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Ask Alex: Steelers’ Mailbag

Hey everyone. Good to be back for the mailbag. Fire away your offseason/Senior Bowl questions or whatever else is on your mind. As usual, we’ll also have our mailbag Thursday afternoon at 2:30 PM/ET.

To your questions!

jger15: Hey AK — hope the trip went well! Saw that you reported J’Mon Moore met the team. Any other meetings and/or interest you gleaned during your time there? And if not, any players you think the team should do a deeper dive on?

Alex: It was great! Mobile is such a great city. Behind training camp, my highlight of the year. No, don’t have any other official meetings. Steelers tend to meet with guys later in the week, I think. Here are the players they talked to and had fill out questionnaires (which are pretty basic things, for the record).

ILB Mike McCray
OG Sean Welsh
DE Marcus Davenport

Some others I think they’re interested in.

WR James Washington – deep threat with great body control
CBs Levi Wallace/M.J. Stewart/Kameron Kelly – Kelly will go to safety but is a Davis-type where he’s played both. Wallace has some size, Stewart has physicality and versatility
OLB Uchenna Nwosu – may be a better fit in a 4-3 but I think he can play on the edge
ILB Darius Leonard – athletic player from a small school

Haole: If you were owner/GM, given the current cap situation and roster, what’s the most you’d be willing to pay to lock up Le’Veon for the next few years?

Alex: That’s a really hard question because it’s so complicated. It isn’t just about the broad average yearly value. The bigger sticking point, as it’s been reported, is the guaranteed. The signing bonus, the amount of dead money you might have in Year Three if Bell begins to break down and his talent justify the cost.

And you have to fit all of that into the big-picture of the cap. Really tricky stuff and a lot of it goes over my head, to be honest. I thought what the Steelers offered last year was fair but I recognize two things about that.

1. That got leaked to make Bell look greedy for turning it down
2. There’s no doubt Bell will get his asking price if/when he hits the open market. And that’s what he wants to value himself at.

NickSteelerFan: Hey Alex, welcome home!!!
Could you see Dmitri Flowers developing into a Delanie Walker type player as a TE prospect, and do you think the Steelers could find space for him and Rosie on the same roster?
P.S. Rosie looked good in short yardage running the ball, might they let him do it more this year? 5’11” 250lbs and he plays angry, I would want to tackle him!!!

Alex: I thought Flowers looked good at Mobile. Definitely not just a one-dimensional blocker. But a Delanie Walker type is a big stretch. He’s not going to be a true tight end the way Walker can be. Walker has better length, isn’t as squatty and bigger hands. Simply more athletic too – Walker was a WR type coming out, Flowers is more of an H-Back.

Just like Nix found his way onto the team with Will Johnson, Flowers would have to be a monster on special teams. Not going to make it based on what he can do offensively.

ilamarca: Is the XFLs biggest competition the NFL or the NCAA? XFL will pay 18 year olds straight out of HS, CFB won’t. Both could end up in the pros after 2 years but since that is no guarantee freshmen may prefer to take XFL money early on.

Alex: It’s biggest competition is itself. We’ve seen these leagues crumble before because of their own mistakes, poor marketing, poor financial decisions. And this XFL league sounds a lot tamer than it was before so I don’t know what kind of market it’s going to bring in, except for the hardcore NFL boycotters.

But to really answer the question, it’s the NFL. I don’t see many college kids going straight to that league. Who is doing all that recruiting in the XFL? Who is going to be more convincing than Nick Saban? Sure, you might get a couple of guys who go that route, just as high school kids go to Europe instead of college, but they’ll be in the minority. They’ll recognize that even if the XFL has practice squaders from the NFL, facing a fully developed 27 year old player is not good for an 18 year old’s progression.

i58: Hey Alex, I know that everyone is ready to kiss Hubbard goodbye (and he certainly deserves to get paid), but what do you think of the idea of signing him long term and then trading Gilbert – he’s got to have decent value? Hubbard might be a slight downgrade talent wise, but he’s younger and healthier.

Alex: I get that question a lot but I don’t know why it’s so popular. Don’t forget how good Gilbert is. He’s a top five tackle when healthy. Hubbard had a great year and was a valuable piece to the team but we’ve seen his ceiling. His lack of size and length still creates a problem Gilbert simply doesn’t have. Gilbert is healthy now and I’m not going to let 2 1/2 years of age trade him away.

This is no different than the argument to trade Pouncey (because he was “injury prone”) and make Cody Wallace the starter. Gotta look at the big picture and not just what happened last year.

CP72: Alex,
Do you see the Steelers maybe adding some situational pass rushers? I watch Jacksonville bring in Fowler and wonder if we could/should do more of that.

Alex: I don’t mean to get bogged down in semantics but I don’t see them as “situational” pass rushers. That’s generally not how the Steelers operate. When they rotate, it’s by series or when a guy gets gassed on a long drive. There is no Cam Wake who comes in on third and long.

The Steelers goal is to find two pass rushers who essentially never come off the field. Whether that is a good or bad idea is a different story. But beyond that, yes, they need to add depth there. You can’t have enough pass rushers on the edge. So I am looking for them to – and expect – add at least another edge player.

Grant Humphrey: Hey Alex,
What was your favorite part of your trip and why? Which prospects did you enjoy watching the most?

Alex: That’s a tough one, Grant. It’s all a ton of fun. But the All-22 film room they have in the main hotel is really cool. With the clicker, a big projection screen, getting to see it from the coaches angle. Learn more from watching 90 minutes of that than you do even throughout the entire practice.

It’s just a unique environment. Few other places with coaches and NFL personnel so accessible. You have John Harbaugh signing autographs for fans as practiced ended. Andy Reid sitting in the bleachers with scouts. Scouts talking to players for informal interviews in the lobby. I passed Mike Mayock outside walking to get some dinner (I said hi – nearly fainted). You just don’t get that anywhere else.

Trevor: The salary cap is set to increase by about 6.5% from 2017 to 2018. If you increase the Steelers offer to Bell from last year by 6.5% that would be just under 1M per year increase in annual value. Could that be the reason there’s some optimism about getting a deal done?

Alex: Maybe. I think it’s Bell just trying to put on a good face after all the negativity surrounding his contract, especially the “retirement” quotes that came out right before the Jaguars game. Yes, the cap goes up. But so does everything else.

The market goes up too as the cap increases and each player tries to “one up” what the previous guy got. Tenders go up. I think rookie salaries go up? So that increase gets eaten up by everything else and I think makes what you’re suggesting a moot point overall.

Bill Sechrengost: Alex, do you think Chickillo is someone who could start for another team or do you see him as a backup player who plays special teams well? I’m sure he’ll be with the Steelers one more year, but I’m wondering if he’ll go onto greener pastures or be a career backup?

Alex: That’s a good question Bill. Chickillo is a tougher guy to figure out. He is a varied pass rusher, has strength, holds his own vs the run, and did a great job transforming his body in a 275 pound defensive end to a 250 pound outside linebacker who has to learn to play backwards. But his opportunities have been limited by other high-capital draft picks and he seemed to fade down the stretch (three sacks in first three weeks, none the rest of the year).

In a more rotational-friendly defense, he can earn playing time. As a full-time starter? Probably not.

SkoolHouseRoxx: What up, Young Alex!! If you watch the Dragon Ball Z/ Super series you know a little about the fusion technique. If you don’t it’s the fusion of fighters to make one bad mother! If you could fuse 2 players currently on the Steelers’ defense to make the ultimate player, who would it be and why? Same with offense!

Alex: Hey SHR! Been a big DBZ fan since I was a kid. Watched some of the Super series, the Frieza battle, and then tuned out. Caught this weekend’s episode and thought it was pretty meh with Dark Goku. But I dig the question.

Definitely combining Dupree and Chickillo. Dupree’s top-level athleticism and frame with Chick’s IQ and pass rush plan. Do that and you have one of the best pass rushers in football.

Offense…hmm. Gonna have fun with this one. All of Le’Veon Bell’s traits with Darrius Heyward-Bey’s speed. Bell’s elite ability with 4.3 speed? My heart is going to stop just thinking about it. I’d pay Bell $20 million a year for that.

Marcel Chris Chauvet: Welcome home Alex. Hope you enjoyed your trip. On paper, there were extremely high hopes for the group of prospects that were set to attend the Senior Bowl this year. Did you feel like the overall talent in Mobile met, exceeded, or underwhelmed your expectations?

Alex: Probably a little underwhelming. Some of that has to do with all the players who pulled out. Phil Savage said 30 of them did either by their own choice or because of medical, an all-time high in Senior Bowl history. And then a couple guys got hurt during the week to water things down even more.

But still, it’s a good class and as strong at QB as you’re going to see in awhile. Mayfield and Allen are top ten picks, maybe (probably?) even higher. That’s uncommon.

Steelers12: Hey Alex what are the odds of the Steelers double dipping for pass rushers in the draft?

Alex: I consider it slim. I definitely want one but too many other needs to take two, knowing still Watt and Dupree are going to dominate the snap count. You still have Chickillo, the rookie, and a healthy Keion Adams. Add a UDFA to round out the group with a guy like Farrington Huguein, who was intriguing to watch last year in camp. Moats can come back to camp too.

Tayln Scarbrough: What do you think of Ronnie Harrison from Bama? I really like him and think he would be fantastic matchup with Sean Davis.

Alex: Honestly haven’t watched him yet, Tayln. My draft focus has been on the Senior Bowl players. One underclassmen safety on my radar is Texas’ DeShone Elliott. Nine interceptions, six of them last year. Give me that playmaking FS, please.

Sdale: Alex, were there any Safeties or ILB at the Senior Bowl that could contribute on defense in year 1?

Alex: Inside linebacker is going to be tougher because that group was one of the weakest there. Fred Warner would be the name to hone in on, Sdale.

Safeties, yeah, there were several. Kyzir White, Trayvon Henderson, Kameron Kelly, all guys who I think can make an impact.

capehouse: 

Alex, is the Depot crew gonna do some defensive player film rooms from the Jags game? Heyward, Dupree, Vince, etc… These guys got their butt kicked, and I’ve been dying to see some breakdowns. I know you’ve been busy with the Senior Bowl and now it’s prospect time, so just wondering if that ship has sailed.

Also, Lawerence Timmons is expected to be released, according to cbs sports anyway. Seems like a match made in heaven. You think there’s a chance he’s back in the black and gold?

Alex: I don’t think we’re going to write about it much more. We spent a good deal of time to it in the aftermath. Heck, I had a video that straight up said the Steelers got their butt kicked. 

So I think we spent enough time on it. Regarding Timmons, I think it would make sense. Have to see how well he played this year though. He’s not going to be the same Timmons forever. May see if he sits in free agency for awhile, look to address the position in the draft and if you aren’t successful there, think about Law Dog.


That’s all for today. Thank you everyone for showing up on short notice. Like I said, we’ll do this again on Thursday.

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