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Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

Welcome back to your Thursday mailbag. As always, we’re here for the next hour to answer anything and everything on your mind.

To your questions!

Christopher Pokins: Alex,
John Clayton stated he expects Bud Dupree to get a $6 million range contract for next year. Even with his injury, I feel thats a bit under valued. But if he is correct, does that put him in play to return? Does it become a question of do we release Haden, Vince, etc. and bring back Bud? Your thoughts?

Alex: I don’t think it would. Even if we take that $6 million as truth, and I agree, that’s low even considering his knee injury, the Steelers can’t handle one-year contracts right now. The problem with those is that there’s no room to push money to. That’s the beauty of multi-year deals. You can spread out signing bonuses, roster bonuses, options, etc in order to push money into the future when the cap situation is different for your team and the league. A one-year deal puts all that money into your current year. So $6 million over one year means your 2021 cap hit is $6 million, barring any sort of NLTBE incentive that doesn’t immediately apply or something like that. And that makes it almost impossible to do given the team’s current cap situation, even if you wanted to cut a lot of guys. But if you did, then you’re just potentially paying Dupree a mega-deal this time next year.

Sinatra22:

Hey Alex, hope you’re doing well!

Seems the team is going to have some tough decisions to make with the cap, and won’t be able to re-sign everyone. How would you rank the importance of re-signing the following guys slated to be UFAs:

JuJu
Conner
Hilton
Sutton
Villanueva
Feiler
Banner
Williamson

I didn’t include Bud because I assume we have no shot at resigning him. Thanks!

Alex: It’s tough because there’s so many variables at play. Much of it revolves around what the cap and other roster moves will allow you do to. So it’s hard to even rank it because of course I would love to have Villanueva back and he’s important but I just don’t think he’s realistic. Being able to retain one of Sutton or Hilton, Sutton is the more likely option, is important. If you can re-sign Sutton, Tyson Alualu (can’t forget about him) and someone else lower-level, or if you’re in better shape cap wise and can go: Sutton + JuJu + Alualu + Banner + Hawkins…something like that, then I think it’s a success. You just have to bring some guys back so you don’t have massive holes in so many areas of your roster that the draft won’t possibly be able to address. That’s they way I look at it.

SteelDodo: Hi Alex,
What do you expect the long term outlook is for Okorafor? Do you think he’s a long term starter or better as a swing tackle and injury replacement?
Also, if we draft a 1st round OT (e.g. Leatherwood), and Banner comes back fully healthy, of the three, who starts and who is the backup?
(Assuming Feiler and AV are gone)

Alex: I know he came into the league younger and rawer than most but I haven’t seen long-term, starter quality from him. He wasn’t terrible last year but not nearly as good in pass pro as the Steelers lack of sacks suggested and his run blocking, especially as a RT, is pretty poor. Ideally, he’s a swing-guy, though he may be forced to start based on Villanueva/Feiler’s expiring deals.

If they draft a 1st round OT, he probably starts. Still would have to go into camp and compete/earn the job, but this isn’t 2010. Rookies play out of the box. Especially linemen. I’m not sure the last highly picked linemen who didn’t play right away for this team aside from DeCastro, who got hurt.

ChefBoyerD: Hi Alex, do you feel Ben is $20M better than Rudolph at this point? Mason’s last 2 starts were promising

Alex: I do. Rudolph has shown some level of progression but not anywhere near to a franchise caliber. Even factoring in Ben’s salary. Could you imagine Rudolph having to put the whole offense on his back, throw 600+ passes, rally the team from behind, close out the game through the air? I can’t. Not consistently. Not reliably.

Wreckless: Kind of a two part question. Where do you think a slot receiver falls on the list of needs for this team and if they don’t grab one, how would you use the receivers in 11 personnel?

Alex: I’m guessing this question assumes JuJu Smith-Schuster is re-signed. If he comes back, then it falls to pretty low on their long list of needs. If he walks, it certainly bumps things up. Problem is I don’t know if this class is great at slot receiver and even fewer guys who have JuJu’s size/style. The “big slot” guy is growing but still harder to find than your typical quick/shifty slot dude.

I expect the focus for this team to be on the o-line and running game. That’s where you’ll see the first reinforcements to the offense get made. And then you attack slot receiver after that. So maybe that starts in Round 3/4. I’ll have my profile up tomorrow on Clemson’s Amari Rodgers. Think you’re going to like him.

If they don’t take on at all, I imagine Chase Claypool gets a lot more work there. Played some as a rookie. And the goof thing for this WR room is they moved around a lot more than past years where guys were more static in their spots. Partially because AB was always the X (so defenses either had to double-him or leave him on an island, a win for the offense either way) which kept other guys in their spots. So you have guys  who are more comfortable playing inside even if it isn’t their primary spot. That helps. And of course, McCloud is an option, assuming he gets brought back in some form or fashion whether that’s an RFA tender or some other, cheaper contract.

stan: Talk me off the ledge regarding Matt Canada. I’m looking at a guy who’s only coached a team to the top half of his league twice in twelve years as a coordinator (one of those is at NIU) and was unemployed in 2019 and I’m wondering if the Steelers don’t have a real problem with always promoting from within no matter what.

Alex: We’ll see. I have some questions/concerns too. Like I’ve said/written, they’re trying to thread the needle with the promotion of Canada. He wasn’t a long-time in-house guy like Fichtner/Butler. But there is a level of continuity there. So that’s the approach they were trying to take.


That’s all for this week. Thanks guys!

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