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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!

stan: Do you know if the Steelers’ pay rates for assistants is competitive? It seems odd to me that they’ve had such trouble getting good assistants given their sterling reputation in every other area.

Alex: I don’t. I’m not sure how the “Steelers don’t pay assistants’ narrative got kicked up. Does anyone know how much anyone outside of Mike Tomlin makes? It’s probably fair to say the Steelers don’t pay *top* dollar but I’d love to see where people are getting their info. I couldn’t give you any sort of informed answer.

Lucas Campbell: All the other media outlets seem to be going the “Pro Bowl” popularity contest route and picking Aaron Donald for DPOY over TJ. Do you feel this is how the award will shake up for Saturday night and Watt will really get snubbed for the second year in a row.

Alex: Don’t be shocked if Donald wins it. I’m not sure which direction voters will go. It’s a toss-up right now. NFL.com just did their voting and Donald edged Watt out by one vote, 15-14. I think heading into Saturday’s award show, Donald is the slight favorite. 60% chance Donald wins it, 35% Watt wins it, 5% Xavien Howard wins it.

Aeronius D. McCoy: I have seen a number of posters and pundits mention Vince Williams as a potential cap casualty. Obviously it’s a gigantic jigsaw puzzle, the 2021 cap situation, with a number of unknowns still. Do you think VW is in Black and Gold next year? Is $4M worth parting with a tone-setter on D in your opinion? I’d hate to see him go.

Alex: No one should focus on the 2021 salary cap number more than Vince Williams. It really could dictate whether he stays or goes. Not that he’s a bad player or overpaid or even that it’s good value (it is, in a vacuum). But if the cap comes in lower than where the Steelers want/need it, Williams could go. Bush is returning, you have Spillane who played well, Marcus Allen as a sub-package guy who should get more comfortable after switching to ILB and whatever roll of the dice UG3 gives you.

If the cap can come in at 185-190 million, I think Vince is safe. If it drops below 180, he’s in trouble.

ImMikeD: Hey Alex. Playing with some fantasy here. Let’s say the Steelers are able to come up with the roughly $16M in space to be able to sign Dupree or JJSS. With Highsmith, DJ and Claypool showing to be capable players, do you spend the money on either, and which if so? Or where else do you spend the money?

Alex: I’d spend it on JuJu. And it’s no slight against Dupree. He’s been fantastic. But Highsmith looked like he can be the future and there’s no such obvious in-house replacement for JuJu. You want your QB to have his go-to weapon. They need to get JuJu vertical more often and Ben in general needs to push the ball downfield, but this will still be a quick-fire offense at the end of the day. And Smith-Schuster excels there. So I’m spending it on JuJu, which I think is more likely to happen than retaining Dupree.

hdogg48: 

Alex……

Who ya got Sunday and why?

Alex: Give me the Chiefs. Buccaneers are a great team. But they’re mortal beings. Mahomes and the Chiefs feel like you can never kill them, no matter what you do.

Sinatra22: Hey Alex,

Lance Zierlein’s most recent mock draft has Justin Fields falling to the Patriots at 15. While I don’t view this as very realistic, it’s still possible. How far would one of Fields, Wilson, or Lance have to fall for you to make a serious effort to trade up for them if you were the one calling the shots?
If you believe one of them is your guy and they’re available in the early teens, I have no issue giving up our 2022 1st and something like a 3rd this year to get him. How do you feel on the matter? Thanks as always!

Alex: Assuming this is Ben’s final year, it’s reasonable, mandatory almost, to be in “find a QB” mode. So if there’s a franchise guy you really like who can sit for a year and take over for 2022, I’m not against it. Finding and acquiring that guy is a much tougher story when you’re picking in the 20s. And it would take a lot to move up. But I’m not against the notion, to be honest. The hunt for Ben’s replacement needs to begin with this draft.

Daniel Moon: Hello Alex, Do you think Chucks can handle LT position or do we draft Cosmi or Leatherwood in the 1st round? Who would you rather pick between Cosmi and Leatherwood?

Alex: I had a similar question/answer in last week’s mailbag. Here’s what I wrote when asked if Okorafor was a better fit for LT.

“You’d have to talk to him and see what he’s more comfortable with. I know he was a LT in college so maybe he would prefer to move back there. He did struggle a lot giving up inside wins/counters. I don’t know if that’s an overall technique thing or a comfort issue where he’d prefer his right hand be his inside hand instead of the left, as it is currently when playing right tackle. If there’s stuff like that going on, then you may want to flip him. But there’s nothing on the tape that tells me he should be moving over there and we’ll see different results. The line between both tackle spots have blurred so much. You could argue being at LT reduces some of the run blocking responsibilities so I suppose that could help too. But I think you just find a good tackle in the draft, see where that guy fits best, and make the best decision from there.”

To address yours more specifically, Okorafor doesn’t stop me from drafting a tackle. And if you don’t bring back Feiler, then you definitely have a hole at one tackle spot, assuming Villanueva walks, unless you really expect Banner to be your Day One starting RT next season.

I would take Leatherwood over Cosmi.

Dan Blocker: Hi Alex – I’ve read a few articles and blogs this week regarding the fans and they’re treatment of Ben Roethlisberger. As if fans want him gone (which I think is a little harsh, and not that easy). To me, it’s more that Ben’s style is one way, and the team is heading another… whether due to the cap or new philosophy, whatever. I guess my question is, can everyone get what we want (i.e. Ben, the Steelers) for 1 year, or is it not that easy?

Alex: That’s what I see both sides trying to do. Make 2021 the final year. Ben is still under contract so it’s not like the Steelers are signing a would-be free agent. They obviously could and probably will do an extension to get his cap hit down but take the voidable year method instead of a true, normal extension. There’s a lot of math to wade through to figure out what’s best for the team, that’s partially dependent on where the cap comes in at. So in that sense, it’s complicated. But the path to making it work is pretty simple. A voidable year extension with Ben is the way to make everyone happy. He gets to come back, team gets much-needed relief.

Anthony Palmerston: Very random question, but did you have hear any rumors as to why Brandon Boykin never got playing time? Seemed to play well when let into the game. I feel like it’s a mystery.

Alex: It was injury-related, I believe. Right after they traded for Boykin, they realized he had a hip issue. At least, that’s what Carnell Lake said.

Other random fact. I was in a Latrobe McDonalds writing my camp report when we got news Boykin was being traded to Pittsburgh.

Jeremy: I have limited time this year. Of the draft profiles done so far, pick a handful for me. Steelers guys, any round. Or really cool ones. TIA.

Alex: We keep a running tab of them at the bottom of each report so they’re easier to access. But guys we’ve profiled who are especially worth paying attention to. In no order:

TE Pat Freiermuth 
TE Brevin Jordan
RB Najee Harris
CB Thomas Graham Jr.
WR Amari Rodgers
C Creed Humphrey
RB Demetric Felton
RB Chuba Hubbard
CB Kary Vincent Jr.

Hope that helps.

Guy Breton: Hey Alex. The Eagles had the Phiily special in a recent SB. I have a name for the no show in the last 3 embarassing playoff defeats. How about the “Tomlin special”. You know all those cocky teams looking past their opponents, unprepared. There is a trend.

Alex: That doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as nicely but noted.

SteelDodo: 1. Who do you think the 4-5 inside linebackers will be in 2021? I expect the starters will be Bush and Williams (coming back on a smaller deal), with Gilbert, Allen, and Spillane backing them up.
2. Do you think that either Marcus Allen or Antoine Brooks will ever be starter or rotational quality? or are they destined to be special teamers / injury replacements only?

Alex: I’m basically with you. Bush/Williams starting with Spillane in some potential rotation (maybe Vince in base only, Spillane in nickel, Bush every down). Gilbert as a dart throw/special teamer with Allen a ST’er and backup dime player.

Brooks and Allen could be rotational quality. For Allen, it’s tough if Bush is the every down guy. I could see Brooks emerging into a big nickel type of role. Probably neither will ever be every down starters though.

Chris Carey: Whats with all the commentary about “keeping Ben happy”, or things like “Ben doesn’t like to do that” when I watch games. How much does it really matter what Ben likes to do – such as line up under center. He’s a Steelers employee – isn’t he simply supposed to do what the coaches feel will win games compared to what he “likes” to do?

Alex: If only it were that simple. Any offense is going to tailor their scheme/system to their QB and any organization is going to tailor what they do to their franchise, Hall of Famer. That’s true of every situation. If you aren’t doing that, especially the former, you’re not doing your job as a coach. Everything in moderation so you can focus too much on what the QB likes at the expense of others and it hurt you as a team but you can’t ignore it either. Or else you’re not putting your team in the best position to win.

What Ben likes to do and what you call to win games are very much intertwined.


That’s all for this week. Thanks everyone. Enjoy the Super Bowl.

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