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Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

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

To your questions!

CP72: 

AK,
Been an interesting week!!

You and Dave talked a good bit about extending Nelson and mentioned that Joe Haden probably wouldn’t be around this next year. I agree and think Haden could be a surprise cut. You could take that nine million and make a run at JuJu and Sutton. Wouldn’t that make more sense than rolling one more year with and Haden?

Alex: I would only cut Haden if I could bring back both Sutton and Hilton. If you’re just bringing back Sutton at corner, he’s placing Haden as the LCB and you still need a slot option to replace Hilton. Maybe you still come out a little bit ahead but it’s probably a wash in a best-case scenario comparing Sutton/Nelson/new face at slot vs Haden/Nelson/Sutton. And I just think it’s not great business to cut a guy just so you can sign others. In a vacuum, Haden is worth what he’s getting paid for at least one more season. But I agree 2021 will be his last year. I’m not going to give a then-33 year old any sort of serious money.

I still think you can bring back Sutton and maybe even JuJu without cutting Haden. Let’s see where the cap comes in at and go from there.

Guy Breton: Hi Alex.
Ils an explanation why the Steelers seems unable to scout ans draft good CB ans S? Since 2007, I can think of William Gay, Keenan Lewis, Cam Sutton ans Terrell Edmunds as the best drafties

Alex: I wish I had a good answer for you, GB. I’m sure if the Steelers had one too, they would course correct. I think it came down to two reasons.

1. The old Steelers’ philosophy. The Dick LeBeau era. They wanted CBs who were strong against the run, Cover 3/zone corners. Guys who weren’t high upside, not big playmakers or great athletes, but steady guys who would tackle the catch and not give up big plays. So those guys rarely turned out to be superstars because they weren’t drafted to be.

2. The new Steelers’ philosophy. The Tomlin era. They switched gears and wanted a man-heavy, ball-hawking mindset. And I think they overcorrected in that pursuit by drafting raw, “high upside” guys like Artie Burns to try to fit that need. Great athletes who could take the ball away. But those guys got pressed into action and the Steelers didn’t develop them well enough.

Then there’s a couple other factors. One, the draft is hard and you miss as much as you hit. Two, the Steelers for the longest time didn’t draft the secondary, especially CB, that high. Famously didn’t draft a CB in the first round from 1998 until Burns in 2016. And then there’s just bad luck. Guys like Senquez Golson who literally never made it into a game, not even preseason, due to injury. Hard to do anything about that. At least they got Hilton around that same time.

UK/Steeler Fan since 1969: Hey Alex:
UK/Steeler, Which inside LB would you most like to see us draft?
Thanks!

Alex: Haven’t studied that group super closely yet. I will admit Tulsa’s Zaven Collins is interesting and been mocked to the Steelers at #24 (not that it means really anything). But 260 pound, great athlete, ILB/OLB versatility, works best in a blitz/green dog heavy scheme like the Steelers run. That would fit well in Pittsburgh’s system.

Also liked WVU’s Tony Fields at the Senior Bowl and Houston’s Grant Stuard as a Day Three option.

Danny Hawaii: Alex, you just became the owner of the Steelers – Congratulations. What are you doing about the Ben situation? If you keep him around, convince me why you think he can take us to a Super Bowl in 2021. If you convince him to retire, give me your plan to get the Steelers back in the Super Bowl ASAP.

Alex: Thank you, happy to accept. I will take my check and run away now.

I am keeping Ben around. For two, clear reasons.

1. He gives me my best option to win in 2021. There’s no even debating that. I don’t love this team’s chances of making the Super Bowl. But they can compete for the North. They can make the playoffs. And you get in the playoffs, who knows what happens. This was a #6 seed in 2005 who went the distance.

2. Bringing Ben back doesn’t stop me from looking towards the future. It’s not like cutting him saves so much more 2021 cap space as compared to working out an extension. If the difference between the two was say, $20 million, then it’d be a different conversation. I can still (and the Steelers should) explore looking, drafting, trading up for a QB in the draft if I like a guy enough.

So I am splitting the difference there a bit for the first time. In past years, I was always about building around Ben. But if 2021 is going to be his last year, that mindset is going to have to shift. Ideally, a year before he’s gone and you’re forced to switch gears.

Nothing about this is ideal. That’s why I harped on 2020 being *the* year and what made that playoff loss, to the Browns no less, so painful. This past season was supposed to be the run. And everything for the next 3+ years just got a lot harder.

mem359: 

Hi Alex,
Some fans think that Ben is done, that Father Time has withered his arm (and deep throws).
I’m hoping that he bounces back, and that his weakness was due to him still rehabbing when the season started, after a year of barely using that arm.

Are there any clues that would distinguish between those 2 situations?

Alex: Eh, probably nothing I could offer. You could look at things like the chip they have in footballs and compare his velocity and RPMs pre/post injury. You could look at it medically and see if there’s any tearing/issue there. You could know his rehab, how he worked during the week, his body language, information from trainers and doctors about how he truly felt. Those are clues I obviously don’t have access to.

There are two reminders here. One, Ben wasn’t a great deep ball thrower for the previous couple seasons before his injury. I know we focused on that so much last season because it was an issue and the elbow injury was front and center, we were watching everything he was doing, but it was a problem in 2017 and 2018, too.

And two, Roethlisberger had to re-learn how to throw during his rehab. It’s in the documentary they released. That was a pretty grueling rehab. So hopefully being a year removed from that and coming in with a fresh offseason that aren’t about rehabs and workouts and small steps throughout the offseason will help him in 2021. I’m sure it will. How much it’ll help is a different question.

UK/Steelers Fan since 1969: Alex,
Which position group doesn’t get a player drafted(non kickers) that needs to?

Alex: Good question. Hard to know what happens on Day Three. Partially just goes off what value is there. Maybe ILB? WR if JuJu returns? I don’t really know. The focus will be on center/running back and they’ll go from there.

Brian Tollini: In a world where VW is released (sad face), do you see ILB as a bigger need than OLB? Or is the depth at OLB (since it such an important position to our D) more important?

Alex: Eh, kinda even. I’d make Spillane the starter in all liklihood. So then it’s just about depth for either spot. I think I’d put OLB ahead of ILB by a little bit because I trust the ILB depth of Allen/UG3 a tiny bit more than the OLB depth of Adeniyi/Marsh/Elliott. But both should/would be addressed in that scenario.

Douglas Prostorog: If you are still here, I’ll give you a fun one: Given that we know Colbert likes to get a cheap FA to take a position out of consideration for the draft and possibly for next year’s draft as well, what position do you think he’s looking really hard at right now?

Alex: Whoever is cheap and wants to play for cheap lol. Probably a center. Seems to be his MO to sign a vet and draft one high at positions of need. Barron/Bush, Moncrief/Johnson, Burnett/Edmunds, etc. So that would be my guess. He doesn’t want to go into the draft with just Hassenauer on the roster.

Idiot above: Does Ben coming back hurt the Steelers future like so many others have said? It seems like we’ll be paying Ben in two years he won’t be here, meaning we can’t maximize the roster with a rookie QB, like we see so many other teams do and find success.

Alex: No, I don’t think it inherently does. Now if the Steelers put the blinders on and ignore the future of the position then yeah, it could hurt the team. But Ben coming back doesn’t mean this team stops looking at QBs. If they can draft Rudolph years ago, they can draft one now if someone is available.

Ben will have a dead money hit if he retires after 2021. But you can spread that hit out and the cap should boom next season. If they can avoid hitting the floor after a year like this, it should shoot up 12 months from now when hopefully the world is much better COVID-wise. The pandemic is hopefully over by then and we’re back to relative normal. So it’ll be a small percentage of cap. It’s still important to recognize but this team built a roster around AB’s dead money, which I think ended up being larger than what Ben’s will probably be. Overall, even coupling Ben’s dead money, they’re likely to still be spending less on the QB position than they are now.

Matt Manzo: Happy Thursday Alex!
Do you think the return of Bush and some improvement from Highsmith will off set the loss of Dupree? I still think our D will be strong!

Alex: Sure, to an extent. Excited to get Devin Bush back. Excited to see Alex Highsmith in year two. Those are undeniably good things. But this team will need to add EDGE depth because there’s nothing behind Highsmith and Watt right now. Lose one of those guys and you’re in some serious trouble.

Marcel Chris Chauvet:

Hey Alex,

I don’t believe any of the Centers in this draft are worth a first round pick. The center position is arguably the biggest need on the team right now. We’ve seen the Steelers overdraft a position of need before (Jarvis Jones; Artie Burns). I can you see them pulling the trigger on a Center at pick #24. Could you?

Alex: Sure, I can definitely see it. Especially in a year like this where draft boards will be more all over the map than ever before. I could see them taking Creed Humphrey or even Landon Dickerson if they clear him medically at #24. It would not shock me one bit. They’re taking a center with their top three picks, worst case scenario.

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