Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

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Welcome back to your weekly edition of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ mailbag. As always, we’re here for the next hour to answer whatever is on your mind.

To your questions!

CP72: AK,
There’s been a lot of speculation on JuJu’s future. In your opinion is JuJu a foundational piece of the franchise that you sign at all cost or just a good player that the Steelers should set a price and say we’re not going above that?

Alex: The good thing is we have 2020 to find that out. No need to make a decision right now. JuJu’s not going to do a long-term deal this summer, at least I can’t see it, because his value is so low. So he has the chance to bounceback and the Steelers another year to make the best assessment possible. Getting to see a final year out of Dupree was crucial, for example.

We’ll see how JuJu plays this year but I’m confident he’s going to enjoy a bounce back season and cash in, whether that’s Pittsburgh (who could tag him if he plays really well) or elsewhere.

There’s also the issue of the 2021 cap and what reduction, if any, it will be. That’s another monkey wrench that we can only speculate about. Lot of unknowns.

stan: What do you make of the Steelers’ relatively small bonuses for UDFA’s? They’ve traditionally lagged behind other teams in UDFA spending but this year seemed like the year to catch up since all of the teams were capped. However, we spent relatively little again. Colbert stated yesterday that he selfishly wanted to add a couple more picks this year to fill holes, but he could have just used the rest of his money to sign those guys that he otherwise would have drafted. Is it a case of Colbert just being able to get the same guys he would have drafted really cheaply? Surely there are guys he would rather have had if he had spent a little more money, right?

Alex: It’s nothing new, stan. There’s been a UDFA cap in the past, too. That’s not because of the new CBA. It’s just the way they’ve done business. They don’t guarantee portions of base salaries like other teams do to circumvent the meager signing bonus cap that’s put in place. I’ve argued that’s the wrong approach, and why their past half-dozen UDFA classes have been so poor, though they got something out of guys like Duck and Ola last season at least.

To why he didn’t spend all the money, yeah, I think it’s just that they didn’t have to. They got the guys they were targeting for the price they wanted. They still used about 75% of their signing bonus space.

The Tony: Alex,
Do you think training camp will be open to the public this year?

Alex: Wish I knew, Tony. It’s difficult to be optimistic about it right now. The good things is that it’s obviously in the open, as opposed to a stadium where everyone is forced to sit closer together. I’m sure that if fans are able to attend, there won’t be the autograph line along the fences like you see every single year. Maybe they limit number of people, I’m sure we couldn’t sit in the bleachers, but there are large grassy areas for people to sit in. Perhaps it’ll be open with compromises.

There’s also just the question of if they’ll practice at SVC this year or stay home on the South Side. There’s arguments to still go to SVC (easier to restrict player/staff movement if you keep them in the dorms) and arguments against (putting players in small dorm rooms with each other, will the campus itself even be open to students? players being away from families in an uncertain time). If they stay at home, I’m sure it won’t be open to the public.

So I don’t know what the outcome will be. All I can say is that if it is at St. Vincent and it’s open for fans, I will be there. Fingers crossed.

Jake Sas: Would you be against adding someone like an Alex Smith? Great locker room guy, vet minimum, great story, think it would be a good mentor to someone like Mason. Second part if you got the time, Paxton or Duck? I got my money on Paxton!

Alex: Smith specifically is still under contract with Washington and is obviously still working his way back from that gruesome knee/leg injury. So I don’t have any interest in him, though I’m rooting hard for him to make it back onto the field. He’s a rockstar attacking his rehab and showing strength the way he has.

If you’re asking more broadly about a vet QB, I was never 1000% opposed to it but we knew it wasn’t going to happen. Steelers didn’t have an interest. I don’t think Rudolph needs a mentor. Ben is better with that than people give him credit for, just watch the way he teaches and talks to guys during camp, and getting to watch a Hall of Famer are valuable mental reps, even at times where there isn’t direct teaching.

Hiring a QB coach like Matt Canada is the teacher he should’ve had when he was drafted. That’s going to be critical. Give your investment all the tools that will help him. So I look at it that way.

For Paxton/Duck, it’s a toss-up. All about who plays better this summer. Dave has got me leaning Lynch right now, especially with the way Colbert always brings up his name when asked about the backup QBs (and he’s been asked a lot).

MoreRingsThanYourTeam: I’ve heard a lot of people speaking on the Steelers going 12-4 this year. That’s also contingent on Big Ben’s health and comeback of course. We also need to see if this defense is for real or if they were just a fluke. Realistically speaking, what kind of record do you think we’ll have this year?

Alex: 10-6 is the standard Steelers’ answer around here. But if we assume those things to be true, Ben returns and recovers and the defense plays like it did last year (or at a very similar level) then yeah, 12-4 is not out of the realm of possibility. This was an 8-5 team until they collapsed down the stretch. Add an offense that can actually create plays and not add stress by always turning the ball over, never finishing in the red zone, etc and they for sure can make a run at the AFC North. So I’ll split the difference and say 11-5.

HardPunkKore: Usually we have mini camps and OTAs to keep us occupied. This year we don’t have that so what other player break downs/film studies and other content are coming our way here at SD?

Alex: We’re always brain storming new ideas. And I’m still in the middle of trying to come up with stuff. Hopefully we can do some player interviews – that’s something I like to do every year. I’m trying to produce more video content because I think you guys like the visuals of it and I’m working on a video series to keep us busy during the next two months. And I’ll bring back my “Blast From the Past” series that’s always fun to research. We’ll find something to keep you entertained, promise.

SteelDodo: Going into the draft, I assumed they would not address RB this year. After Conner walksn year, I was assuming that a highish pick would be used in 2021. Now with McFarland on board, how do you feel about a 2021 RB depth chart of Snell, McFarland, and Samuels? Do you think that is the tentative plan?

Alex: That’s a good question. I think it depends, and this is obvious, on what happens in 2020. If/how Snell takes a sophomore leap, how McFarland looks out of the box, if Samuels looks more like his rookie seal with Roethlisberger back.

But it’s an interesting spot and I imagine there will be debate and grey area assuming Conner walks. Do you reinvest in the position highly again and try to find “the guy” or do you roll with the semi-unknowns currently on your team? That’s why I was for being all-in or all-out on the position this season. Now they’re hedging their bets. Doesn’t mean McFarland is a bad pick, he’s a talented runner, but I don’t know what next year will look like. And I don’t know if the answers get a whole lot clearly 10 months from now.

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

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