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Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

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Welcome back to your Thursday mailbag. Hope you’ve survived the Snowpocalypse of 2020. Kinda sums up the whole year. We’re here for the next hour to answer whatever is on your mind.

To your questions!

Kevin Good: 

Good afternoon Alex.

I have a pipe dream question for you.

Seeing how the Steelers have pulled off some eye opening trades recently, how far out there is the Steelers trading whatever it takes to get the Jets first pick overall and land Trevor Lawrence. I’d trade 3 first rounders without hesitation.

But I ride my couch. Not even the bench.

Alex: It would take selling the farm. So as much as you may like Lawrence, you probably wouldn’t feel so good if you saw what the Steelers had to give up. I know you’re focused on the long-term upside but making a blockbuster deal like that says “We ain’t winning the Super Bowl with Ben ever again.” That’s not the mindset I want the team to take right now.

Plus, while I think Lawrence will succeed, you’re riding everything on one player. Missing with just the first overall pick sets you back a lot as it is. Giving up three picks? If he doesn’t work, your franchise is screwed for the next five years. And everyone gets fired.

WeWantDaTruth: Hey Alex. Assuming the Steelers take care of business in Cincy on Monday, how would you approach the final 2 weeks of the regular season? Rest players or keep fighting for highest seed possible?

Alex: I’d have to look at the playoff seeding and all of the implications. You’re probably still playing your guys like normal against the Colts. If there’s nothing to play for in the finale, I’d rest your key guys. Starting with Roethlisberger, obviously. This team needs some rest.

What is interesting – and I probably inartfully posed the question on Wednesday’s podcast – is if the Chiefs lose one of their next two guys against the Saints or Falcons (Saints will be a tough team). And let’s assume Pittsburgh wins their next two. So they each have 13-2 records heading into Week 17 and I assume/believe the Chiefs have tiebreaker. So Pittsburgh can get the #1 seed if they beat Cleveland but the Chiefs have to lose to the Chargers. Both games are at 1. Do you play your starters and gamble for the top seed, in essence hoping the Chiefs lose? Or do you bet against and play backups? That would be an interesting decision and I don’t know which way I’d lean.

But if there’s nothing to play for Week 17, rest your guys. The extra roster elevations slightly help in that regard too. Some more roster flexibility for say, potentially an offensive linemen (like Pouncey) to sit a game when maybe in past years with less roster space, it would be a bit tougher to get away with.

Jake Sas: Have to resign 1 of them, Hilton or Sutton, who do you pick and why? Scares me to think we may lose both.

Alex: If I get to choose and money is no object? No wrong answers here and I agree Sutton is the better cover corner. But I gotta go Hilton. That skillset is so rare, so hard to find. Lot of guys can cover. Few can support the run, blitz, tackle in the open field, and Hilton holds his own in coverage. Far from a liability. He just gives your defense so much gameplan flexibiilty. You can run nickel against 12 personnel if you’re worried about an athletic TE in the pass game, or a back, or some other opponent wrinkle that makes you want to mix up packages and play a little sub.

To be fair, Sutton gives you a lot of schematic flexibility and I think he’s the more realistic choice to re-sign. But I’m with you. If you lose both, that’s going to hurt.

WeWantDaTruth: Feiler is out until the playoffs at earliest. Same with Spillane, or is there a chance for him to come back sooner (if the coaches wanted him to)?

Alex: Spillane went on IR a week earlier so he would be eligible to return for the Week 17 finale against the Browns. Will he? I don’t know. It sounds like no one viewed it as season-ending and Avery Williamson said Spillane didn’t need surgery. So at the least, you’d think he’s ready for the playoffs and could be back for Cleveland. But I don’t have any special insight there for you.

@Why_Cliff: Seeing how everything is happened so far this season, if you could’ve drafted differently this past year would you have? And if Ben retires this off-season do we get that cap relief from his contract off the books?

Alex: Good to hear from you, Cliff! That’s a good question and I’d have to comb through the options they had back then. But short answer, no, I wouldn’t have. I’m sure there are some “they should’ve taken Player X instead of Player Y” stuff you can do for any draft class. Hindsight is 20/20. But from a positional standpoint, I don’t think I would’ve changed much. I was all gung ho on taking a NT but then Tyson Alualu goes out and has a career season. Claypool a solid pick, taking an OLB early like Highsmith clearly a good call post-Dupree injury, and Dotson’s proven valuable. Maybe you can debate about McFarland but he’s still a young guy and his struggles aren’t a surprise.

I’m always a little over my skis when it comes to cap stuff, better question for Dave, but yes, they would get cap relief. Retiring is treated like a player getting cut. So they would save $19 million in cap space (and also have $22 million in dead money).

In fact, I just pulled up the great article Dave wrote on the Ben options back in August. Here was the “retire” section.

Roethlisberger Retires – Should Roethlisberger decide to retire after the 2020 season, odds are good such a decision would be made prior to his $15 million roster bonus being due on the third day of the new league year in March. If Roethlisberger were to retire before his roster bonus is due, the Steelers would save $19 million in 2021 salary cap space and be on the hook for $22.25 million in dead money next season. While the Steelers could probably go after Roethlisberger’s final year of signing bonus proration money being as he didn’t play out his contract, it is very, very doubtful they would do so out of respect for his long career in Pittsburgh.”

Here’s the whole article.

Looking Ahead At 2021 Ben Roethlisberger Contract/Cap Cutting Scenarios

Jake Sas: 

If it’s slow I got another: could this be Decastro’s last year? I’m just not seeing the nasty that I used to see, but also I only watch the games with no all-22.

Alex: I doubt it. I do wonder if he’s still playing through those early-season injuries. In a year where they’re going to lose some pieces, Feiler/Villanueva, I don’t want to cut a glue-guy like DeCastro. That’s a lot of change for your franchise QB heading into his final years.Plus, there’s no obvious way to replace him. Unless you kept Feiler and kept him at guard. But my guess is if he’s kept, he goes back out to RT (Chuks to LT to replace Villanueva) with Dotson coming in at LG;.zbluez1: Alex, in your opinion, what % of offensive plays would you want Ben under center in a balanced offensive scheme , up to 65 pass, 35 run , that you believe would keep opposing defenses at a disadvantage ? Merry ho ho’s your wayAlex: Same to you, zbluez! I don’t have a set-in-stone number. It could very week to week, based on gameplan and gameflow. I posted the numbers yesterday that they’re operating at a career low “under center” rate at 21%. In 2017, it was around 30% which is probably closer to where I want the number to be in an ideal world. But it’s more what you do out of it than how much you do it. Their playaction rate even out of under-center is far too low.

ImMikeD: Hey Alex. Just for Fun! There’s an increasing possibility that we get a Brady, Brees, Roethlisberger, Rivers (Rodgers wouldn’t surprise me much either) mass retirement.Let’s assume that all of them retire in the same year. My opinion is that Ben is a first ballot HOF’er, but NFL darlings Brees, Rodgers and Brady are as well. Is there a scenario you can see where all four getting in first year? I can see, without a doubt who gets the short end of the stick in this scenario

Alex: Hmm…good question. Four and eight guys get inducted each year so on paper, all four could get in. And I think that a Brees/Brady/Rodgers/Roethlisberger would be the four. Little worried Roethlisberger might get the short end of the stick there (even though he shouldn’t, as you’re saying) but it would be a cool moment for the class to put them all in together. They all deserve to be first ballot and the math works so they should all get in. Would be a wild class.


Need to wrap up a few minutes early today. Will try to circle back this evening to anything I missed. Thanks for being here guys!

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