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How Steelers’ Najee Harris and family are helping out homeless shelter where they once lived

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The first thing Najee Harris wanted to replace was the carpet.

It was once blue-green. But the short-looped industrial weave that covered the floors at the Greater Richmond (California) Interfaith Program (GRIP) had faded into a stained amalgamation from shoe prints of more than 20 years, traces of countless families looking for a fresh start.

The shoes of Harris, his mom and his four older siblings walked over that carpet when they arrived at the Richmond shelter more than a decade ago. This was the last of several shelters the Pittsburgh Steelers rookie running back and his family stayed in during his childhood, a time when they faced multiple evictions and a stint living in a van at Golden Gate Park.

When he went back to the shelter for a visit between helping Alabama win the national championship in January and becoming the No. 24 overall pick of the NFL draft in April, Harris noticed the carpet. He made a mental note to change it when he got the chance.

A few months later, thanks to a partnership between his foundation and Lowe’s, Harris helped GRIP replace the carpet with a dark hardwood tile throughout the 12,000 square foot, two-story building.

And he didn’t stop there.

While Harris, 23, watched through a video call from the Steelers facility last month, nearly 100 volunteers, including his family, descended on GRIP to start fulfilling the wish list Harris and his mother, Tianna Hicks, compiled from their experience living in the shelter and through meetings with the organization over the summer.

The additions included new appliances, a computer, a grill, a rock wall, playground, landscaping, pavers in the parking lot and a fresh coat of light blue-gray paint that looks almost iridescent when the light catches it.

“We have people that donate money, but having Najee is different,” said Siu Laulea, who was the case manager for Harris’ family during their stay at GRIP. “He wanted to upgrade the place. … [The residents] feel like it’s more like a home. It’s not like a facility, because of the color of the floor we have. And with a different color paint, it’s just a warm feeling. The vibe we do get from the residents, it’s a different vibe.

“It’s more like a happy vibe.”

‘You’ve got to look at the bigger picture’

Harris was furious with Marcus Malu.

A trusted friend, Malu was also Harris’ trainer, and he ran a gym in the Antioch community where Harris went to high school.

Like Harris, Malu, an Antioch native, knew what it was like growing up in difficult circumstances.

One day around his sophomore year, Harris overheard two classmates talking about him and how he lived in shelters growing up.

He confronted them and asked how they knew. Then, he went to Malu.

Malu told him he shared part of Harris’ story at a strength and conditioning banquet the day before. He thought Harris’ story could help inspire the students.

​​”‘Man, I’m not happy with that,'” Malu remembers Harris telling him. “I said, ‘Listen, cut me off if you need to, or be mad if you have to. But sooner or later, you’re going to have to tell your story. It’s part of who you are.'”

Harris didn’t speak to Malu the next two weeks. Then, he walked back into Malu’s gym and sat down wordlessly. He didn’t have to say anything for Malu to know Harris had forgiven him.

“I was mad as hell at him, but I didn’t understand it,” Harris said. “I didn’t understand my story, I guess, like that. I guess they call it a testimony. I didn’t understand how it would help other people. I didn’t get the bigger picture at that time. I thank him for that though. He helped me out with opening up.”

Harris is starting to understand how to impact change, naming his newly formed non-profit organization Da’ Bigger Picture Foundation after realizing little things can add up to make a difference.

“If all of us help each other out somehow, then we all can just try to make a change into something,” Harris said. “It took me all these years to really figure that out, so I wanted to help somebody else, because people think that success or whatever you want, prosperity, anything, just happens like that.

“It’s not really that simple. You’ve got to look at the bigger picture.”

It’s a message Hicks started instilling in Harris and his siblings during their formative years spent in temporary housing.

Harris and his family worked at soup kitchens, Christmas toy drives and Special Olympics events.

“I may have been there in line myself, but I might’ve got on the other side of the table and helped pass out food as well,” Hicks said. “I’ve done a few things throughout their lives, just to show them that giving back is as important as receiving.”

‘Such a philanthropist’

On one of the biggest days of his life, Harris was worried about dessert.

Not for him, but for the group of kids he was preparing to feed at a pre-draft party at GRIP before the first round began on April 29.

The night before, Harris was restless; he couldn’t sleep. He grew concerned there wouldn’t be enough food.

The next morning, he realized he might be short on dessert.

“He wanted to make sure that those kids had everything: dessert, food,” Hicks said. “He was worried about dessert. He was calling around asking for someone to go find dessert so they can have sweets afterwards.”

Harris’ story of homelessness has been told at every single stop of his career. And when the local news channels caught wind of the pre-draft party at GRIP, the cycle started over again.

But with every round of renewed interest comes another opportunity to inspire or provide for one more person.

Donations poured into GRIP after Harris highlighted the organization during the draft party, helping them to not only continue providing shelter to families in the area, but also serve hot meals to the community and offer programs that assist with obtaining legal documents or referrals for drug and alcohol treatment.

“Before this all started, we were in the negative as a non-profit,” said Nicole Jones, GRIP’s executive assistant. “People saw on the news and started coming in. Here’s a check here, here’s a check here. … With those monies, we’re able to keep afloat. Keep payroll going with the staff, keep the doors open and keep the programs going.”

While Harris helped with a lot of the behind-the-scenes planning for the draft day party, Hicks has been instrumental in continuing the work and mission of the Da’ Bigger Picture Foundation.

“It’s very rewarding, and it’ll make you feel very empowered to know that I can do something to change things,” Hicks said. “It makes a big difference now, because you don’t speak when you’re homeless. You’re too focused on trying to make sure you have a place to stay that night for your family. Trying to make sure you can feed them that evening. How am I going to get to school, to work, tomorrow?

“So, being able now to come back and say, ‘These are some things that I know these families are going to need,’ it changes things. That’s why I want to tackle this so much more, because I see differently now.”

In the midst of his rookie season, Harris — whose Steelers host the Chicago Bears on Monday night (8:15 p.m., ESPN) — hasn’t decided what project he wants to tackle next, or when.

“He’s such a philanthropist, and you can just see those motors running in his head,” Jones said. “He wants to do this, he wants to do that. I’m like, ‘wait, slow down. Anything that you want to do, we’re going to let you do. But slow down, we’ve got to do one at a time.'”

Once, Harris even asked if he could purchase the GRIP building to help out. Jones laughed and told him they already owned the building. So he came back with another idea.

“‘Well what if I wanted to buy a building and open up another shelter?,'” Jones remembers Harris asking her. “I said, ‘You can do that, too.'”

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If Ben Roethlisberger retires, who’s the next Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback? – Pittsburgh Steelers Blog

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PITTSBURGH — As soon as the 2020 season finished, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger knew he wanted another shot.

With the Steelers’ season-ending skid and playoff debacle against the Cleveland Browns fresh in his mind, Roethlisberger made it known he was ready to attempt another Super Bowl run. After discussions, the Steelers determined they wanted that too, but not at Roethlisberger’s $41.25 million cap hit.

The two sides negotiated and came to a deal in March: Roethlisberger reduced his pay by $5 million for a $14 million salary in 2021 and added four voidable years to his deal, freeing up $15 million in cap space for the 2021 season.

And speaking in August, team CEO and President Art Rooney II didn’t rule out a scenario where Roethlisberger played beyond the 2021 season.

“It’s not written in stone that this is his last year,” Rooney told a small group of reporters at Steelers camp. “We’re aware this could be Ben’s last year. We hope it’s a great one. That’s as far as we can go with it right now. Obviously, if this is his last year, then next year we’ll be making decisions on a quarterback, and we’ll address it as the time comes up.”

But with six games left in the regular season, the 39-year-old quarterback is telling former teammates and some within the organization that he expects this to be his final season, league sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter. The Steelers are 6-8-1 in their last 15 games including playoffs since starting 11-0 in 2020.

That leaves the Steelers without a clear path forward at quarterback — something they delayed while the organization attempted to build a supporting cast for Roethlisberger’s final run.

Who might the Steelers turn to under center? There isn’t an obvious choice, but there are plenty of options.

On the Steelers roster

Rudolph is the only quarterback currently on the roster with a contract through 2022. The Steelers believed he had first-round talent when they drafted him in 2018, but that hasn’t come to fruition in the four years since. Rudolph split the starting job with former UDFA Devlin “Duck” Hodges in 2019 after Roethlisberger went down with a season-ending elbow injury. The Steelers brought in Matt Canada in 2020, initially as a quarterbacks coach to further help develop Rudolph. When Canada was elevated to offensive coordinator in 2021, the Steelers hired veteran quarterbacks coach Mike Sullivan to lead the position.

Rudolph started one game for the Steelers this season, filling in against the Detroit Lions after Roethlisberger tested positive for COVID-19. Afterward, Mike Tomlin said Rudolph “gave us a chance to win,” but he was inconsistent and often threw off-target and high. Rudolph is expected to remain with the organization in 2022 and have an opportunity to compete for the job. The Steelers also have former first-round pick Haskins on the current roster, though he couldn’t beat out Rudolph for the No. 2 spot through the preseason and training camp. He’s been inactive for all but one game this season. Sullivan praised Haskins for his development and attention to detail during practices, but he hasn’t had the opportunity to show growth in a game situation. During the preseason, Haskins had bright moments, but in his lone start, the preseason finale against the Panthers, he completed 9 of 16 attempts for 108 yards, a touchdown and an interception.

NFL draft

The Steelers are currently projected to have the No. 13 overall pick, and according to ESPN’s FPI, they have a 28.6% chance to have a top-10 pick. This year’s quarterback class is underwhelming. Patriots quarterback Mac Jones stands out from the current rookie class, but while the rest of the group has experienced growing pains, it’s still much stronger than the next group up. If the Steelers added a first-round quarterback to the room, they would be setting up for a longer-term rebuild — something coach Mike Tomlin might not want to do after more than a decade of working with Roethlisberger. But, the Steelers take pride in homegrown talent, and there’s at least one option that checks all the boxes.

The Steelers let Pittsburgh native and Pitt quarterback Dan Marino get away in the 1983 draft, and it kept them from having a solid succession plan after Terry Bradshaw. Now, they could make a move to keep Pickett in town. A Heisman contender and ACC Player of the Year, Pickett helped lead the Panthers to the ACC Championship game in his fifth season, and he threw for over 4,000 yards, 40 touchdowns and seven interceptions. And, his 79 career touchdowns passes tie him for first in school history Marino. Pickett is emerging as the Steelers’ best option in this class, but it’s not a sure thing they can move up high enough to get him.

Howell, with a career 10,078 passing yards and 91 touchdown passes to go with 1,006 rushing yards and 17 rushing touchdowns, is a better version of Baker Mayfield, and Willis has a strong arm along with his mobility. Corral also may go too high for the Steelers to make a play, but he’s one of the best quarterbacks in the class with a 68 completion percentage for 3,339 yards and 20 touchdowns and four interceptions. He also rushed for 597 yards and 11 TDs.

Veteran quarterbacks

The Steelers prefer to draft and develop, but it’s not out of the question to think they could make a push for a veteran quarterback. The Steelers already have some key pieces entering the 2022 season that keep the team from undergoing a complete rebuild: T.J. Watt, Najee Harris, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Diontae Johnson, Cameron Heyward and Pat Freiermuth. The offensive line needs help in the offseason, and the Steelers will have to discuss big-ticket extensions for Fitzpatrick and Johnson, but the team could avoid a large-scale rebuild if they land a veteran quarterback. And, they have the money to do it. Roethlisberger’s voided contract carries a $10.3 million cap hit in 2022, but they’re projected to have about $45 million in 2022 cap space, according to OverTheCap and Spotrac. That number could rise even more with the new TV deals expected to push the salary cap even higher. The Steelers could put together a blockbuster trade to acquire a big name or settle for a middle-of-the-road free agent option and use their 2022 draft capital and cap space to bolster the offensive and defensive lines and secondary.

Trade targets

Amounts listed are the cap hits the Steelers would incur if they acquired the player in either a pre-June 1 trade or a post-June 1 trade. Figures are courtesy of OverTheCap.com:

  • Aaron Rodgers, Packers, pre-June 1 trade: $19.3 million cap hit; post-June 1 trade: $26.9 million cap hit

  • Russell Wilson, Seahawks, pre-June 1: $11 million cap hit; post-June 1: $24 million cap hit

  • Jimmy Garoppolo, 49ers, pre-June 1: $25.6 million cap hit; post-June 1: $25.6 million cap hit

  • Derek Carr, Raiders, pre-June 1: $19.9 million cap hit; post-June 1: $19.9 million cap hit

  • Kirk Cousins, Vikings, pre-June 1: $35 million cap hit; post-June 1: $35 million cap hit

  • Deshaun Watson, Texans, pre-June 1: $24.2 million cap hit; post-June 1: $35 million cap hit, plus three years left on his contract

Outside of Watson, these options essentially have one year left on their current deals. Given his upside, cost and team’s current trajectory, Wilson, who is under contract through 2023, makes the most sense. He was unhappy prior to the season and Schefter reported Wilson would consider a trade to the Cowboys, Saints, Raiders or Bears. The Seahawks eventually smoothed things over but at 3-8 and a stint on injured reserve, Wilson’s season hasn’t gone according to plan and he could ask for a trade.

Like Wilson, Rodgers was also unhappy with his situation, but the Packers reworked his deal and voided the 2023 year, making 2022 the final year of his contract. However, Rodgers carries a $46.1 million charge against the Packers’ salary cap in 2022, guaranteeing the team would either have to move on from him or sign him to another extension. If another team trades for him, they would almost certainly rework his contract and give him new money and an extension. This season, his team is an NFC Super Bowl favorite, and he’s in the midst of another MVP-caliber season. But, never say never. Rodgers and Tomlin did a little flirting in the weeks around the Steelers Week 4 game against the Packers, with each complimenting the other in news conferences and smiling at each other when Tomlin called a timeout to keep Rodgers from quick-snapping on the Steelers’ defense. Rodgers also talked about his appreciation for Pittsburgh on Pat McAfee Show, further raising eyebrows. Still, Rodgers seems more content than he did a few months ago, making it less likely he winds up in black and gold.

Garappolo, who began his career as a backup in New England, became a lame duck quarterback the minute the San Francisco 49ers drafted Trey Lance No.3 overall in May. He’s not as flashy as Rodgers or Wilson, but he’ll likely have a lower asking price than the top-tier options. Since helping the 49ers to Super Bowl in 2019 with 27 touchdowns to 13 interceptions, Garoppolo has been average at best. In an injury-shortened 2020 season, he had seven touchdowns to five interceptions, and this season, he has 13 touchdowns to six interceptions. Lance is the obvious future in San Francisco, making Garoppolo a prime trade target.

Two other tradeable veteran quarterbacks to keep an eye on are Carr and Cousins, who both have one year left on their deals. Both the Raiders and the Vikings appear at a crossroads with their respective quarterbacks and coaching staffs. The Raiders (6-5) already fired Jon Guden, while Vikings coach Mike Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman are approaching the hot seat with the Vikings sitting at 5-6. If ownership decides to start fresh in either situation, the Steelers could make a play for Cousins or Carr, although Cousins is the most expensive of the bunch.

And, there’s Watson. He hasn’t played a game this season and has told the Houston Texans he intends never to play for them again, and he would like to be traded. He also faces 22 civil lawsuits by women who accuse him of sexual assault and inappropriate behavior. A no-trade clause allows him control over a destination, if the Texans are willing to trade him. Despite a flurry of activity before the trade deadline, Watson stayed put. But, until the civil cases are resolved, Watson comes with numerous unknowns, including the possibility of NFL discipline pending the outcome of the league’s investigation.

Free agents

Winston is the most viable longer-term solution for the Steelers among their free-agent options. Prior to his injury in New Orleans, Winston appeared poised to get his career back on track. In seven appearances, Winston threw 14 touchdowns to three interceptions, completing 59% of his passes. The Steelers had an opportunity to sign Winston when he became a free agent in 2020, but general manager Kevin Colbert said in April 2020 the team didn’t make any offers to any veteran quarterbacks, and Winston ultimately went to the Saints.

Dalton and Bridgewater are just OK options, and at best, would compete with Rudolph for the starting job as a band-aid until a stronger quarterback draft class materializes.

Dark horses

Like the free-agent class, these options are most likely temporary fixes — but intriguing options. Trubisky, a former first-round pick by the Chicago Bears, is backing up Josh Allen in Buffalo on a one-year deal. His best season came in 2018 when he threw 24 touchdowns to 12 interceptions, and while his tenure as the second-overall pick was disappointing, he has potential to rejuvenate his career in the right circumstance.

Once Washington’s fourth-string quarterback, Heinicke has been pretty solid as the Washington Football Team’s starter after Ryan Fitzpatrick went down. He even helped his team overtake a Tom Brady-led Tampa Bay Buccaneers team in Week 10. He’s under contract in 2022. Washington isn’t likely to part with him, but he’s worth keeping an eye on.

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Philadelphia Eagles QB Jalen Hurts (ankle) a game-time decision vs. New York Jets, sources say

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PHILADELPHIA — The Philadelphia Eagles want to see how quarterback Jalen Hurts‘ injured ankle is feeling before making a final decision about his status for Sunday’s game against the New York Jets, sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter on Saturday.

If Hurts is unable to go, Gardner Minshew would make his first start for Philadelphia since being acquired in a trade from the Jacksonville Jaguars in August.

Minshew got the lions’ share of snaps during practice on Thursday and Friday.

Hurts sprained his ankle in the second half against the New York Giants when he was stepped on. He finished the game but was limping noticeably at times.

Earlier this week, Hurts declared that he would be “ready to go” for the Jets game.

“You guys obviously know I’m dealing with a little something, but it’s business as usual,” he said.

Hurts is expected to remain the Eagles starter regardless of how Minshew plays. He has completed 60.1% of his passes through 12 games for 2,435 yards with 13 touchdowns and eight interceptions while racking up 695 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground. Hurts is coming off arguably his worst start as a pro, throwing a career-high three interceptions in a 13-7 loss to the Giants.

The Eagles acquired Minshew for a conditional 2022 sixth-round pick in late August. He has appeared in one game this season, going 2-for-2 for 11 yards in the closing minutes of a blowout win over the Detroit Lions. Minshew, 25, started 24 games over two seasons in Jacksonville, completing 62.9% of his throws for 5,530 yards with 37 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.

“I feel confident with either guy — either of the guys if they have to go play the way they prepared all week and went about their business,” Eagles coach Nick Sirianni said earlier this week.

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Las Vegas Raiders rule TE Darren Waller out vs. Washington

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HENDERSON, Nev. — Las Vegas Raiders Pro Bowl tight end Darren Waller has been downgraded to out for Sunday’s home game against the Washington Football Team after being listed as doubtful on Friday.

Waller, who set a franchise record with 107 catches last season, suffered injuries to his back and left knee in Las Vegas’ 36-33 overtime win at the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving and missed the second half of that game. He did not practice this week. His 53 catches for 643 yards rank second on the Raiders and his two TD catches are tied for third.

It will be the second game Waller will miss this season as an ankle injury kept him out of the Raiders’ Week 7 win against the Philadelphia Eagles. In that game, tight end Foster Moreau stepped up with six catches for 60 yards with an 18-yard touchdown.

“We’ve kind of gone through this twice,” Raiders interim coach Rich Bisaccia said Friday, before Waller was ruled out. “We’ve gone through it when we didn’t have him for a game and certainly Foster stepped up in the plan that [offensive coordinator] Greg [Olson] had put together.

“And then we lost Darren in the second quarter last week and we were still productive as the game went on and Greg made some really good adjustments that way as well, personnel-wise, in the things that we did. So, again, we are prepared to do that if we have to this week.”

A fourth-round pick of the Raiders in 2019 out of LSU who missed three games of his rookie season because of a torn ACL, Moreau has 10 touchdown catches in 40 career games. He has 12 catches for 135 yards and three TDs this season.

Moreau said he relished the opportunity to step in for Waller and also was asked about the coaching change at his alma mater. After a pair of lengthy pregnant pauses, Moreau said, “My mom always said, If you don’t have anything nice to say, you should probably just keep it to yourself. Yeah, I don’t know anything about Brian Kelly, truthfully, I know he’s a family-oriented man and I’m excited for the opportunity he has.

“Fit’s always important. Chemistry’s always important. The more you can be around people, the more you can understand where they come from. Obviously, Coach O [Ed Orgeron] knew just about every inch of Louisiana and anything in that soil and that was very meaningful to the state, obviously to the university, and he was not only an incredible coach but ambassador for football in southeast Louisiana.”

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