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Steelers sign DT Cavon Walker, OT Jarron Jones, S Tyree Kinnel



PITTSBURGH — The Steelers signed a trio of XFL products on Wednesday, supplementing their free-agency signings with two members of the New York Guardians — including the league’s sacks leader — and one alum of the DC Defenders.

The Steelers agreed to contracts with defensive tackle Cavon Walker, offensive tackle Jarron Jones and safety Tyree Kinnel. The positions filled are ones of need for the Steelers, who lost depth at all three spots during free agency with the departures of defensive tackle Javon Hargrave, offensive linemen Ramon Foster and B.J. Finney, and safety Sean Davis.

The Steelers have been open in the past to signing players from alternative football leagues, signing safety Kameron Kelly from the Alliance of American Football prior to last season. Kelly started one game for the Steelers but was released after he was arrested at a local bar late in the season.

In an interview with local beat writers in February, Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said the team would be monitoring and evaluating the XFL for talent.

“The XFL has taken some of the guys we would have signed as futures [contracts],” Colbert said prior to the NFL scouting combine. “We’ll have to do more work on undrafted guys because of that. Traditionally, we sign about 15, but we might have to sign 20-22.”

“We got an initial feel for that group, and we’ll continue to monitor those teams throughout the season.”

Though the XFL season was shortened due to COVID-19, the Steelers saw enough to merit signing the trio of players.

Listed at 6-foot-2, 284 pounds, Walker led the XFL with 4.5 sacks and nine quarterback hits as a member of Guardians. The Maryland product went undrafted in 2018, but spent preseasons with the Bears and the Chiefs. Walker became the second defensive lineman added by the Steelers in free agency, joining former Baltimore DL Chris Wormley, who arrived in Pittsburgh via trade.

Jones, a Notre Dame product, spent training camp or preseason with the Bills, Cowboys, Giants and Seahawks, but couldn’t stick with any of them. He converted from defensive line to offensive line upon joining the Giants, and the much-needed reps as the Guardians’ left tackle should allow the the 6-6, 320-pound offensive tackle to compete for a roster spot in Pittsburgh.

Kinnel was the final signing of the group after his stint with the Defenders. Kinnel had 17 total tackles in the shortened season. After a Michigan career during which he had 170 tackles, two interceptions and one sack, Kinnel signed with the Bengals as a undrafted free agent in 2019 but was cut after training camp.

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Antonio Brown charged in alleged assault of driver in Florida



The state of Florida has levied three formal charges against Antonio Brown for an alleged January assault resulting in the former All-Pro’s arrest.

Brown faces felony burglary conveyance, misdemeanor battery and misdemeanor criminal mischief charges, according to a Broward County court document obtained by ESPN.

Brown turned himself in on Jan. 23 after a delivery truck driver alleged Brown and his trainer assaulted him outside of Brown’s South Florida home two days earlier. The driver was attempting to deliver Brown’s household items from California, according to a criminal complaint.

Brown was then charged with felony burglary with battery, which isn’t included in the state filing from March 20.

The misdemeanor battery charge, however, states Brown was “actually and intentionally striking” the driver against his will. The criminal mischief charge states Brown maliciously injured the driver’s property of $200 or less.

If the coronavirus shuts down criminal proceedings, the state can provide a discovery, witnesses and paperwork to Brown’s defense, which can take its own depositions and witnesses.

It’s possible the state will offer Brown the chance to negotiate a plea deal.

The latest charges will likely be reviewed by the NFL, which has a large case file on Brown dating back to September sexual assault and rape allegations by ex-trainer Britney Taylor. Brown, who missed all but one game last season, has interest in continuing his football career but will undoubtedly face discipline from the league.

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Texans’ Bill O’Brien stands by trade, says DeAndre Hopkins wanted raise



HOUSTON — In his first public comments since trading DeAndre Hopkins, Houston Texans head coach and general manager Bill O’Brien cited the wide receiver’s desire for “a raise” as one of the reasons for his trade to the Arizona Cardinals.

Last month, Houston traded Hopkins, a reigning three-time All-Pro selection, and a 2020 fourth-round pick for running back David Johnson, a 2020 second-round pick and a 2021 fourth-round selection.

“I would say the deal with Arizona was a deal that we felt was in the best interest of our team,” O’Brien said on Friday in a roundtable for Texans season-ticket holders. “DeAndre Hopkins was a great football player here. He made so many plays for us. We love DeAndre Hopkins. But he had three years left on his deal and he wanted a raise. And we weren’t going to be able to go in that direction. We felt like we had a great offer from Arizona that involved picks. That involved an excellent three-down running back who is hungry and humble and just can’t wait to get started. David Johnson is going to be a great addition to our football team.

“There’s a lot of things that go into trades. Lot of thoughts that go in. How much are you going to take on contractually? How much does it take to buy that second-round pick, that No. 40 pick? What type of player are you bringing in? What type of player are you losing and what is in the best interest of the team?”

Texans CEO Cal McNair and executive vice president of football operations Jack Easterby also spoke on the call, both praising the moves made by the team during the NFL’s free-agency period.

In addition to trading Hopkins, the Texans brought back cornerbacks Bradley Roby and Vernon Hargreaves III, kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn and tight end Darren Fells, and signed free agents wide receiver Randall Cobb and safety Eric Murray.

“Our team’s getting better through free agency,” McNair said. “You can’t look at any one move, but you’ve got to put them all together and you really need to look at things over the last 18 months or so to see how the team has changed and how we’ll continue to change.

“It’s important that the focus is the team. And I would think, as a fan, I would be really excited that your leadership of the team can make bold moves and go out and do these things to make the team better.”

O’Brien said multiple times that every decision made by the trio “is made with the team in mind.”

“Capital T capital E capital A capital M,” O’Brien said. “Everything that we do is made with the team in mind. We don’t think about one player. … We think about the future.”

O’Brien said he and Easterby “have been empowered to do certain things, but to make sure that we communicate on a daily basis with Cal” and other members of the organization. O’Brien also pointed out the team’s recent divisional success, having won four of the past five AFC South championships, although that has led to only two playoff victories.

“We’re excited about where we’re at, and we’re excited about where we’re headed,” O’Brien said. “And I know it’s hard right now because there’s a lot of noise out there, but there are a lot of things that are going on in our organization that make us feel very excited about the upcoming season.”

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Kiya Tomlin, wife of Steelers coach, making masks for hospitals



PITTSBURGH — When the COVID-19 pandemic halted plans to finish her spring collection, Kiya Tomlin decided to do something else with her sewing machines.

Tomlin, the wife of Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, is a clothing designer in Pittsburgh, and opted to pass the time during the shelter-in-place order by making cloth masks to donate to local hospitals.

But what started as almost a side project is now a full-blown operation with her and her four team members working to churn out at least 500 masks a week from their homes.

“When I started it, I was like, we couldn’t finish our spring collection, so when we’re sitting at home doing nothing, we can sew this until it’s time to go back to work,” Tomlin told ESPN on Friday. “I didn’t realize how fast and big the demand was going to be where now we have to deliver. Masks can be made. We make masks now.”

Tomlin got the idea three weeks ago when someone sent her a Rachel Maddow tweet that highlighted a hospital in Evansville, Indiana, asking people to sew their own masks and donate them to the hospital. The hospital attached a pattern of a CDC-compliant cloth mask to help people learn how to sew them.

When Tomlin saw the tweet, she contacted the Allegheny Health Network and asked whether it would be interested in cloth masks. When the hospital network said it would gladly accept the cloth masks to give to hospital support staff to free up more protective equipment for the doctors and nurses on the front line, Tomlin got to work. She first used the cotton fabric she had and made a run to Walmart to grab a little more. Then, she and her team members ordered bolts from JOANN Fabrics for the next round, including 400 yards of white cotton for the interior layer of the masks.

JOANN also donated fabric to Tomlin, and she collected another giant bag of donated quilting cotton from a man who had leftovers from his wife and dropped them off at her workshop.

“I didn’t think we would need donations, but we would happily take fabric donations,” Tomlin said.

Initially, Tomlin wanted to make N95 masks, but she quickly realized those had to be specifically manufactured. So she and her team started out making double-walled cotton masks with two pleats and elastic for the ears. Recently, they switched up the design to add a pocket for filters or other protective material like blue shop towels.

“If you don’t have anything anything to put in there, it’s still the basic two-ply cotton mask,” Tomlin said. “I’m not a scientist or have the FDA/CDC testing for shop towels, but I think people are going to start getting creative and we’re going to design a mask that allows them to do that.”

Because they had to wait for the fabric and elastics to arrive, the group made 300 masks the first week. They were on track, though, to hit the 500 mark in the second week.

Tomlin said each mask takes about eight minutes to make on her home sewing machine — equipment that’s a little less efficient than the industrial machines at her workshop. Even so, her goal is to produce 50 masks per day, and she’s even getting help from her daughter when she’s not doing online classes.

“We’re so used to using the industrial machines that it’s a little bit of a transition to go back to using a home machine,” Tomlin said. “When you use an industrial machine, a lot of it is automatic, like the thread clipping or the lifting of the levers with a knee. It’s like a full body experience. As opposed to the home machine where everything is on top of the table.”

While Mike Tomlin works from his home office, the two have a pair of sewing machines set up on the kitchen table and keep the masks stacked on the corner of a counter when they’re not working.

“The kitchen table is my home office,” Kiya Tomlin said. “That is my factory. I cook dinner and get on the machine while I preheat the oven.”

In addition to making drop-off donations for local Pittsburgh hospitals, Tomlin also ships masks to hospitals in Cleveland and New York.

And, with the new government guidance telling all people to wear cloth masks outside, Tomlin plans to start selling packs of masks on her website with the proceeds going to buying more fabric to make the masks.

“To me, I think, ‘Well there’s so many people that sew,’ and then I guess I realized there’s really not so many that sew anymore. I think everybody’s going to make their own, but there’s going to be a large population of people that can’t or don’t want to and would prefer to buy them.”

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