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Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

Welcome to the first offseason edition of the mailbag. Unfortunate that it came so soon but clearly, there’s still plenty to keep us busy. Like always, we’re here for the next hour answering whatever is on your mind.

Sorry for the delay here. Some technical problems on my end.

To your questions!

AB: 

Alex,

Josh Harris seems to think Bell in Pittsburgh is still a big possibility next year. What do you think after seeing Conner/Samuels all season? Is he still needed? I know he ultimately makes your team better, but is there room for all 3 guys?

Alex: Needed? No. I think this season proved that. Not so much with Samuels but definitely with Conner. Bell’s going to have to come down off his $17 million apparent asking price if he’s going to stay in Pittsburgh.

Not sure how you can justify it ultimately with the positions you need to address on defense. They have cap space but do they have enough for Bell and a second-tier defensive free agent? I’m not so sure.

Best thing I’d do is not tag him, franchise or transition, let him feel out the market, and let his price hopefully, maybe come down. I’m not sure that it will but I’m fine with taking that chance because like I said, he isn’t a need. Worst case, you get the comp pick value.

Steeler Fanatic: Alex, Happy New Years. How does the potential of transitioning Bell change if the team does trade AB?

Alex: Still doesn’t make sense. Doesn’t matter what Brown is doing. Trying to make one last effort to signing Bell is one thing. Transition is another. He’s still likely to get an offer you won’t pay and you lose the comp pick/value. Might as well just let him test the market and compete in the same arena. And if you lose him, there’s some measure of compensation. Transition tag has never made much sense to me unless you think no one will give him more than what you’ve offered. And I highly doubt that. Not just in overall money but the structure of the deal. Most teams structure these mega deals differently than the Steelers.

Wes Lee: I like Vince Williams on the team, and believe it or not I also like Bud Dupree as well. He stayed relatively healthy this year, and showed some improvement. I’d hold on to both of them if possible. What you say?

Alex: Vince is still under contract so he’s not going anywhere. Dupree did improve this year and again played hurt but you can NOT justify him on the 5th year option worth $9.23 million. He’s not even close to that. So I release him, maybe try to sign him in the $4-5 million range and if not, then you let him go elsewhere. But I’m not giving a guy who’s never surpassed six sacks in a season that much money. No way.

Derek: Will AB be a Steeler in 2018? Percentage chances either way please

Alex: Well 2018 is much easier to answer than 2019, lol. Eh, I dunno. What a weird situation. I’ll say 60% chance he stays. It might be hard to win a Super Bowl with him and all his antics and immaturity. Having said that, it’s still that much harder to win one without him.

Steel City: 

Alex,

Any thoughts on why we did not see more 12 personnel on offense? Personally this is my favorite formation, especially in no huddle. Thanks.

Alex: That’s a good question. I think Fichtner runs a more “open” offense than Haley did, given his background at Memphis when they were doing stuff like four wide in the mid-2000s before that was super popular. I think this offense is largely at its best when it’s spread out. When guys can win on on one, when Ben has a lot of options and plenty of grass to throw to. I think they want to have more dynamic threats on the field like a Switzer and Eli compared to someone like Jesse James. And a tiny part of it is game circumstance. Not as many leads this year, more catch up, a lot of action in two minute drills, both end of half and game, and that lends itself to being a more 11 personnel type of team.

12 personnel was done this year but only a couple of percentage points. Not a massive drop off.

CP72: Alex,
What’s a number you want Bud Dupree be back at? Obviously it’s not 9.5 million per.

Alex: No cap expert here and it would depend on a lot of variables. But somewhere in the 4-5 million range for one or two years seems much more manageable. That way, even if he becomes a backup (and I would look to upgrade/compete), I’m not paying out the nose and I have someone who can succeed as a #3 coming in fresh. The Chickillo role needs to be upgraded at this point. And if he starts, not ideal, not terrible, but hopefully I’ve invested that $5 million into something else, like a dime linebacker or use that money on DL depth.

Marcel Chris Chauvet: Happy New Year Alex! The offseason is here and it’s time to start looking at potential talent for the Steelers to sign/draft. We know what the biggest needs are (CB; OLB; ILB). What’s the biggest need? And, since we know you can’t expect to fill every hole simply by drafting, which position might you try to address in FA? Any early names that come to mind?

Alex: Really can’t go wrong with any position you mention. I put CB at the top just because I think it’s harder to hide than the ILB group and there’s enough varied skillsets at ILB that you can kinda sorta make it work. Corner is what I would like to go after in free agency because of how poorly this team has done evaluating that group in the draft. Unfortunately, not a strong class. Bradley Roby is the name I imagine you’ll hear a lot about if the Broncos let him get away. Hire Joe Woods to be the DC, bring in Roby. I’m cool with that.

Ryan Barton: Is this Antonio Brown disaster a result of the “Madden Curse”?

Alex: 1000%

Lambert58: Alex, if you were hired to be the DC, what would be the first few moves you would make?

Alex: Oh man, that’s a pretty open ended question. Something I would see on my Steelers SATs. Are we talking personnel or scheme? I assume the latter since the front office and Tomlin have more control over personnel.

Schematically, I would just look to streamline my personnel groupings. Get back to “matching” what the offense does. Sometimes, I’ll stray, I was fine with Butler playing a lot of “big” groupings against the Bengals and their run-first attack, even when they had 3 WRs on the field. That made sense. But playing dime against 12 personnel on the goal line vs the Saints? Or on 2nd and 10 against 11 personnel? So when an offense gets into 3rd and short because they ran on you you’re screwed because you don’t have the right pieces in?

I need to come up with better responses and checks to empty. I need to do a better job self-scouting to avoid tendencies that offenses have preyed upon. I need to have a better answer for when teams move their top WR inside to #3. I need to evaluate how much harm/help stunting Heyward and Tuitt was done. I need to look at my overall blitz packages and figure out why the secondary pressure wasn’t as effective this year. All that should be addressed this offseason.

WB Tarleton: Hey Alex. To be blunt, our kicking game sucks. Why don’t some teams have specialist coaches? Kicking/punting is very technical and having Danny Smith coach them is not much better than having Munch be a QB coach. Maybe not a full time job, but a couple of days a week to go over mechanics with Boz and Berry.

Alex: That’s a fair question. I don’t have a good answer. I guess they just trust their ST coach to handle that since that’s what they’re paying him for. There is a risk of having “too many cooks in the kitchen.” Sometimes, more isn’t more.

Randomly looked up the Dolphins coaching staff the other day. There are 20 coaches listed as “staff” not even including the coordinators. And they’re not even listing the trainers or game operators or whatever. These are all coaches.

I had to zoom out to 50% just to capture them all. There’s assistants to every position, including special teams, and Dwight Schrute esque “Assistant to the Head coach” position. Clearly, Miami wasn’t the best team this year in….anything.

So there’s a balance between having that specialization but not an overload of information or conflict/different info from coach to coach. Just playing devil’s advocate.

Jedi Master Fred Biletnikoff: Alex,
One thing I thought about yesterday (if not for my moral objection, I totally would) was that it was a PERFECT time for the Steelers to sign Kareem Hunt. Might have taken some steam away from AB and spread out the media firestorm, do you Agree?

Alex: No. You don’t drive your car into the river just because you got a fender bender. Signing Hunt is just the worst idea.

Jeff Dudash: Has the Antonio Brown situation actually reduced the chances Mike Tomlin gets fired?

Alex: Hmm, I’m not sure if it’s changed anything either way for him. I still think my stance is the most likely scenario. If things go wrong in 2019, then he’s in trouble, a la McCarthy.

58steel: 

If Brown was to be traded, where do you see his value? In the Khalil Mack range or just a single 1st-rounder like Dallas gave for Cooper?

Obviously his talent would be sorely missed on the field, but a what level of compensation would you be OK with him leaving?

Alex: I’m starting at two first round picks and something else. A Hall of Fame player already under contract (unlike Mack) still around the prime of his career? That’s big bucks. And beyond Cooper, who is entering the last year of his deal. Teams better write a blank check for him.

Generic Steeler Fan: Supposing they fire Keith and hire a new DC, how much impact can a new coordinator have in year one on this defense? Is there really enough talent on the team to be a great defense?

Alex: He can have a noticeable impact. Putting players in position to win isn’t something that takes time. It can happen right away. The front office will have to put some of the pieces out there but good coaches can overcome that, at least to an extent.

Craig Foster: Alex I don’t understand your reluctance to transition tag Bell. If the Steelers spend real money in free agency it will negate any compensatory pick from losing Bell. If they use the tag they can at least try to negotiate a third round pick from any team who signs him. It also makes other teams reluctant to waste time on a high price free agent who they could lose in the end!

Alex: Well we don’t know if they will spend that money. I hope they do but it’s no guarantee. You’re also tying up that money and time for longer than you need to as free agency starts. So I don’t see the point when you can negotiate with him before free agency starts. Just seems like a waste of energy.

Matt Manzo: Hey Alex!
Jeez! Where to start? What are you most looking forward to writing about this off-season?
And thanks for another great season, btw!

Alex: Hmm, I’m looking forward to a lot of things. My “mock offseason” is one of my favorite articles to write of the entire year. That’s always a lot of fun. I’m also hoping to do an interactive “run the Steelers” with you guys with this one computer game I just bought. Still trying to work out the bugs there. But I’ll keep you posted.

Ken: HI Alex – Who would be candidates to replace Keith Butler?

Alex: I’ll wait to post the whole list and reasons why until if/when Butler is fired. Because maybe it won’t even happen. I think it will but who knows. Don’t need to waste the space. But like I tweeted out the other day, I did some research and came away with three names who make sense.

Joe Woods/Denver
Steve Wilks
Ed Donatell/Chicago

If Butler goes, I’ll get into more reasons there. And some of the other names.

Grant Humphrey: Hey Alex,
If you were the Steelers, what would you do with Antonio Brown right now?

Alex: Like I said on the podcast yesterday, do everything you can to salvage the relationship. Winning with AB is a lot easier than without him, even knowing the headaches he brings. You have two months before you can even trade him. So might as well try to make it work.

DirtDawg1964: You have to turn over 10 guys from the roster (not on practice squad). Who’d they be?

Alex: Hmm…in no order.

1. Morgan Burnett
2. Stevan Ridley
3. Justin Hunter
4. Dan McCullers
5. L.T. Walton
6. Bud Dupree
7. Artie Burns
8. Marcus Gilbert
9. Nat Berhe
10. Darrius Heyward-Bey

Bill Sechrengost: Hi Alex. I know that Vance McDonald was mostly healthy after missing the first game of the year. I believe he’s scheduled to make $5.1 million next year. He had 50 receptions for 610 yards. Do you keep him or cut him and Is it time to draft a TE high in 2019?

Alex: Oh keep him for sure. He had a great year. And stayed healthy. I don’t know why you would consider dumping him. A definite asset in this offense and you could argue he was still underused by Ben/Fichtner this year. Excited to have him back. I wouldn’t draft a TE high. Hopefully can bring Jesse James back.

Michael James: If they indeed trade Brown (I still hope they can avoid that), is it time for a complete rebuild?
Ben is really getting up there in age, your two best weapons are gone and your defense probably needs more than one offseason to become a force again.

Alex: I wouldn’t say that. Not as long as you have Ben. You have him, you have a chance, and it’s only fair to work as hard as you can to win with him. If you go into full rebuild mode, Ben’s just going to walk away, and no one wants that. You’re not rebuilding until #7 hangs them up. And I wouldn’t approach any season with him under center in that manner. Not a chance.


That’s all for this week. Thanks guys. Appreciate your patience.

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