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Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

Welcome back to the mailbag and thank you for being part of it. I am not much of a basketball fan. But the Cavs are screwing things up as badly as any organization can. Kyrie for IT3 and then trade Thomas on the cheap at the deadline? Somehow, not shocking an owner who writes a butthurt letter in Comic Sans can tank a Champion contender.

To your questions!

mem359: Any chance that Dupree would be moved to ILB? I’m thinking of Timmons, who was originally an OLB, and how he struggled with the Steelers when he had to play in that position.

Alex: No. I don’t think it fixes either spot. You’re making someone who doesn’t play ILB play inside and then you have to find another edge rusher as a top priority, fully knowing Dupree may not work out inside either. I don’t like moving guys around to fix one spot and open up another.

I’m much more open to solving the problem directly. Like bringing in Timmons and spending a Day two draft pick on the position.

Steelers12: Hey Alex if you could take one offensive player and one defensive player from each of the Super participants who would the 4 individuals be and why?

Alex: Hmm, good question. For the Eagles…

Offense: Zach Ertz – give me that clear-cut, established #1 tight end who can do it all.
Defense: Malcolm Jenkins – a great safety. Hard hitter, impact player. Buckeye.

Patriots…

Offense: James White – who like Bell, would thrive in an offense that moves their backs around and gets them involved in the passing game as essentially another wide receiver (Gronk is the obvious answer but I’ll be a little more creative in this one)

Defense: Patrick Chung – one of the top SSs in the game. Box guy only but that’s where Sean Davis lines up most of the time anyway. True option to take away the top tight ends.

falconsaftey43: When can we expect your yearly, extremely practical Steelers’ FA target list? What positions do you think are in play? I’d say ILB (starter/depth) Safety (starter?) NT (depth) and RB (greatly affected by Bell)

Alex: I haven’t spent much time researching it yet. I think, especially for the Steelers, free agency is driven by talent and value. The draft is more about need because your pool and range of options are much bigger.

But all three you suggested are possible. Probably not a starter ILB or safety but depth. Then find starters in the draft. Nose tackle makes a lot of sense. I’ll have a better layout of FA as we get closer.

PghSDF: If the Steelers draft a RB on Day 2, does that send a message to Bell about how they value him?

Alex: Yeah, I guess. But it depends on what the contract situation is come that point. I expect Bell to have been tagged with the (probably unlikely) goal of working out a long-term deal later in the summer. I’m not expecting them to take a RB that high though. With the tag, he’s coming back, and he’s going to be the guy.

Phil Brenneman II: 

Alex I am new into watching film this year on prospects and wanted your thoughts on Fred Warner if you watched his tape. I came away thinking there is a possibility teams might see him as a safety given how smooth he appears out in space and how weak (at least in my estimation) he seems closer to the line when playing the run. Any chance of that or do I still have some things to learn lol.

I know the Steelers talked to him so if you don’t think there is a chance at safety for him do you see him being someone who can start beside Williams? Our problems were against the run and this dude gets washed out of plays quite a bit.

Alex: I watched Warner at the Senior Bowl but Josh did the report on him. Safety, eh, I don’t think it’s likely. He’s light but not that light. He’s 235 pounds. The height makes him lanky. We’re not talking about a Dorian O’Daniel at 215 who is a true tweener.

Yeah, I think he fits as the Mack linebacker for his ability to process and the athleticism he has to cover. But just like Ryan Shazier, it’s all about hand use in the run game. That’s what will define those types of guys. Shazier didn’t become an All-Star until he knew how to work off blocks, not just try to go around and lose his run fit. I’m seeing some of the same issues in Tremaine Edmunds, who is cut from a similar cloth as Warner/Shazier.

JohnB: With the Steelers FO bucking some trends lately (taking a CB in the 1st, going after a FA like Haden). What trend would you like to see us go the other way on this offseason?

Alex: That’s a really good question, John. Does not investing in return men count? Because they haven’t done that and I’ve old-man griped about it every chance I get.

More small school players? Obviously, there’s Hargrave, but the Steelers draft fewer kids FCS and below than pretty much any franchise in the NFL.

I’ve mentioned their philosophy of finding only 2 OLBs who play 90% of the time and why that might need changing. Because guys get worn down by game/season end. But I get why it’s hard to find two of those, let alone three, who need to set the edge/rush/cover/etc.

I guess there’s nothing I’m super passionate about in terms of trends.

MP34: Alex: Has anyone ever asked YOU? What does the future hold for you? Journalism (newspaper, blogging, etc), football: scouting, sports management? You’re young, keep your options open!

Alex: The future is here at Steelers Depot. My commitment is to make this site as good as we can make it, even better than what it is right now (and I think it’s really good). That’s my sole focus, to be honest.

Matt Manzo: Hey Alex! Thanks for keeping the off season exciting!
How quickly do you think we’ll hire a DB coach?

Alex: Eh, we’ll see. It’s hard to judge these things. But I imagine in a week or so. Coaching landscape is starting to settle down, most hires have been made, new coaching staffs filling out. Fewer options helps speed things up.

BurghInPhilly: Did A. Burns and S. Davis regress, stay the same, or improve in 2017? On a scale 1-10 (10 being All-Pro) what do you see as their potential?

Alex: That’s a really good (and important!) question. I’m going to spend a chunk of the summer focusing on those two specifically to really figure that out. I don’t think there was regression. Not progressing the way they should and regressing are two different things. I think for both, there were small steps forward. Certainly not what they were expected to do, to be clear, but we have to remember all the struggles they had in their rookie years too.

I thought for both, there were bigger pockets of impact plays. Davis created more splash and while Burns INT numbers went down, his overall impact went up. He made a couple of great plays in the Jaguars game.

The problem for both is maddening inconsistency. Especially Burns. That’s where they need to clean things up.

COSteel: Saw a mock (NFL, I think) where the Steelers drafted Evans (Ala) and Allen (PSU) in first two rounds. If this happened, what would your initial reaction be?

Alex: I’m cool with Evans. Allen…not so much. He’s a SS, a box guy, and my focus, at least early, is on a free safety and playmaker.

SteelDodo: 

Hi Alex,
I know that you’re a strong believer that we should keep Bell. If you’re working on a long term deal, at what point would you say that his salary demands are unreasonable and let him walk? $16mil/year?

Also, how much would the drop off be in your mind if we let Bell walk this year then drafted a RB in the first round? Last year, Hightower got ~$10million. If we spent ten million on a veteran like him then we would still have several million left over AND our defense will be much better than if we use a rookie ILB. Dalvin Cook looked awfully good last year before he got hurt. Would someone like him or Kareem Hunt be THAT much worse? ~$12-13million dollars a year worse??

Alex: I don’t hold any hard and fast numbers on a contract. I’m not in the weeds about that stuff from my outsider and limited cap knowledge/view. It’s beyond just the average yearly value too. One big sticking point in the deal, and Bell has admitted to it, is the guaranteed money.

I can’t just say “don’t go more than $15.5 million a year” because what does that mean? How does that compare to the overall deal? I would do $17 million if the guaranteed was low (it won’t be, for the record). I might not do $14 million a year if the guaranteed was high. There’s a thousand factors I’m not privy too.

I will say the Steelers apparent offer last summer seemed fair and I probably wouldn’t go much higher. That still establishes Bell as head and shoulders above the rest and will reset the market.

The rest…eh, I mean I get it, but you can probably apply that logic to a lot of other positions. But when you do that, you have to hope that player works out. That free agent works out. That unknown pays off. Yeah, maybe you get Kareem Hunt. But what if you draft Eddie Lacy? With Bell, you know what you have. You have an elite player. Going another route assumes risk.

It’s not like signing Bell and improving the defense is an impossible task. You can do both. It’s not like Pittsburgh was going to spend all that Bell money in free agency. They’re still going to build through the draft.

Last thing on Bell. It isn’t about production. I get annoyed at everyone who points to his numbers, and the YPC, blah blah blah. Bell’s value is so much more than what a box score tells you. You’re getting a guy who literally never leaves the field. No one else in the league does that. You’re getting someone not just elite in one phase but in three (running, receiving, blocking). You’re getting someone who has the full trust of Ben Roethlisberger. That’s one hidden reason why Ben’s sack numbers are down. He’s comfortable checking it down to Bell because he knows Bell can make a play. When we’ve seen other backs in there, like Conner, that same trust doesn’t exist. All that combined makes Bell worth a very high amount. And why I see no reason to let him go. Not this year, anyway.

Marcel Chris Chauvet: Alex, I’m a believer that we need to draft a RB this year (whether or not we re-sign Bell). Perhaps even in the first 3 rounds. The class is too good and the value will be better than it would be at some of our more pressing needs. What say you?

Alex: I’m less enthused. Sure, if the opportunity presents itself, but I’m not sacrificing a guy who can come in and help now (the RB won’t) for the position. You can draft a back next year and plug ‘n play.

Grant Humphrey: Hey Alex,
What do you know about Karl Dunbar? Anything you know about him that most of us may not know?

Alex: Not much, unfortunately. I remember watching him go through DL drills at the Combine back in I guess what would’ve been 2015. And I liked his attitude and energy.

Alabama has had some great DL come out. I like the experience and the resume. And as an assistant to Mitchell? That’s a good duo.


That’s all for this week. Thanks for stopping by everyone.

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