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Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

Welcome back to your Thursday mailbag. Like every week, we’re here for the next hour to answer whatever is on your mind.

To your questions!

Sinatra: 

Hey Alex,

Given that everyone rightly expects Bud Dupree to leave for a big payday in FA this offseason, what is the possibility of the Steelers tagging and trading him? If it worked financially, you’d have to think they could get more than the 3rd round comp pick. Similar situations to this have happened in recent years like Frank Clark and Dee Ford being tagged and traded. What are your thoughts?

Alex: Essentially zero. Because it doesn’t work financially. And given his injury, the market for him and the tag will be light. You’re better off just recouping the comp pick, which will hopefully remain a third round selection for the 2022 draft.

Eddie Cruz: Alex, assuming Ben decides to come back next year regardless of this year’s outcome what would you do in round 1 if a QB with a 1st round grade is on the board at our pick? Do you pass for another position if all things are equal or take the QB?

Alex: It’s always case-by-case when we can assign specific people (I don’t think such a QB will be in that 25-32 range anyway, for what it’s worth) but I still probably go for the non-QB. Unless I have a hard date of when Roethlisberger is retiring, I’m focused on winning with him. If I go the QB route, I get little to no help for the present. And what if Roethlisberger plays another couple years? It’s not impossible, even if it’s sorta unlikely right now. You could get to a point where your former 1st round QB sits for 2-3 years and you have him on his rookie deal for a short time as the starter.

There’s always a fine line there with taking the plunge to draft the franchise QB. Lot of risk in the move, it’s hard to know when it’s the “right” time unless you’re picking in the top 5 and it’s obvious that you need one and you have your guy. But I’m focusing on winning with #7 as long as I can.

Kyle Chrise: has Avery Williamson earned more snaps, or will we see mostly Spillane on Sunday?

Alex: Not exactly sure how it’ll go but I think we’ll see a rotation between at least Spillane and Williamson. Maybe a rotation between all three: Spillane, Williamson, and Vince Williams. Couldn’t tell you exactly how it’s going to go. Maybe Williamson plays in base, maybe Spillane in nickel, maybe they do it on an ever-other-series kind of thing. But Spillane has missed time and might not be ready to play 100% of the snaps. So a rotation works well, especially because Williamson has proven to be a reliable, sure tackler.

PghSDF: What’s your evaluation on Randy’s play calling against Browns since Rudolph wasn’t changing plays like Ben would?

Alex: It was fine. I didn’t have any gripes with it. The only major gripes I’ve had with Fichtner’s playcalling this year is a lack of constrain plays off the motion they’ve been running and some really dreadful calls in big moments. Throw to Hawkins on the GL, the empty set out of 22 personnel on 4th and goal, the 4th and 1 sluggo to McFarland. Those were all terrible. But against the Browns? Playcalling was fine to me.

@avgnsdave: How has Chuks Okorafor been in run blocking this season? I’m guessing he’s moved to LT next year when/if Villaneuva leaves through retirement or free agency. I still have concerns about him.

Alex: Like the rest of the group, not nearly good enough. One of Okorafor’s biggest problems has been his lack of strength. In pass pro and as a run blocker. So he’s been below average. But you can say the same about a lot of those guys.

It is possible he shifts to LT next year. But he still has to take some big steps in pass pro. They could also just draft a tackle and play him on whichever side he’s more comfortable with, maybe staying at LT if he was a LT in college.

Okorafor may not be an ideal starter but this team won’t have a lot of choices come the offseason. They’re losing a lot.

Jeff P:

Two questions:

1. Now that the regular season is over, what grade would you give to the Ebron and Watt free agent signings based on contract value vs. productivity/fit?

2. Now that a couple years have passed, hypothetically, who would you rather have on your team going forward, Devin White or Devin Bush?

Alex: Ebron sure grades out better than Watt. I’d give Ebron a B. He has played wholly as advertised. Effort as a blocker but he’s bad at it, drops, but also a red zone target and made plays down the seam. That was the scouting report when they signed him. What you saw is what you got. So a “B” is fair.

Watt is a little harder to gauge because he was hurt for so much of the season. Can’t blame the team for that. He has played pretty well on special teams, commanding attention, but I’m fine with – and really expect – the team to cut ties with him in the offseason and save a little bit of money. So give it a D+. Didn’t get their ROI.

Matt: 

Alex, what’s up. Long time listener, first time caller.

#1: Odds that Dobbs suits up Sunday and is used like week? You might’ve commented on this earlier in the week, but not sure if anything’s changed.

#2: I believe Spillane’s one of the many FAs after this season; lemme know if I’m wrong. What are his chances are of coming back and what’s a reasonable price? I realize there are tons of moving parts this offseason, but seems like a good candidate to return at an affordable rate and could be worth it.

#3: Random question of the day — 2000 onward, who’s your most underrated player (based on contributions in Pittsburgh) to wear a Steeler uniform.

Alex: Good to hear from you, Matt!

I’m actually liking the odds Dobbs suits up. Maybe you use him for just 2-3 plays. But those are likely to be important plays. 3rd and goal, 2nd and 1, some critical moment. As bad as this team has been running the ball, as bad as they are in short-yardage and with the Browns having almost zero practice time to defend some of that stuff (granted, they play the Ravens twice a year so option offenses aren’t new for them to face) it’s an important wrinkle to add in. Matthew laid out how to set your inactive list to have all three QBs and you’re not sacrificing a lot there (Brooks, Buggs, Isidora, Elliott/Marsh, McFarland). It’s worth it for the playoffs.

Spillane is an exclusive rights free agent. So while technically a free agent, he’ll be back in Pittsburgh in 2021 and on a very cheap, ERFA, one-year tender.

Good question about the underrated Steeler. Someone mentioned Dewayne Washington the other day. I guess you’ll get mad at me if I choose Chidi Iwuoma or any of the other special teams gems (Kriedwalt, Morey, Madison, Bailey). I think we forget how good Marvel Smith was at OT until his back gave out on him. Great player. Health was what did him in. He’s one of the first name who jumps to mind. Not sure if that’d be my final answer but that’s where my brain went to.

Beaver Falls Hosiery: Alex, just curious. Do you think Ray-Ray McCloud will be in a Steelers uniform next season?

Alex: I do. Certainly with the team in camp. But they found their first good KR since what, the early days of Antonio Brown? Don’t let that guy go.

Redzc: Hey Alex.
I like most want to see the game played this weekend, but what amount of positive testing do you think it would take for the game to be postponed?

Alex: It would take what it took for Tennessee and Baltimore. Continued spread in the locker room that isn’t under control before the game. Not about how many guys are/aren’t available. This game is still scheduled even though the Browns won’t have their head coach. Which is kinda crazy if you pull back and think about. The way it gets postponed is if more COVID cases pop up in the locker room and the league/league doctors don’t feel it’s under control. Given their comments today that imply the spread is happening within the locker room, we’re inching closer to “postponement” territory, though the game is still set for Sunday night.

David Rudin: 

Hey Alex,

Is Highsmith Bud’s replacement from here on in? Does he have a high enough ceiling?

Alex: He is. Highsmith is your starting ROLB Week 1 next year. I think his ceiling is high. As good as Bud? Remains to be seen. He’s not there yet. But he’s much further along than Dupree was his rookie year, miles ahead, and I like the track Highsmith is on.

Dan Blocker: Alex, regarding your Derek Watt comments above (which I agree with, based on his injuries), do you feel he wasn’t used more on offense due to availability, or was he signed, and really not a fit for the offense?

Alex: Mix of both. 2021 isn’t like the time of your profile picture (digging the Kreider love, btw). FBs just aren’t used a lot. Especially block-first kind of guys. Sometimes you get an athletic H-Back type like what they have out in San Fran or the Raiders guy a few years ago. And that guy plays more because he’s sorta a throwback to the Roger Craigs or Larry Centers of the worlds, days where FBs were heavily involved in the pass game. Watt isn’t anywhere near those molds. So his use and situations to play are limited.

And then as you said, health was a big factor. Only played in 12 games this season and got hurt mid-way through a few of them. So really only was available start to finish in what, ten games this year? Maybe less? Then you start playing without him and your gameplan doesn’t involve him, you’re winning games, and he sorta falls out of the loop.

Brian Tollini: Who is scoring on defense Sunday night?

Alex: I’d love to see Minkah do it again. Or a strip-sack-fumble by TJ Watt. But I don’t care who does it as long as someone does. Hard to lose a game that way.


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

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