Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

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Welcome back to the mailbag. First one of the offseason. Sadly, these have been starting far too soon the past two seasons.

But as always, we’re here for the next hour to answer whatever is on your mind.

To your questions!

Andrew Black: 

Hi Alex,

I know we’re very fresh into the offseason, but do you think QB is a priority for the Steelers either via FA (like a Bridgewater, or another viable backup) or the draft? Knowing Big Ben is older, coming off a major injury, and with everything you’ve seen this season.

Alex: I don’t. And though it was largely a vote of confidence, Tomlin said as much Tuesday. Mason is the backup. Plus, QBs are just too expensive. Even the backup/fringe starter types like you’re talking about. Supply and demand and it’s the most expensive position. It’s why Chase Daniel can make $25 million even though he’s played like, eight minutes of actual football. And the Steelers don’t have cap space.

Maybe they go after a low-level vet but the odds are better than 50% when they report to camp, your four will be the ones on the 53 throughout 2019: Ben, Rudolph, Hodges, and Lynch.

Daniel Moon: What coaching staff change do you foresee?

Alex: They’re very tough to predict. Steelers generally just let contracts expire, not straight up fire coaches, so that is where you’d have to try and start. WR coach is up in the air. Don’t know if Ray Sherman will take over or Blaine Stewart. Or someone on the outside entirely.

What happens to Tom Bradley? Maybe he goes back to the college game for a more prominent role. Could a new coaching staff try to make Teryl Austin a DC again? Perhaps. Will TEs coach James Daniel retire? We’ve talked about that for a few years.

When it comes to the coordinators, I’m not expecting changes. Fichtner will be retained. Butler will be re-upped. Danny Smith is the most vulnerable but I’m still not anticipating a switch there.

George Hareras: Hey Alex! Any chance of Pouncey getting moved to guard? I know there’s a lot of what ifs involved, but wouldn’t he fit well there and help get rid of the snap issue?

Alex: Nah, he’s entrenched in his spot. I don’t want to move him to guard. I just want him to fix his snaps. It’s not like this has been a perpetual problem for years and years. He’s not moving from his center spot.

The Tony: Alex,
This might be a Dave question, but with the NFL wanting to move to a 17 game schedule, reduce the preseason and potentially expand the wild card, the NFLPA will likely ask for more money as the revenue should increase at least 1 billion for the 17th game. Do you think that the owners and players will agree to a significantly larger salary cap at the next CBA?

Alex: I am no CBA expert but I don’t think you “agree” to a cap. That’s just a math equation. Based on league revenue. So yes, if the revenue goes up, the cap will naturally follow suit. I don’t think it’s something that has to be negotiated. The biggest sticking point there is revenue sharing. What percentage does the league/owners get? What percentage do the players get? That will be the conflict and the part they’re always fighting over, which would only intensity if players end up playing a 17 game regular season.

JT: How much of the blame, if any, can put be on Hodges/Rudolph for the OL’s struggles in pass blocking this year? How much value is added by an experienced QB like Ben, who can see things and call out adjustments at the line?

Alex: Oh some of it definitely is. I wrote about it the other day. Younger QBs have less freedom to change protections, have less knowledge of what they’re seeing, less experience of how to counter things. So the team certainly felt that.

But there were schematic breakdowns that just never got corrected. Half-slides were predictable. Always used six man protections. Final three weeks of the year, the Steelers didn’t show different answers and adjustments and teams kept exploiting them with DB/ILB blitzes. So that was highly, highly frustrating to see the same problems again and again and again. And part of that is on coaching, specifically OL coach Shaun Sarrett.

Getting Ben back will be a huge help in that regard. No doubt. But it isn’t the cure-all.

PghDSF: What are your thoughts on the OL being Villanueva, Fieler, BJ Finney, Decastro, Okafor? Let Pouncy and Foster go.

Alex: I’m ok with Foster going. Not so much with Pouncey. I think the 2020 o-line looks like this: Villanueva-Feiler-Pouncey-DeCastro-Okorafor

Banner as backup/tackle eligible. Derwin Gray maybe somewhere in the mix as a backup. And then a draft pick with guard/center capability.

stan: We’re missing 3 draft picks (will be getting a comp pick to replace one of them I know). We’re also going to be losing a handful of free agents that fit in compensatory system. I know the Steelers don’t ever declare a rebuilding year, so it seems inevitable that we’re going to be trading some 2021 draft picks to get more picks in 2020. What do you think?

Alex: Who knows. That’s possible. Kevin Colbert is being aggressive for a reason and there’s no reason to suggest he’ll change his mentality, though obviously the team has less draft capital and money than they did a year ago. So that makes aggression tougher and more calculated.

It’ll just depend on the needs of the roster, the opportunity of the draft, and the ability to actually get a deal done. Trading up for Devin Bush happened at the last second in 2019. You never know how it’s going to go. You may want to make an aggressive move but the other side doesn’t dance with you. These things are always unpredictable, especially looking at it months before the draft.

Marcel Chris Chauvet: 

Alex, do you see any moves the team could/would make to acquire some more draft capital or a player? We’re short on cap space and there are a few places (TE, OL, S) where we could use an infusion of quality player(s) either to start or add depth. Do we have any tradeable assets? What could we get for em?

I’ve heard it rumored that O.J. Howard might be available for the right price…🤔

Alex: Basically the same answer as I gave stan. Just hard to say. Always possible, though there aren’t any obvious or really even half-decent trade candidates during the offseason. In terms of players, I can’t think of any tradeable asset that makes really any sense.

Team could always trade back from their #50 spot in the second round, pick up an extra pick or two if they wanted. Just going to depend on a ton of factors.

Doogie: What is the one question you absolutely dont want to be asked? And Answer it!! (Football Related, not getting weird!)

Alex: Hmm, I dunno. I’m open to any question. I do get asked plenty who the team is going to take with their second round pick in the draft or what position they’ll target. And those answers are really impossible to give out right now. Depends on FA, who is available, overall team needs, and trying to figure out the second round 49 picks in is a dart throw. So I just don’t have any semblance of an answer right now and I don’t really see the need to know “today” what they’re doing. Because anyone’s answer is just going to change as the information changes the next few months.

sanford kojiro: Do you think it’s time to start thinking about moving away from Ben? We were losing with Ben in the beginning of the season. The players and coaching stepped up their game after Ben got injured. I don’t see a SB in the future even if Ben returns to play next season. Do you think we should trade players or draft picks and do everything that we can to move up to draft one of the top 3 QBs?

Alex: I’m in the total opposite direction. This season proved why Ben is so valuable. Not why you should run away from him. Hypothetically, if Ben stayed healthy and the defense played at the same, dominant level, this is a serious Super Bowl contender. Instead, they’re 8-8 and missing the playoffs. Massive, massive defense. This team is built around Ben and will be until he hangs up his cleats, which hopefully won’t be for at least another two years.

Alex Kuhn: What do you see as the ceiling for Rudolph and what does he have to do to get there?

Alex: This season, better than any before it, proved we shouldn’t put boxes around QB play. So much up and down. Rudolph comes in, looks ok, struggles, bounces back (Rams game), struggles again, gets benched. Duck comes in, looks good, falls apart. Rudolph comes in, plays better. It’s why I just wanted to let the season play out and see what happens because young QBs can peak and valley so much.

Having said all that, I want to go back and do a deep dive now that the season is over. Right now, Rudolph is on that fringe starter/backup line, but he also just finished his first year starting and it’s reasonable to expect him to learn and grow and ultimately improve.

For Rudolph, and Duck, pocket presence is key. Ran themselves into too many pressures and sacks. Rudolph doesn’t have any mobility so his pocket movement is all the more important. He’s gotta maximize his space.

Greasy Wings: Are the 2020 starting RB and TE on the roster right now? I like Conner when he’s healthy, but that seems to be an iffy proposition. And Vance really disappointed me this year…

Alex: The RB is. Conner or if he’s hurt, Snell. Snell had a really nice rookie year all things considered. TE is much dicier. I’m not sure what they’re going to do with Vance. But it was a terrible, terrible year and you can’t blame it all on QB play.

Chad Weiss: James Connor vs leveon Bell.. Who you taking if contract was the same?

Alex: Bell, 100%. More durable and better in basically every area. Said as much last year. Conner is a really talented back but the team didn’t let Bell go because he wasn’t talented enough. He left because he was too talented, and by extension too expensive, to keep around.

That’s all for this week. Thanks guys!

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