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Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

Hey everyone, welcome back to the mailbag. Sorry it’s a half hour late but I’m sure that’s the least of your inconveniences this month. Whole lot to discuss after a busy start to the new league year. Let’s talk about it.

To your questions!

Brian Tollini: I like the signing of Watt, but assuming that Nix is healthy enough to play, why not take the money that we used on Watt to retain BJ Finney and keep Nix?

Alex: It depends on their exact motivations of wanting a FB. Was Nix’s health an issue? Know he wasn’t released with a failed/physical but there may have just been that concern/history they were no longer comfortable with.

But I hear you. You can argue Watt is a replacement for Matakevich in what they offer on special teams but now that Nix is gone, who replaces what he did on special teams? A very good one, too. For a team with limited cap space and a lot of holes to fill, I still want them to sign a C/G, NT, and safety to round out free agency (all cheap players, obviously) investing a little bit of money in a fullback was unexpected.

For Finney, it was clear they just weren’t super high on him. Viewed him as a quality backup, not a long-term starter.

Craig M: Contracts/ players/ draft picks/ FA, but nothing on coaching upgrades, specifically OC/ strategy improvement?

Alex: Well they did hire a dedicated QB coach, which certainly isn’t going to hurt and Matt Canada is regarded as a bright offensive mine. Hard to evaluate their role and impact in the grand schemes of the offense but I liked the hire.

Ben Saluri: Any practice squanders , are you lookin at, to make a jump?

Alex: Derwin Gray will definitely have a shot to make the roster. Year Two for him, spent his rookie season at guard after spending his entire college career at tackle. With Finney/Foster gone, there will be an opportunity. He’s probably the biggest name I’d highlight.

Billy Stalz: Hi Alex,
I know I am probably not being realistic with the cap situation but if Kevin Colbert did make a big move who you think it would be. Big move being 10 mill plus a year.

Alex: I don’t even know. Especially at this point. We’re in the third wave of free agency so most of these contracts won’t approach those numbers. Some big names still out there, sure, like Logan Ryan and Clowney, but we know the Steelers won’t be apart of that. So I couldn’t even give you an answer, truthfully.

Rick Rineer: Broncos just released Joe Flacco. Not that I want him, but think the Steelers look at him?

Alex: Nah. Steelers are set at QB. They aren’t adding anyone to the group.

WeWantDaTruth: Hey Alex. The Steelers have restructured many contracts and let many players walk. Other than fitting Bud’s tag in, what else are the Steelers planning with all this maneuvering?

Alex: If I told you, Kevin Colbert would have to kill me.

I’d love to know. I imagine there will be more FA signings. Six draft picks aren’t going to cover all the needs they have (iOL, NT, EDGE, safety, WR, TE). So gotta get out in the market some more. Plus, the Steelers like to have some cap room once they finally head into the season of at least a couple million dollars. So if you want to say, trade for Minkah Fitzpatrick or Vance McDonald, you have the room for that along with all the other minor roster/practice squad moves you make throughout a year. Gotta budget that in too.

MoreRingsThanYourTeam: Year and year out, the Steelers never have any money to spend in free agency. Is this due to the consistent restructuring every year? Furthermore, if you had one max salary contract to offer this free agency, who you have given it to and why?

Alex: 2019 showed that isn’t always true. They had a field day last season.

But I understand your point. Clearly are among the least active. It’s their philosophy of building through the draft. Not overpaying in free agency, you’re always paying a “tax” on the market, for a more unknown product. Guys who have wear and tear, guys you might not know as well, guys who are older and you’re potentially paying for past production, not future. Lot of teams have “won” free agency and looked good on paper, Cleveland last year is a prime example, and fell apart when they kicked the ball off.

So when the Steelers build through the draft, and overall, they’ve had lots of success, their focus is on paying to retain those guys. Paying TJ Watt, Cam Heyward, David DeCastro, and of course, Ben Roethlisberger. Teams paying top dollar to their QBs always have less money and typically can’t back up the money truck to free agents either.

Chalk it up to their mindset of building through the draft, not free agency. It’s served them well.

Derek Wilson: If we didn’t lose Fred Johnson this past offseason do you think we would even have to be looking for a LG right now?

Alex: Oh sure. I wouldn’t have been content with banking on Johnson, a UDFA with I assume zero snaps to his belt jumping to starter. He would’ve been interesting depth, especially with how they were moving him around and playing everything but center in training camp, but he wouldn’t have been the answer in 2020. It would’ve lessened the need a tad and maybe though and I wish he was still in black and hold.

Jeff Papiernik: Fill in the blank….The starting NT for the Steelers in 2020 is_____.

Alex: Knowing the Steelers and how they love to torment me, it’s going to be Dan McCullers. I’ll be very sad.

NickSteelerFan: If the Steelers take a DL in the draft, do you think it will be a traditional NT (like Leki Fotu), a smaller quicker DT (like Neville Gallimore) or a 5T (like Ross Blacklock)? Just using names for examples, not actual players to need to take.

Alex: It could be either/or. Finding a quicker DT like Gallimore is tougher to do just because there’s less of of those dudes out there. Lot more pluggers than great athletes. A plugger is more likely for that reason and the fact they’ll have Tuitt/Buggs for sub-packages next year. So you just need to find someone to play competent run defense.

John: Any bargain basement ILBs available on the FA market? If Todd Gurley was a street FA available for the right price should the Steelers consider him? Flacco as a back-up QB?

Alex: Nah, no one that caught my eye. I’m excited to watch Gilbert III take the next step this year. The draft has plenty of prospects too if they want to re-tool there.

No interest in Gurley nor Flacco.

Steelurface: Hi Alex,
First time caller, long time listener. Are you giving Vance a pass for last year and do you believe that Christian Scotland-Williamson has a chance of getting some field time this year?

Alex: Thanks for asking a question. Glad to have you in the chat. No, I’m not giving McDonald a total pass. Understood the QB play made life hard on everyone but James Washington had a big year and Diontae Johnson was a top rookie. So it wasn’t impossible for receivers to look good, even with Mason and Duck.

McDonald struggled to catch the ball and was an abysmal blocker. Those things are fully independent of QB play. He had a bad year, no question about it.

For Scotty? I would be surprised. He did make progress last year, felt like he was actually part of the offense in camp, not just the new guy watching everyone pass him by, but there’s still a ways to go. If Vannett isn’t retained, his odds will slightly improve.

falconsaftey43: 

Hey Alex!
The Steelers love the broad jump under Tomlin. Since 2007, they have drafted, or signed as a UDFA 13 players that finished in the top 10 of all players at the combine.
That’s two more than any other team.

dallas baker
mike wallace
emmanuel sanders
cortez allen
curtis brown
shamarko thomas
ryan shazier
bud dupree
sammie coates
travis feeney
terrell edmunds
matthew thomas
justin layne

That’s one per year. So who from this year’s class becomes a Steeler?
WR, Peoples-Jones
S, Jeremy Chinn
WR, Jalen Reagor
LB, Will Gay Jr.
CB, Jeff Okudah
S, Kyle Dugger
CB, Harrison Hand
S, Chris Miller
CB, Kindle Vildor
S, K’von Wallace

Alex: Ha, I’ve seen you throw those numbers out before. Good find. Lot of names there fitt. Peoples-Jones, Reagor, but I’ll go for K’Von Wallace. Versatile, high-character, Steelers love athletic safeties from big schools (Minkah, Sean Davis, Edmunds) and he’s reportedly super high character. So I’d stick my neck out for him.

stan: 

Its moot now since Hilton got the 2nd round tender, but if he’d gotten only the original round tender would his loss have figured into the comp pick formula?

Also, if the Steelers can only sign one free agent, what position do you think they’d most like to address? NT? TE? ILB? G?

Alex: No. I don’t believe the Steelers would’ve had any compensation for losing him, just in the way placing the transition tag on a player doesn’t net you a pick if another team signs him away. Maybe something in the new CBA changed but pretty sure they wouldn’t get anything.

That’s a good question. I’d go safety. I can’t trust a rookie to be one snap away from being the guy. I want a vet and a rookie to give me some options.

Ken: Thank you for answering our questions. a little joy for us! Texas just did a mandatory shut down of almost everything! It is depressing!

Alex: Thrilled to be able to do it, Ken! Stay safe. Pennsylvania is in a similar boat. Pretty soon, I think the whole country will be. But we’ll get through this.

Lambert58: Hey Alex – Happy Coronavus! jk If I’m reading the tea leaves correctly, the Steelers are planning to move Feiler to LG and either draft a RT or let Chuks and Hulk battle it out. Do you agree with this assessment? Any other OL thoughts?

Alex: That is the most likely and logical option. Don’t want to guarantee it, maybe the team drafts an OG at #49 and can plug ‘n play and leave Feiler at RT but yeah, I’m fine with Feiler kicking inside. Great chance to find out what you have in Okorafor – who you spent a 3rd round pick in and this is make or break for him – and Banner, signed to a one-year, bet-on-himself deal.

Then it’s about finding interior depth. Team currently has none.

WeWantDaTruth: Alex, any chance of bringing Barron back on a smaller deal? If not, what’s the plan at ILB?

Alex: I’m not expecting it. Here’s how I see things breaking down at ILB in 2020.

Base: Williams/Bush
Nickel: Williams/Bush
Dime: Bush

Should have all the confidence in Bush stepping into that every down role after a successful rookie season. That’s what they drafted him for. Gilbert III has the talent to be a top backup. Excited to see his progress. It wouldn’t shock me if they drafted an ILB on Day Three, either.


That’s all for this week. Thanks guys, stay safe!

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