First call: Huge local Super Bowl TV ratings; ESPN picks cities for 2 Steelers free agents, places QB and CB in Pittsburgh

We’ve talked a lot about what the Steelers can or can’t do in the trade market and in the draft. But what about free agency?

ESPN has a few guesses. They also have some suggestions for new homes for two current Steelers free agents.

Pittsburgh was one of the best cities in America when it came to Super Bowl ratings. It’s a busy week for local college hoops. And the Penguins are set to be tested in their next game when they travel to Canada.

All this in Wednesday’s “First Call.”


Window shopping

ESPN.com has compiled a list of the best possible destinations for the NFL’s top 50 free agents, according to contributors Jeremy Fowler and Matt Bowen.

Two of them are targeted for the Pittsburgh Steelers. The first is Saints quarterback Jameis Winston.

Fowler said the move made sense because “Winston is a high-profile free-agent option who thrives on play-action.” Theoretically, this would be a good fit in Matt Canada’s offense.

But, as Fowler pointed out, the Saints may want to keep Winston and the Steelers could look elsewhere in the trade market.

Bowen echoed Fowler’s view in terms of Winston’s adjustment with the Steelers saying, “With Winston, we would see the full program under coordinator Matt Canada. This means more movement/movement, game action under the center and full field passing concepts on back throws. Decision making with Winston is always a concern, but his arm talent and second reaction movement ability would fit in well here.

The duo ranked Winston 37th on their list. They have Carolina cornerback Stephon Gilmore ranked 21st. According to Fowler, about “two dozen teams were interested in Gilmore at the trade deadline… But Pittsburgh is also reteaming in that position, and Steelers coaches have long been fans of Gilmore’s game.”

Bowen claimed the Steelers’ defensive scheme would give them the best advantage to sign him.

“With Gilmore’s detailed coverage technique and high-level awareness, he would fit in with many teams in free agency. But we love him in Pittsburgh, where the veteran corner can check receivers in man or game/carry in the Steelers’ multi-zone programs,” Bowen said.

I’m not exactly sold there. Gilmore turns 32 in September. Joe Haden turns 33 in April. If they wanted to keep a veteran corner of that age, why not just keep Haden? It may not be as good as Gilmore, but it should cost a lot less than Gilmore.

As for the current Steelers, ESPN.com has JuJu Smith-Schuster ranked 42nd and goes to the Philadelphia Eagles. They have Terrell Edmunds 50th, who goes to the New York Jets.

I think Smith-Schuster will leave this time. Whether he ends up in Philadelphia, Baltimore or Kansas City is anybody’s guess. Edmunds was a disappointment as a first-round pick. But he’s a sufficiently useful player to keep him. I wouldn’t get into a meaningful bidding war with New York or anyone else for their services. But an offer is worth it.


proud peacock

NBC is touting its ratings for Super Bowl LVI. According to a network press release, the game averaged a total viewership of 112.3 million, including 101.1 million on NBC and Telemundo. The game also became the most streamed NFL game of all time, with an average viewership of 11.2 million viewers.

With those numbers, the Rams’ win over the Cincinnati Bengals was the most-watched television program over the past five seasons. Telemundo also provided the largest audience of NFL games in Spanish ever.

Locally, Cincinnati was the top market with a score of 46.1/84. Columbus, also with a good number of Bengals fans, finished fourth with a count of 45.4/80. Detroit, the former home of Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford’s longtime former home, was second at 45.9/79. Pittsburgh finished third at 45.6/74.

Despite the Rams’ presence in the game, Los Angeles finished outside the top 10 with a 36.7/77 rating.


Toronto time

Now that the quest for Sidney Crosby’s 500th goal is off the to-do list, the Penguins head to Canada to face the Toronto Maple Leafs Thursday night at 7 p.m.

The Leafs sit in third place in the Atlantic Division, five points behind the division-leading Tampa Bay Lightning.

The Maple Leafs are great on special teams. They have the NHL’s best power play at 31.5% and the sixth-best penalty kill in the league at 83.9%.

Toronto is also the best face-off team in the NHL with 56%. At 3.59 goals per game, they are also scoring the fourth-best in hockey. They are also in the top 10 in goal prevention, ranking seventh in goals against per game at 2.70.

Leafs star Auston Matthews has 32 goals. Leon Draisaitl (EDM) and Chris Kreider (NYR) are tied for the league lead with 33. Matthews ranks seventh in total points with 57.


Busy group

The next few days will be active on the local college basketball schedule.

Pitt travels to North Carolina at Chapel Hill at 8 p.m. Wednesday. The Panthers are 13.5-point underdogs. They enter the contest in 11th place in the ACC at 10-16, 5-10 in conference. The Tar Heels are tied for third at 10-4, 18-7 overall.

Duquesne has a doubleheader at UPMC Cooper Field House on Wednesday. The women’s team (9-15, 4-8 Atlantic 10) enters first at 5 p.m. against Richmond. The Spiders are 14-11, 5-7 in conference.

The men’s team (6-17.1-10 A-10) will follow at 7:30 p.m., looking to snap a 10-game losing streak to George Washington (9-14, 5-6).

Robert Morris’ men’s team (7-19, 5-12 Horizon League) play Thursday at home against IUPUI at 7 p.m. (2-22, 0-13).

Pitt’s women’s team (11-13, 2-11) travels to Miami (13-10, 6-7) at 6 p.m. Thursday. The RMU women’s team (10-12, 9-9) isn’t in action again until Friday at 7 p.m. against Wright State (3-15, 2-15).

Tim Benz is a staff writer for Tribune-Review. You can contact Tim at [email protected] or via Twitter. All tweets could be reposted. All emails are subject to publication unless otherwise specified.