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Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

Welcome back to your weekly Steelers’ mailbag. Like every Thursday afternoon, we’re here for the next hour to answer everything and anything weighing on your mind. Just about three weeks away from the start of the regular season. Can’t come soon enough.

To your questions!

treeher: Is the NFL – like NCAA – making any noise about canceling the season? I’m feeling lost without daily camp news.

Alex: Nope. NFL has always put on a brave face, a full speed ahead mentality. There hasn’t been any talk about that. A low number of COVID cases right now has helped. Believe the league’s been around 1% and a good chunk of those placed on the Reserve list have been activated. All four in Pittsburgh who landed on there have been cleared.

Now, once the season starts and there’s travel, a lot more contact, a lot more risk…we’ll see what happens. That’s what occurred with the MLB. Things were generally fine in Spring Training 2.0. Once the season began, there were outbreaks, things went haywire. But right now, there is every expectation they’ll play Week 1.

PghDSF: Does Tomlin’s career up to this point get him into HOF? If not, what more does he need to do to make it?

Alex: That’s a very good question. My gut reaction right now is no. There are coaches who got into the HOF with just one Super Bowl win, we just saw that with Bill Cowher, and Marv Leavy didn’t win a single one despite four trips to the big game. But most go in with at least multiple rings – Noll, Walsh, Landry, Lombardi. And Cowher got in during this expanded Centennial season. I don’t think he gets in otherwise.

And in an era defined by Belichick and SB rings, Tomlin is on the bubble. Outside looking in. Another ring probably clinches it for him, though.

ifihadatail007: Alex, does it seem to you that the “no movement” on Heyward’s contract is a little bit concerning?

Alex: Nah. Dave and I touched on it on Tuesday’s podcast. These deals happen before the regular season but sometimes they happen right before the regular season. Troy’s deal was done while he was getting on the plane for Week 1. Tuitt’s didn’t happen until the first week of September. Joe Haden’s extension was done September 1st. DeCastro’s was done September 8th.

I know Heyward’s agent has wondered out loud but that’s a good agent trying to create some public pressure. Wouldn’t pay much mind to it. It could honestly be another couple weeks before an agreement is reached. Still think it’s going to happen.

Ike Evans: Do you think the defense can repeat or even surpass their dominance last year?

Alex: Hey Ike! Good to hear from you. Feels like it’s been awhile. Hope you’re doing well and staying safe.

They’ll be hard-pressed to record another 38 takeaways, the study I conducted shows regression is almost certain (probably closer to 30 takeaways) but broadly, this defense should be at least top five and has a legitimate chance to be best in football. It’s just such an unchanged group. Lose Hargrave and Barron, sure, but Tuitt replaces Hargrave’s sub-package/pass rush snaps and Bush is taking over full-time for Barron (an upgrade, most would say). It’s great having the continuity in the secondary for the first time in a decade, there’s talented 1st rounders at every level of this group, and credit where it’s due, Keith Butler did a better job last year than in 2018. Getting the defense in better matchups, not being as mismatched with personnel.

Just take a look at the first two weeks. Facing the Giants and Broncos. Two young QBs with notable players along the o-line opting out. Giants lost LT Solder, Broncos their RT James. Dupree and Watt are going to eat, I think. And that’ll set the tone for the year.

Vance Mac: Why’d the Depot do Pacman like that???

Alex: Like what? We’re not the ones who burned a box full of his jerseys like a crazy person.

Christopher Poknis: Alex, Seems like James Conner is extremely focused this season. But although I’m a big Conner fan, and hope to see him back in 2021 It doesn’tseem likely.. If he has injury problems again, don’t see the Steelers bringing him back. But if he stays healthy, and has a great year, he may price himself out of Pittsburgh with so many contract concerns next year. Do you see any way James returns in 2021? Thanks.

Alex: I don’t, Christopher. For the reasons you outlined. If he has a poor, injury-riddled season, there isn’t a compelling reason to want to bring him back. If he plays well and stays healthy, he’ll cost too much, especially given the cap crunch and alllllll the free agents the team has after the season.

I suppose the only way he could return is if he plays well but gets hurt and misses a lot of time and is willing to take an incredibly small, short contract because he loves the team and wants to stay in the city. But even then, I really can’t envision what kind of deal that would look like. Not seeing a scenario where he returns. Nature of the position. Who was the last Steelers’ feature RB to actually agree to a second deal? Willie Parker in 2006?

WeWantDaTruth: Steelers don’t have any great backs, but 4 decent/serviceable ones. Does it make sense to trade one for a pick or player?

Alex: FWIW, I think Conner is a really talented player. Health is just the obvious issue. Unless you were referring to Snell/McFarland/Whyte/Samuels as the four decent/serviceable.

Either way, point taken. Sure, I think there’s a chance of that. Dave has floated moving Samuels, the most logical and probably really only guy you could move. Wouldn’t be for much, maybe as an add-on as part of another deal (Dave tossed out Samuels + a 6th for Jets S Marcus Maye, which I would do tomorrow) or for a conditional 6th/7th round pick. Seems like Cowboys fans are open to the idea, even though that means very little.

But RB is one of the stronger depth positions on the roster and they won’t be able to keep everyone.

srdan: A year later after we drafted Bush, we saw him play and the picks we gave up we felt the sting. Did the Steelers make the right decision?

Alex: Absolutely. No regrets. Trading up for him was the right move.

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