Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

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The final mailbag of the preseason and last one before the NFL gets a little crazy. Roster cutdowns are taking place this weekend and that always brings chaos, especially with Kevin Colbert’s trade history. A lot to discuss, I’m sure. We’re here for the next hour.

To your questions!

falconsaftey43: Hey Alex, per my research, last year there were 45 guys claimed after final cuts before the first game last year. 10 of those were rookies. Does someone the Steelers cut get claimed, and who do you think has the best odds of being claimed?

Alex: I remember you talking about that and I think I’ve referenced it on the podcast. So thanks for doing the legwork. Valuable information. To put that in perspective, that’s 3.8% of all players cut. So naturally low odds.

I think most people would point to Tuzar Skipper but I’d go with either Ulysees Gilbert III or Fred Johnson. UG3 because he’s an athletic, off-ball linebacker and those guys are always in high demand. He has really good tape this preseason and can play special teams. Some teams may have shied away from him in the draft because he was a non Power 5 guy but seeing him play well in the NFL would soothe those concerns.

Johnson is because how scarce good offensive linemen are. The Patriots are hoarding linemen, trading for two already, which means there’s two fewer on the waiver wire. And Johnson has some versatility which is always attractive. Still the odds of anyone getting claimed are low, especially when none of those names I mentioned have played a down in the regular season. I wonder how many rookies of those 45 were claimed? 10, maybe? Teams like getting guys who have NFL tape.

J Alexander Wright: Do you think any of the rookie DBs (obviously excluding Layne) have shown enough that we’ll see them stick around on the practice squad?

Alex: There simply isn’t much at corner right now. Possible someone like Trevon Mathis or Jhvaonte Dean land there initially and then get flipped for someone else, the way Jarvion Franklin stuck around for about 48 hours before getting swapped for Trey Edmunds.

Safety is a little more promising. Dravon Askew-Henry is interesting with his slot/safety versatility. But I don’t think any of those guys, him or Locke, have done anything particularly great on tape.

Beaver Falls Hosiery: Alex; How am I going to watch the game from an airplane? Have WiFi but it is very slooowwwww.

Alex: That’s what you get for scheduling a flight during a Steelers’ game. It’s like planning a wedding on a Steelers’ Sunday. No dice.

Alex Roarty:

Alex: I don’t look at it in those terms too much. I just care about the defensive improving to the level it needs to in order to allow this team a chance to win a Super Bowl. And I do think the defense will be a lot better. Faster, more versatile, more experienced, and a great emphasis on taking the ball away. I can say for the first time in awhile I’m really excited about this unit, even if they aren’t as good as the offense.

Andrew Black: 

Hi Alex,

To an average fan like myself, Rudolph looks like he’s made significant strides from last year. Wanted to know your thoughts on him/his preseason. Is it looking like the talents there to one day be a franchise QB in life after Ben?

Alex: He’s definitely made strides. Looked a lot more comfortable. Less “deer in the headlights” doing a better job of showing mobility within and outside the pocket and getting through his reads instead of checking down/falling apart when the first one isn’t there. But that’s all natural stuff you’d expect from a 2nd year QB. Is he the franchise? I dunno, those days are hopefully still down the road. The guy has still never taken a regular season snap. But I’m encouraged by the progression.

NYCSteelCurtain: Realistically, who do you see us signing from the outside who gets cut from someone else? Seems to happen every year.

Alex: I have my list of tight end options here. Of guys who are most likely to get cut, Seth DeValve and Luke Willson feel like the best and most realistic options. But the market sucks and if Gentry plays well tonight, they may just decide to roll with him as the #3. And I’m ok with that.

Greg Payne:

This question looks very related to a few others – so lump it in as you see fit.
As you have made clear the TE market is sparse at best. If you had to fearlessly predict the odds of the Steelers making a move at that position what would they be? 50%? 25%? 10%?

At the beginning of the pre-season I was nearly certain they would make a trade or grab a free agent. Now, I’m not convinced the risk/reward is worth moving from the TE’s they have on the roster. Gentry’s hands are in doubt, but may be worth keeping around for his size.

Alex: I’ll say 60/40, leaning that they do. But so much depends on Gentry. That’s why the 4th preseason game is so vital. Steelers don’t have to make any decisions until the weekend and it’s smart for them to use every waking moment. I hope Gentry plays 40-50 snaps tonight. Get as long a look at him as possible.

Chris: Hi Alex , why does everyone seems to think Chic spot on the roster is safe. I know he just signed a contract but I’m quite sure that the guarantee money is not that great.. Like Noll used to say “you can’t make the club in the tub”. I know he’s decent for ST but he’s not great . Your thoughts

Alex: I don’t know if he’s injury is serious and he’s not an oft-injured or young guy who needs the preseason reps to be evaluated. So him dealing with that chest injury isn’t a concern.

Chick is making it for three reasons.

1. They trust him. Though he’s hit his ceiling as a pass rusher, you’re confident he’ll execute the scheme. He can play both OLB spots, move around the front, play off ball, drop into coverage. Whatever you ask of him, you can trust him to do it. And there’s value in that even if you’re not always going to see or notice it on tape.

2. Four phase, core special teamer. Done it and done it well. Not interested in cutting those guys.

3. Contract. Team just worked to create extra cap space. Cutting Chick eats some of that back up. No point in doing that.

Jamie Barnhart: Alex,
Does it make sense to you that they can keep both Gilbert and Skipper on the 53 (10 LB), and successfully stash Fred Johnson on the PS?

Alex: I mean, it’s not totally unreasonable. Just unlikely with how the team constructs their roster. And I’m more fearful of Johnson getting claimed than I would Skipper.

And if you keep Skipper, fine, but what’s his role? I don’t care about him being inactive to begin. I think that’s always a faulty argument. Fred Johnson is going to be inactive too. But what if Skipper dresses? Then what does he do? As a #4 OLB who can’t play special teams? That roster spot feels useless.

turtle: Does Chick’s contract structure (I don’t follow the financials much) virtually keep him from being cut? Would it be cost prohibitive in other words? He would have value in a trade (cheatriots made an offer this offseason IIRC). Would they consider it to not lose Skipper? Experience vs potential?

Alex: Steelers would lose about $300K in cap space to cut Chickillo right now. So your team has gotten worse and you don’t save anything financially. Seems like good reasons to keep him.

Stas: What do they see in Grimble? Dude does not catch much, is a fine blocker but not better than our OLs that come in for heavy packages…do you feel like its a time to take a flyer on somebody else? Not saying they will, but should they? Great job as usual guys!

Alex: Grimble has been frustrating because the potential is there and he’s never taken the next step he’s capable of. But he’s not as bad as people rag on him for. His blocking has actually gotten pretty good and he can make plays downfield.

Obviously, TE depth is an issue but when you’re searching for a #3 as much as they are, you get a little less worried about the #2. Hard to address both spots at once especially, like I said before, the market being so thin.

Wes Lee: 

Which two players both on offense and defense do you think will be the stars of tonight’s match-up?

My guesses are:

offense – Devlin Hodges, Johnny Holton
defense – Tuzar Skipper, Kameron Kelly

Alex: Those are good guesses for each side. It’s hard to predict stars. Easier for me to talk about guys who need to play well. And all four you listed fall in that category. A little less so for Kelly because he’s a lock to make the team but still nice to see him finish strong.

I think it means more for Zach Gentry than anyone else. For him to secure a spot on the team and for the team to finish their evaluation of him and figure out what they want to do with the position. Keep him or find someone else.

Defensively, last pushes for Henry Mondeaux, Isaiah Buggs, and Sutton Smith. Smith is fighting for his practice squad spot right now. Marcus Allen making one final push on Jordan Dangerfield as well.

Greasy Wings: How much does a team look at the future vs this year when constructing their 53? With players like Dupree (unlikely to be resigned) and Foster (getting up there in age) are they more interested in hanging on to players like Skipper and Johnson than they would otherwise be? As compared to say WR or RB where everyone is young and under contract for a while.

Alex: I think it’s minimal. You look at potential, of course, but like Tomlin said today, it’s about keeping the best 53 possible. The guys who are going to win now. You don’t sacrifice today for tomorrow. Not a team with a franchise, Super Bowl winning quarterback like they have. If you’re a full blown rebuilder like Miami then yeah, maybe the approach changes. But for Pittsburgh, get you guys who help you win now.

The Tony: Alex,
Are you going to try the new Popeye’s chicken sandwich? I’m a Chick fil a man for life but I am willing to give it a try.

Alex: Think the closest Popeye’s to me is like, 45 minutes. I’m not driving that far each way and waiting an hour for a chicken sandwich. I’m sure it’s good but no chance it’s “waste an entire afternoon” good.

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

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