by any means. As a run defender, he is also competent at the very least. He can diagnose the play and has the size to disengage.

Where he struggled was in coverage, where he allowed 30 of 37 targets to be caught for 331 yards and a pair of touchdowns, only netting two passes defensed for his efforts. Some of that may have been on some ill-advised schemes that put him in bad positions, but he probably knows he was not at his best in this area.

Rounding out the current group among the notable names is Tyler Matakevich, who has been almost exclusively a special teams player through his first three seasons. With Williams, Barron, Bostic, and Matakevich, they are certainly lacking some athleticism.

Adding at least one player through the draft at this position is a certainty, and adding multiple players is reasonably likely as well. The back half of the depth chart will be pushed significantly this summer to hand on.

Mark Barron Jersey

Four days into the NFL’s free-agency period for the 2019 season, and Mark Barron remains among the players without a team.

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Barron wasn’t supposed to be a free agent this year. The former Alabama All-American had two seasons left on a $45 million contract with the Los Angeles Rams.

The Rams released Barron on March 8 — one week before he was due a $3 million bonus of being on the team’s roster. Los Angeles was able to release Barron without owing him any money, since the $20 million in guarantees in his contract already had been reached, and his departure cleared $6.337 million off the team’s 2019 salary cap, according to the sports financial website overthecap.com.
But Barron’s new team could be his old team.

In discussing free agency, Rams general manager Les Snead said the team hadn’t closed the door on bringing back Barron — but at less than the $8 million ($5 million base salary and $3 million roster bonus) he would have cost Los Angeles in 2019 under his contract.

“We’re going to continue to monitor his market, right?” Snead said. “We felt like by releasing him, he would be able to get a sense of — and he deserved that, was as healthy as he’s been at the end of the year and had gotten over some of the surgeries and was playing well — what is his value today?”
Barron and Cory Littleton served as the Rams’ starting inside linebackers in the 2018 season, when Los Angeles won the NFC championship and lost 13-3 to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LIII.

Littleton is a restricted free agent, and the Rams put a second-round tender on him to try to make sure he’ll be back for 2019.

Los Angeles has only two inside linebackers officially on the roster right now — Travin Howard and Micah Kiser.

A seventh-round draft choice from TCU last year, Howard spent most of 2018 on the Rams’ practice squad and has never played in an NFL game.
A fifth-round draft choice from Virginia last year, Kiser played in every game in 2018, but he didn’t take a snap with the Los Angeles’ defense. Kiser was on the field for 298 special-teams plays during the regular season.

“There’s probably a little more work to do at that position through this process,” Snead said.

The Rams have signed two free agents so far — re-signing outside linebacker Dante Fowler and adding safety Eric Weddle after he’d been released by the Baltimore Ravens.

Barron had been a starting linebacker for the Rams for the past four seasons. As an outside linebacker in a 4-3 setup, Barron made 113 tackles in 2015 and 117 tackles in 2016. When Los Angeles shifted to a 3-4 base defense in 2017, Barron shifted to inside linebacker. He made 85 tackles in 14 games in 2017 and 60 tackles in 12 games in 2018, when he missed the first four games of the season with injuries.
Barron entered the NFL as a safety. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers made him the seventh selection in the 2012 NFL Draft, and he had started the first 37 games of his career at strong safety when the Bucs traded him to the Rams on Oct. 28, 2014, for fourth- and sixth-round picks in the 2015 NFL Draft.
At St. Paul’s Episcopal in Mobile, Barron earned All-State recognition for the Saints’ AHSAA Class 5A championship football team in 2007. Barron also starred in track and field at St. Paul’s. He won the shot put and triple jump in 2007 and the discus, long jump, shot put and triple jump in 2008 at the AHSAA Class 5A outdoor championship meet.

At Alabama, Barron played on the Crimson Tide’s BCS national-championship teams of the 2009 and 2011 seasons. He was an All-SEC safety three times and received All-American recognition in 2011.

Bud Dupree Jersey

Bud Dupree did not have his 2019 salary restructured and will make $9.2 million for the upcoming season. There was speculation that the Steelers, who had until the start of the league’s new year to get it done, would restructure Dupree’s fifth year option while giving them added cap space in the process. The Steelers ultimately decided to not go in that direction.

Dupree, who is entering his final season under contract, was congratulated by teammate Ramon Foster after officially receiving his entire 2019 salary.

Dupree has turned into a solid, yet unspectacular starter after being Pittsburgh’s first round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. After starting the final seven games (including the postseason) of his rookie season, Dupree missed nine games in 2016 after spending the first half of the season on IR. Dupree bounced back to have a solid season in 2017, setting a career high with 6.0 sacks while also recording 12 tackles for loss. In 2018, Dupree, after switching sides with fellow outside linebacker and former first round pick T.J. Watt, collected 5.5 sacks while also recording the first interception and touchdown of his career. The Steelers picked up Dupree’s fifth year option last offseason.

Last month, during his meeting with local Pittsburgh media, Steelers’ GM Kevin Colbert was asked if he is comfortable paying Dupree that much money heading into his final year under contract.

“We’ll watch this thing as we go into free agency, the draft,” Colbert said, via Jim Wexell of 247Sports. “His number is there. We know what it is.”

Colbert was asked, as a follow-up, if Dupree’s money is guaranteed once free agency begins
“Yes. Again, we’ll continue to monitor that. Look, Bud Dupree had his best year last year, and collectively he and T.J. are pretty good. I like the change that Coach Tomlin made, putting T.J. on the left, putting Bud on the right. Does Bud still have more? Absolutely. Bud’s a starter on a winning team. Is it a playofff team? No. Does he have more to give? Absolutely. From an effort standpoint? No, it’s not a lack of effort. Let’s turn that effort into more production. Can he? Will he? We’ll see.”

Colbert also assessed the strengths and weaknesses of Pittsburgh’s defense during the 2018 season while looking forward to how he and the Steelers will look to bolster the unit moving forward.

“Defensively, again there’s a little inconsistency,” he said. “We led the league or were second in sacks, but our turnover production was near the bottom. Usually when you’re getting pressure, you’re getting more turnovers. We think that’s reflective of the group that we have. That’s not to say we don’t have guys that are capable of making plays in the secondary, but we didn’t have that type of production.

“So, again, we’re looking to maintain the pressure aspect and improve the turnover part of it. Again, another young player who stepped up in his second year was T.J. Watt. He did a nice job. Continues to grow, but we need more young playmakers, especially on the back end. The young kids that we have need to continue to get better and make more plays, and we have to continue to search and look for more playmakers.”

Following a spring practice last offseason, Dupree, who celebrated his 26th birthday earlier this month, said that he knows there’s still another level of his game he has yet to get to.

“The ceiling that I have, I’m nowhere near reaching (yet),” Dupree told ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler. “I just gotta go out, keep going hard and trusting the scheme.”
Dupree was asked what his ceiling potentially looks like.

“I don’t what it looks like,” he said. “I gotta keep getting better and better. I feel myself getting better and better each rep, each day, each training session.”

Despite his banner 2018 season, Watt, who led the Steelers with 13.0 sacks last season after switching positions with Dupree, recently told Fowler that he felt like he left “a lot of plays out there” this past season. Despite his stellar year, Watt was unable to help the Steelers’ defense get out of several jams during the team’s three-game losing streak that ultimately kept them out of the postseason. Pittsburgh’s defense gave up late scores in each of the team’s final four losses of the 2018 season.
“We’re nowhere near satisfied with where we can be as a defense,” Watt said. “We’ve gotten ourselves here. We have to handle our business first. It’s just frustrating, not being able to put together as many complete games as we know we’re capable of. We understand how competitive the NFL is, and we feel we have a really good team here and we definitely feel we should have won more games than we have. But at the same time we respect the NFL, respect the process, respect everything about this game to be the best we can possibly be.”

While his 2018 campaign was not a disappointing one, it’s clear that Dupree will have to further elevate his game if he wants to improve his chances at receiving a longterm commitment from the Steelers heading into the 2019 offseason.

Javon Hargrave Jersey

The Pittsburgh Steelers season is over, and the offseason is in full effect. The front office and coaching staff are preparing for the NFL Draft, but the players are instead spending time with their families and finding ways to improve for next season. Stephon Tuitt is already studying film, Ramon Foster is working out like a man possessed in Nashville, and Steven Nelson is learning about the important Pittsburgh landmarks.

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Defensive lineman Javon Hargrave is similarly preparing, but he is doing so with the feedback of his coaches. The third-year veteran sat down with Missi Matthews of the Steelers media team to discuss his upcoming offseason, and he explained that part of his offseason was meeting with the coaches in exit interviews and receiving feedback. They gave him crucial information that will lead to an even better 2019 campaign.

“Just growing more,” Hargrave said. “Just growing even more as a football player, just finding ways to get better, just being able to contribute more to help the team. There are some things I did good, and some things that I did bad, I just really need to improve on next year.”
Throughout the 2018 season, Hargrave was involved fairly heavily in this Steelers defense. He started 14 of the 16 games in which he appeared and tallied 49 combined tackles with 6.5 sacks, both of which were career highs. He was effective as an interior pass rusher and attributes this success to taking advantage of increased opportunities on the defensive line. As Hargrave explained, part of his expanded role came from putting good plays on film, but there were also some injuries that opened up more playing time.

“I think I had the same role, but I just got more opportunities than I had in the past. I just took advantage of some opportunities and did big things with it…I think it’s some things I showed, just due to some injuries too. My boy (Stephon) Tuitt going down, it just opened up more things for me, and I think I just showed what I could do.”

While Hargrave was undoubtedly excited at the increased playing time in 2018 and the subsequently added opportunities in the 2019 season, he would prefer if the extra snaps did not come at the expense of his teammates. Similarly, the Steelers would also prefer if Hargrave and Tuitt were both healthy and able to serve as fierce defenders along this offensive line. Although having healthy players is only part of the equation. They also have to continuously grow with each passing day.

“We just can’t make the same mistakes twice,” Hargrave said. “That’s something that Coach Butler and Coach T preach to us. When you are a good pro, you don’t make the same mistakes twice, so some of the things that happened last year can’t happen this year that’s coming up. That’s the only way you get better in this league.”

Sean Davis Jersey

Pittsburgh Steelers safety Sean Davis is currently in the final year of his rookie contract and that means the organization might consider signing him to a contract extension later in the offseason. If indeed that winds yup being the plan, Davis will have Rosenhaus Sports representing him should contract extension negotiations be warranted later this offseason.

According to Liz Mullen of the Sports Business Journal on Monday, Davis has now signed on with RSR, after previously being represented by MBK Sports Management. Rosenhaus Sports, as most should already know, represent quite a few of the higher-profile professional athletes and that list includes former Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown, who was traded to the Oakland Raiders a few weeks ago and has since signed a new contract that currently makes him the highest paid at his position once again.

Davis switching to Rosenhaus Sports probably isn’t anything to be hugely concerned about. After all, a few other current Steelers are also represented by Rosenhaus Sports and that list includes cornerback Mike Hilton, who announced around this same time last year that he had switched representation to them. Starting Steelers cornerback Joe Haden is also still reportedly represented by Rosenhaus Sports.

As for Davis, who was originally drafted in the second-round of the 2016 NFL Draft out of Maryland, it will be interesting to see if the Steelers think enough of him to sign him to a contract extension later during the offseason. In his first three seasons in the NFL with the Steelers, Davis has registered 242 total tackles, 2.5 sacks, 5 interceptions, 20 defensed passes and a forced fumble.

Artie Burns Jersey

Following on the heels of Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert on Sunday, it was the turn of Mike Tomlin to talk with the media at the owners meeting on Monday, discussing a wide range of topics ranging from notable player departures to recent free agent additions.

But while the Steelers head coach appeared reluctant to talk too negatively about names like Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell, he was far from encouraging when the subject turned to Artie Burns. As per Teresa Varley of Steelers.com, when asked if it was a little disappointing that the young cornerback seems to perform well in practice but struggles during a game, Tomlin left no doubt that that he was unhappy with the level of production he was getting from Burns on game day.

“Not a little bit disappointed. Disappointed. Certainly. Having the ability to carry those talents into a stadium kind of defines us, or inability to do so, so certainly.”

And if Burns is to get another opportunity to prove his worth in the NFL with Pittsburgh, it appears that he might need to be more concerned about keeping his roster spot right now, rather than worrying about who will be the starter opposite Joe Haden in 2019.

“You know, that’s what this process is about. It’s not about giving him another chance. It’s about putting together the very best group that we can put out there, and if that includes giving him another chance, then certainly, but it’s not per se specifically about giving him quote-unquote another chance.”

Rather than be drawn into the ongoing saga about Ben Roethlisberger and his leadership abilities, Tomlin put the onus on everyone to improve this season, including himself.

“I don’t think he was void of leadership skills or talents. I think he’s more than capable as a quarterback. I think he’s more than capable as a leader. But do I expect growth and development? Certainly. I expect growth and development from all of us based on the experiences that we’re a part of. And I expect growth and development from myself from a leadership standpoint based on the experiences that we have, so that’s not unreasonable.”

And although the Steelers coach would not go into the details surrounding the breakdown in the relationship with Brown, he did reiterate a point he has made in the past when discussing team personnel – a desire for players who want to be in Pittsburgh.

“I don’t have a lot of the intimate details about his [AB] wants and desires. Probably not fair for me to express that. I know he has expressed that. I have just taken the position that we have from an organizational standpoint. I have been really consistent with it. I was consistent with it addressing it at the end of the year. We can’t do this with hostages. We need volunteers. And we need players, good guys who want to be here. If guys can’t check those boxes, it’s probably best for all parties involved that we go our separate ways.

“That is the only thing appropriate to be said about that circumstance and Le’Veon Bell’s circumstances. I think it’s been highly chronicled and too chronicled. I think some things have been said that may or may not be true. All I know is neither one of those guys are members of our team anymore, so I understand that. I understand what that means. We focus our energy on those who are and their readiness and preparation.

“I think that relationships run their course and the fact that neither one of them are here speaks to that. But I’ll also say we’ve got good players on our team, and no disrespect to those guys or what they’ve been able to do over the course of their careers, particularly in Pittsburgh, but we had a Pro Bowl wideout on our team who’s still on our team from last year. We had a Pro Bowl running back last year who was on our team who’s still on our team. So we’ve got good players, we’ve got good quality players specifically at those positions. Will we need additional plays from other people, certainly, but you have that discussion and make those statements year-in and year-out, and we do.”

Tomlin would go on to speak at length about his hopes for JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Washington in 2019, as well as the team’s plans for the vacant spot at right tackle. A job that will seemingly go to the winner of an open battle between Matt Feiler, Chukwuma Okorafor and Jerald Hawkins, judging from his remarks.

A transcript of his interview can be found here, with some additional remarks about the changes to the coaching staff and the recent free agent signings broadcast in a sit down interview with Missi Matthews that can be viewed here.

James Conner Jersey

It’s a great thing to have a close, tight bond with a ‘band of brothers’ in the framework of a team setting. It’s even greater when you can share success with that group. That is what third-year running back James Conner sees in his relationship with his offensive line brethren on the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Conner is a guy who is naturally easy to like, so it’s really no surprise that he would have a close relationship with his offensive linemen. That’s not even acknowledging the fact that he is a local product who literally played his college games in Heinz Field while he was a member of the Pittsburgh Panthers. So he already had relationships with some of these guys before he was even drafted.

While it’s something very intangible, one can surmise that a group of offensive linemen may be able to block better for a player that they have a good relationship with, even if it is an indirect influence. More tangibly, a close relationship can more easily reveal tendencies in a runner that a blocker could grow accustomed to and block with a mind toward catering to.

If that relationship that Conner shares with his linemen was an important part of his success last season, then he had better hope that he maintains that relationship. In 13 games in 2018, he rushed for 973 yards on 215 carries, averaging 4.5 yards per rush, scoring 12 touchdowns on the ground. He also caught 55 passes for 497 yards and another touchdown.

“I love playing behind them”, he told the team’s website about running with the Steelers’ offensive line. “I love it even more because I have a relationship with them in the locker room, around the building. I look at them as big brothers and they are incredibly talented. That makes it even sweeter, our relationship and the talent. It’s a blast”.

That bond was surely strengthened through adversity when intended starting running back Le’Veon Bell elected not to report. Bell’s offensive line teammates were the most upset about his absence in terms of their willingness to vocalize their displeasure, so it’s fair to say that they rallied around Conner.

They were also emotionally invested in his success, knowing what he overcame in his life as a cancer survivor and having torn up his knee during his rookie season as well. When he hit the end zone for the first time in the season opener, the genuine affection was evident all around.

Though Marcus Gilbert is gone, the rest of the group—Alejandro Villanueva, Ramon Foster, Maurkice Pouncey, and David DeCastro—remains intact, and all of them are under contract through at least the 2020 season, as is Conner.

JuJu Smith-Schuster Jersey

Antonio Brown just can’t let go of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Brown, currently a wide receiver for the Oakland Raiders, has reeled off a series of social media messages seemingly in response to recent quotes from Pittsburgh’s brass while responding to questions about Brown’s recent departure. On Wednesday, Brown fired a direct message at new Steelers No. 1 receiver, JuJu Smith-Schuster.

Brown posted the following message on social media earlier this week following JuJu’s public support of Ben Roethlisberger, the player Brown has been openly criticizing for months.

It’s clear that Brown has some unresolved issues with the Steelers despite Pittsburgh granting him his request to be traded. Maybe he isn’t happy about not being able to end his career in Pittsburgh. Maybe he’s upset that he has been cast as a villain in Pittsburgh despite putting up “Thank You” billboards in the city shortly after being traded. Maybe he’s still jealous about Smith-Schuster’s rising stardom, not only in Pittsburgh but throughout the country. It was JuJu, not Brown, that took part in the NFL’s celebrated 100th anniversary commercial that aired during Super Bowl LIII. It was JuJu, not Brown, who took home the Steelers’ team MVP award last season.

Regardless of the reason why, it’s become apparent that Brown just can’t publicly let go of his negative feelings towards the Steelers. Instead of embracing the Raiders and his new situation, Brown seems stuck in the past while trying to win a public relations battle that he shouldn’t even be focusing on. Time is the only thing that will ultimately heal the wounds that currently exist between Brown and Pittsburgh, but as long as Brown keeps picking at that wound, it will take longer for the healing process to begin.
While Brown continues to discuss his old team and his old teammates through social media, the Steelers have moved on without him and have set their sights towards the 2019 season. Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, who affectionately referred to Brown as “AB” during his time in Pittsburgh, had clearly moved on with regard to no longer having Brown on his roster when asked about him during this week’s annual owners meeting.
“I think that relationships run their course and the fact that neither one of them are here [Brown and Bell] speaks to that,” said Tomlin, who is beginning his 13th season as Pittsburgh’s head coach. “But I’ll also say we’ve got good players on our team, and no disrespect to those guys or what they’ve been able to do over the course of their careers, particularly in Pittsburgh, but we had a Pro Bowl wideout on our team who’s still on our team from last year. We had a Pro Bowl running back last year who was on our team who’s still on our team. So we’ve got good players, we’ve got good quality players specifically at those positions. Will we need additional plays from other people, certainly, but you have that discussion and make those statements year-in and year-out, and we do.”