Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

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Welcome back to the weekly mailbag. The final one before free agency begins. And maybe – probably? – the final one before Antonio Brown is traded. As always, we’ll be here for the next hour to answer whatever is on your mind.

To your questions!

Spencer Krick: 

Hey Alex,

I’m going ahead and asking it: What’s your best guess as to what happens with AB tomorrow?

Alex: I don’t have much of a feel for it. He doesn’t have to be traded by tomorrow. The report was just a report. Sounds like it’s close but maybe it’s just the team hyping up the deal. That report of the Steelers trading him by Friday had to have come from the Steelers’ side, at least, if we want to take it seriously, and you can see the benefit of them trying to make it sound like Brown is about to go. Get teams in, force them to come out with their best offer.

All I can say with confidence is that he will be dealt before the 17th. That’s about it. Something big could happen. Or maybe nothing.

Brian Tollini: 

Hey AK! When scouting, (and I know there are many variables to this question) what do you see as a bigger red flag…

A college player with above average production and poor combine numbers that has played against lower Div I competition


A college player with below average production with great combine numbers that has played against top Div I competition

Alex: That’s a tough question. It’s really a case by case basis. How poor are the Combine numbers? So low they aren’t predictive of NFL success? That’s a concern. Same question with the production. Why wasn’t the production there? Injury? Scheme? Other talent around him? College coaches can misuse players, just like you see in the NFL.

Make me choose, it’d be the former. If you have some questions about competition and then you don’t see the traits translate in Combine/testing, that’s a pretty big red flag. And if the production is just above average, not elite, then you’re banking on some 4.61 receiver from the Sun Belt to come in and light up the NFL. And that’s tough to do.

But like I said, hard to make a blanket statement.

JamesinNYC: Would you wait until you can officially trade AB to announce any trade so he cannot sabotage it before it can become official?

Alex: From the Steelers end? Yes. I think that even happened in the Alex Smith deal last year. It was leaked, we all knew about it, but no one from the teams talked about it until it become official. So yes, don’t expect Kevin Colbert to speak until the transaction actually goes through. But it’ll leak out before hand as soon as it’s verbally agreed to.

srdan: Hey man, now that the dust has settled a bit on the incoming class, where would you rank Washington among the WRs that just finished the Combine? Would you put him in the second round still?

Alex: Oof. That’s a tough one. Hard for me trying to think back and compare. I think he’d be in that same area, maybe a little lower because of how deep this WR class is. But it’s not something I think about at all, to be honest.

Matt Meyer: Saw a tweet today from Dave B saying that after all of the free cap space is used on 2019 draft picks etc how much could we realistically expect the team to spend towards free agency? Could they make a semi-big splash like the Mike Mitchell signing from a few years back?

Alex: I still think they will make a big splash relative to themselves. Going even higher than the 5/25 Mitchell deal. Something in that 7-10 million range, sorta like the Joe Haden deal.

Dave brings good perspective about the cap and how quickly the money can dry up but there’s two moves they’re expected/likely to make before free agency. Releasing Morgan Burnett saves about $4 million and a Ben extension should free up a good deal of space too. So even though they’re down to about $10 million in cap space right now, they can get back up in the $17+ range pretty quickly and easily.

And remember, structuring contracts to make it work under the cap is doable. You can backload deals to make it work in Year One, which is pretty common for the organization. Omar Khan can do his wizardry.

Vance Mac: How many 1st round worthy ILB do you project? I’m assuming both Devin’s, but if neither fall to us, what are our options at the position?

Alex: Those are probably the two guys. Don’t see Mack Wilson as a first rounder. Don’t have the “Big Three” like last year. Colbert said as much, saying he didn’t love the depth.


I spare you an AB question.

With Finney getting a 2nd round tender and it sounding like Gilbert will be sticking around, should we spend the 4-5 million to resign Ramon Foster? DeCastro, AV, and Pouncey all ready got paid. Offensive line depth is a great thing to have, but with other holes to fill it seems like a pretty big piece of the pie. Finney for example played just over 150 snaps last year.

Alex: I appreciate sparing me. Yes, I’d still pay that money to keep Foster. We’ve seen the value in investing in the offensive line. It prolonged Ben’s career, made this offense as dynamic as it is, once they put draft capital – and then retaining – these guys. Not to mention the investment in Mike Munchak. So I think it’s been proven what the payoff is.

And because Finney is the backup at three spots, not just one or two, it’s worth it. Someone along the interior is bound to go down or at least, there’s a decent chance of it. Who’s your backup center if Finney is the left guard? FInney could slide over but when is he getting practice reps there during the week? He’ll be moving in cold.

Don’t think about Finney getting paid $3 million. If they put the original round tender on him, it was still going to cost $2 mil. So they paid Finney an extra million, not three. That’s how I look it. And that’s a pretty smart decision that doesn’t exclude Foster from returning. Not that it guarantees it, I’ve said for awhile I’ve been leaning towards Foster going, but you can make it worth.

NickSteelerFan: Hey Alex! Your personal preference, what would you like to get back for AB:
1. a first round pick
2. a second round pick + a 6th round pick
3. a third round pick + a decent defensive player

Alex: Guess it depends who that “decent” player is but I’ll still go with a first. Just worth more. You can get your defensive player, hopefully much better than decent, for pretty cheap with the 5th year option. You have more “team control” to steal the baseball term, than you would whatever player you get back in return.

Peki: Hi Alex. With the impending departures of Bell and Brown, has the Steelers championship window closed? If it has, or soon will, is it in the team’s interest to have Roethlisberger play beyond another say, two-three years?

Alex: Nah, it’s not closed. It’s open, always a crack at the minimum, as long as #7 is under center. So the second question is moot.



Without disrespect, is it time to move on from Shazier? I know it’s a class act by the organization, but if he’s nowhere near playing, how long do they keep paying him to be on the sidelines?

Alex: Understand your point but no, it’s not. I think there’s a moral element of it. It’s the right thing to do. His contract is also cheap and they probably save money by him going on PUP, a split salary like you get with a lot of rookies.

And I know he’s not ruling out a return either. 2020 seems to be the target. Until he says he’s retiring, I’m not going to be the one who says he can’t play again.

SteelPierogi: In your opinion, what are the the top three needs as of right now for the upcoming draft? In order please

Alex: You can put the order in a lot of ways. Even broader than just corner or inside linebacker, you need playmakers. Doesn’t matter as much the position. Guys who create splash, create turnovers. So in that sense, you can lump all those defensive positions (CB/ILB/dime) together. And then WR. They’re all needs so you just see what’s out there in free agency and the draft and get the best talent for the right price.

Steel SonofFarmer: I have some not very popular players that I liked from this draft and I want to know what round do you think they can go? Majority of them I’m sure are late rounder but I just want to ask anyways…

Tony Pollar RB- Memphis (my guess is round 6 )
David Long ILB- West Virginia
Khalil Hodge ILB- Buffalo (He been tossed around in all rounds)
Tj Edward ILB- Wisconsin
Terril Hank ILB – New Mexico
BJ Blunt ILB- McNeese St
Isiah Johnson CB- Houston
Essang Bassey CB – Wake Forest
Oshane Ximines OLB- Old Dominion
Anthong Nelson OLB- IOWA
Jaylon Ferguson OLB- Louisina Tech
Chase Winovich OLB- Michigan
Sutton Smith Edge- Northern Illinois
Dontae Johnson WR- Toledo
Andy Isabella WR- Univ of MAss
Marquise Wimberly WR- Texas A&M
Donald PArham TE-Stetson
Tommy Sweemey TE- Boston College
Terrone Prescod OG – NC State
Zach Bailey OG- South Carolina

I know its a lot But would love to know your opinion about them. Also any of the depot member can answer if they want.Thanks


Yeah, that’s a lot of names. There’s still a lot I’d need to learn about them and a chunk of this list didn’t work out at the Combine. So Pro Days will be important. It’s hard for me to put a round to most of the list, to be honest, and I wouldn’t get hyperfocused on those things right now anyway. I don’t think my answers would be particularly helpful, to be perfectly honest. Check out Draft Scout. They have pretty solid projections. Here’s one for Andy Isabella. 

Wreckless: Would you say you’re more worried about what the team could potentially look like minus AB or more excited about what the team could do with the draft capital they could get for him?

Alex: Definitely the first part. The worry. Whatever you get back won’t be as valuable on the field as Brown. Just not going to unearth another first ballot Hall of Famer. And even if you do get a great player, that impact might not be fully felt for two or three years. Pittsburgh isn’t in position to wait around.

Grant Humphrey: Hey Alex,
How much money do you think a 33 year old Ramon Foster gets on the open market? And how much should the Steelers be willing to pay to bring him back?

Alex: Good question. I’m not sure. Just takes one or two teams, ya know? But I think $5 million per year is fair and what I’d expect. A 2 year, $11 million deal maybe. Something like that. $4 million signing bonus (got $2.75 his last contract, 3 for 9 with Pittsburgh). I’d do that.


Assuming CB and ILB are the biggest needs in this draft by far, and let’s assume JJ walks in free agency for the purpose of this thought exercise, which of the following players would you pass on to draft a TE. And then which TE would you take. Personally, I think the ILB are auto picks for us as is Greedy. Other two CBs would make me think long and hard.

Would you pass on any of: Devin White, Devin Bush, Greedy Williams, Byron Murphy, DeAndre Baker.

For these TEs: Hockenson, Fant, Irv Smith

Alex: I don’t think I’d pass on any of those defensive players for the tight ends. Baker might be the only exception. Put a high pick into receiver and a playmaker defensively. That’s how you start to rebuild the team.

Bob Francis: I’ve seen a few mock drafts lately that don’t have Greedy in the first round. I know mocks are mocks, but have you heard anything about him dropping. Plus, are you any closer to a top CB rating among Murphy, Baker, and Williams? Who do have at CB1?

Alex: I know he didn’t look great in drills but I don’t think that’s enough to knock him out. Some don’t like his effort or tackling but from what I watched, they’re overblown concerns and far from dealbreakers. I’ll come out with final CB rankings closer to the draft once I watch as many guys as I can. In case someone surprises me.

Steeley Dan: Alex, could you see a WR in a different mold than AB brought in? Ben’s always asking for a “Big Receiver”, so could we bel looking at a possible “Plaxico” type, rather than a “AB” type?

Alex: Possibly. You’re looking for that X receiver but they come in different shapes and sizes. If they can beat press, show quickness, be “that guy,” then sure, they can be 6’3, 220 pounds. You just need a talented one. You still have size with JuJu, too.

stan: What do you make of the video AB posted of him hanging out on the beach with his (for now) teammates? It sure makes it look like the reports of the team being against him are overblown.

Alex: Were there reports the whole team was against him? I honestly don’t remember seeing any of those. I’m sure there are players who like AB and at the least, want a chance to work with one of the hardest-training dudes in the league. That’s why a lot of the young guys are there. Aside from Anthony Chickillo, who is from the area for what that’s worth, it’s all 2nd year guys. Adeniyi, Edmunds, Allen, Samuels.

Steel PAul: Hey Alex.. if Devin Bush isn’t their guy, what do the Steelers do in the middle?

Alex: *looks at question*

*runs away from keyboard*

If you can’t get Bush/White in the draft, then I’m not sure where you go. There are options, some good athletes, guys I like, but you could see a scenario where the team punts again. I’d still go after a free agent option like Jordan Hicks, who you guys know I’m high on.

Tom White: 

Let’s assume the AB trade nets us the 24th pick from the Raiders. Which of these 3 scenarios would you prefer happen with the Steelers:

1. They stand firm and manage to grab 2 guys you like at 20 and 24. Let’s just say Murphy and Bush for arguments sake.

2. They package pick 20 and their 2nd to move up and grab say a Josh Allen and then someone else with the Raiders 24.

3. They pick one of your guys at 20 (say Murphy or Bush again) and trade the 24th to pick up some more capital to fill holes.

Alex: Hard to answer that without seeing the bigger picture. What happened in free agency? Who is on the board? Where are my needs, who can I get? What will it cost? I’d probably just sit tight, getting a first rounder for Brown is a win and they don’t have a lot of additional other draft capital (seven picks right now) to make a move unless you’re taking from next year’s pool. So I’m fine with staying at 20/24.

That’s all for this week. Thanks for your questions everyone!

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