Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

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Welcome back to the mailbag. Crazy enough, the last Thursday edition before training camp, the first practice kicking off in literally one week. So as a heads up, we won’t have a regularly scheduled one of these next week since I’ll be at St. Vincent. But for now, ask what’s on your mind.

To your questions!

NickSteelerFan: Hey man! Do you think Eli Roger’s comes back to Pittsburgh or signs somewhere else? Would you like to see him back as the #4?
Thanks, looking forward to your training camp reports! Honestly some of my favorite reporting of the year!

Alex: Thanks for stopping by the chat, Nick. I was a little surprised to hear Rogers make his choices sound vague, like there are multiple options, but that’s maybe a leverage ploy. I think he winds back up in Pittsburgh. Team that knows him the best, has followed his injury situation the closest, they’ve expressed the desire to bring him back, and it’s probably his best place to make a roster. Don’t want to have to get back in football shape while in a whole new offense/system/camp.

For the teams sake, I hope he comes back. Nice boost to their depth they’re lacking.

Spencer Krick: 

Hey Alex,

Which new face do you think will have the biggest impact on the team this year?

Alex: Defensively, probably Burnett. He’s going to bring some leadership, stability, and communication this group desperately needs. As long as he can stay healthy and ideally, if he’s playing a SS/dime defender role, he’ll be an upgrade over Mike Mitchell. Even if he won’t make many huge impact plays, which is still a concern looking at the defense as a whole. Especially now that Bostic seems less assured of a starting spot, Burnett is at the top.

Offensively, James Washington, but that’s an obvious answer. Goal and hope is for him to start Week 1 in 11 (3 WR) personnel. If not, this offense could get off to a rocky start.

Denny: Which of our safetys are best suited for the FS position?

Alex: Oh man, I wish I had a great answer. Can it be none? lol

I’ve said before it’d probably be Sean Davis. We’ve seen some ball skills out of him, making some reads in the deep half, and he is definitely more athletic than Burnett. But you know my concerns there, moving him – again – and trying to evaluate his game. Unfair to him.

And yeah, they’ve said in the past that the safety spots are interchangable. Sort of but not really. Davis himself admitted he wants to know where he’s playing and that he hasn’t played FS before. So if they were really that interchangable, he wouldn’t really care when he knew and he wouldn’t say how he played FS before.

He’s probably going to end up there and it’s hard to argue otherwise. I just have no idea how it’s going to turn out. Could get ugly.

Andrew Black: 

Hey Alex,

Do you think future running backs will be scared or hesitant to sign with the Steelers due to the whole Bell situation?

Alex: Nah, not one bit. Bell was such a unique case and situation. There aren’t going to be any top 3 RBs in the NFL signing with the Steelers anytime soon.

Backs will see how much Bell was used, how involved he was in the offense, how the scheme plays to his strengths. Assuming you still have Ben, AB, and that o-line, most backs should be excited to come here. Not turn away.

Brian Miller: 


Good afternoon! I personally think we are headed in the right direction on offense for the future. Still have a very good o-line, AB, BB, and a chance for a couple of future WRs and TEs to become studs assuming no injuries. I am sad we are losing Bell, but hope we can replace his touches over the next few years with multipe additions. May even have our QB of the future…should I be this optimistic about the offense for the future, and is it too much of a dead, beaten horse to still say the future hangs on the defensive progression…again?

Alex: Well I don’t want to be all doom and gloom even without Bell. The offense won’t immediately wither away. And if James Washington can become a vertical threat, if Vance McDonald can stay healthy, if they can find a back capable of doing similar things as Bell – even if not at that level – then sure, it can still be successful and there’s reason for optimism.

Big-picture, the Steelers front office has seemed to draft and identify talent much better offensively than they have with the defense. And the offensive line should remain mostly intact, Foster aside, for 2-3 years, and that’s a solid foundation.

Keith Evans: hey Alex..what will be the hottest, most eagerly awaited and down to the wire contested position battle in Camp?

Alex: Starters, there aren’t too many intense battles. But ILB is the one to watch. Matakevich vs Bostic. I anticipate Matakevich getting the initial first team reps next Thursday but I don’t view that battle as won one way or another and still think Bostic can take over by the end of the preseason. That’s the largest battle that will have an immediate, large impact on the team.

There are a ton of smaller ones too. The final OL spots (will they keep nine?) the back end of the WR roster (Hunter vs Tucker vs whoever else), the DL (Frazier vs McCullers vs Gilmore), the OLB backup battle (Adams vs the roster), but the Matakevich/Bostic is the highlight, no doubt.

D.j. Reynolds: Alex, what day will the pads go on next week, is it Sunday? Also, what part of training camp is your favorite and why?

Alex: The third day of practice, so Saturday the 28th. That’s when the pads come on. That’s always a great day because guys have been itching to hit – the defense, at least – for an entire offseason. So one of my favorites. First backs on ‘backers drill, too.

The Friday Night Lights practice is always a great event too. A little chaotic for an NFL team to come to a high school in Latrobe but the atmosphere is amazing and the players feed off of that. So if you plan on going to a practice, make it one of those. Just get there early and for the Friday practice, there is a small ticket price. $5, I think.

Marcel Chris-Chauvet: Alex, now that it looks like signing Bell long-term is out, do you thonk that the cao space intended for him will be spent more on the defensive side of the ball? How would you look to spend it?

Alex: Yeah, that’s as good a guess as any. We’ll still have to see exactly how much room the team has about any other contract extensions they do and how the league cap looks in 2019.

But again, I want to remind everyone these are still the Steelers and it’s not like they make big waves in the free agency pool, even when they have some money. They are building in-house first, second, and third, for better or for worse.

So you’re probably going to see some mid-level, $5 million pass rusher or inside linebacker or whoever brought in. But I don’t expect it to be a mega-deal for the star player on the market. That just doesn’t happen here. So much of that money can be used keeping their own.

falconsaftey43: Let’s assume these high end RBs keep wanting big deals with lots of guaranteed money. If you’re a team, do you lean towards following Pittsburgh’s lead and draft, tag, tag, let them walk? You get a RB for 6-7 years without ever having to commit a long term deal to them. Replacing an excellent RB isn’t easy, but neither is living with the significant risk of large guarantees on the back half of a RBs career.

Alex: Eh, soon enough, it’ll become the norm, the way paying $30 million will be the standard for QBs in the future. Heck, it pretty much is present day. Once the market resets, teams adjust with it, and giving a RB 11-14 million average yearly value won’t be as explosive as it is today. It’s not like they’ve never been paid that much, they were getting it with Chris Johnson and Adrian Peterson, and that was with a lower overall cap, so higher % of cap space overall.

It just takes that first domino to fall whether that’s David Johnson, Todd Gurley, Zeke, whoever the guy is. But then they become the benchmark and everyone else falls in-line. NFL is cyclical, on and off the field.

The only difference is that RBs probably will never get that second mega-contract like other positions. The decline will always be faster for the workhorses. And that’s why guys like Bell want to make a huge splash. Because they typically get just one shot at it. Then they turn 30 and no one wants to commit.

Steelers12: Alex do you think players would be willing to concede to 2 a days again if they the NFL fully gurantees contracts in the future?

Alex: It’s an interesting hypothetical but one I’m positive will never come close to reality. I’m not even sure if teams/owners would want that trade off. More practice = more time to get hurt, and on a fully guaranteed, that could do more harm than good.

I think it’s an interesting point about the future of fully guaranteed deals in the NFL. That’s the trend I think the league is going to go as we saw with Kirk Cousins. Shorter deals that are fully guaranteed. I don’t know if that’ll be a formal push by the union but players will follow suit, just as QBs are starting to now that Cousins got his structured that way.

Could Bell do that next year? Take a 3 year deal that is fully, or close to it, guaranteed. Probably not but it’s a thought if his market isn’t as strong for a five year deal.

That’s all for this week. We’ll talk soon. Probably do a mailbag on the first off day of camp (Tuesday, July 31st).

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