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Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

Welcome back to your regularly scheduled mailbag. Busy week of free agency and we’re glad to hang out with you guys and watch these last couple days unfold. As always, we’re here for the next hour to answer anything on your mind.

To your questions!

Anthony Palmerston: 

You recently said that you think that Feiler was a better tackle than Banner but that you’d put Feiler at RT because he hadn’t played LT in the NFL. I always thought you should put your best tackles at the left spot for a right handed QB. Could you please write an article explaining the nuances between LT and RT and why the best tackle wouldn’t always play on the left side? I love football, but those nuances and the nitty gritty details escape me. I think an article like that would be a good read to build knowledge of the game for me and many others. Or like a short series during the really boring times of the offseason that help build knowledge of the game would be cool. Just a suggestion.

Side note: I wrote this question on Monday prior Feiler signing with the Chargers.

Alex: Traditionally, yes, your best tackle when on the left side to protect the blindside of a right-handed QB. Those lines have blurred over time because great pass rushers can com from either side. As Zach Banner said yesterday, RTs get to see TJ Watt. But LTs still have priority, especially financially, because the QB can better see the rush from the right side.

It’s a good question. A lot of it is comfort and preference. Some think you can just move linemen around anywhere and plug ‘n play them. Not always the case. These are people, not just jersey numbers and positions. Comfort is a big deal. When you flip a guy, you flip all his movements. His stance, his steps, his punch, his eyes, his aiming points. Flozell Adams once compared it to writing with your other hand.

I just finished up Tunch Ilkin’s book he wrote a couple years back (and to read his struggles and triumphs then with everything he’s going through right now…wow). He had insight into his own position switches. Here’s what he wrote:

“Playing left tackle had been difficult because I had never done it before coming to the Steelers. I think left tackle is hard if you’re not left-handed because you play better to the side you open your stance to, and the angle is better. If you’re always used to playing out of a left-handed stance with your left foot behind your right one, it becomes natura. But if you’ve always been in a right-handed stance, it’s like playing golf left-handed. It is that foreign.”

Tunch went on to say he tried to do everything left-handed for the next couple of weeks to begin feeling more comfortable. He of course ended up sticking as the RT but that just illustrates the psychology behind it.

To be fair, Feiler actually played left tackle at Bloomsburg. So I’m sure there’s still some instincts and comfort there. I mainly advocated for Feiler at RT because we knew he played well there. So why the roll the dice on him playing LT too. Play him where he plays well. Good for him, good for the team, you all sleep better at night.

Brian Tollini: I had originally guessed Blake Bell as a TE we could target in free agency, now that he and a few other options have signed, other than Jesse James, are there any other bargain TE’s in the market you see as being a good fit for us as a TE2/TE3?

Alex: Pretty slim pickings. On my wishlist, I included Washington’s Jeremy Sprinkle and Green Bay’s Marcedes Lewis. Lewis would be a great blocker and boost the run game. Suspect Lewis goes back to Green Bay but if not, I’d bring him in for a one-year. Don’t care if the dude catches five balls all year. Just block for me in goal line/short-yardage/12 personnel.

hdogg48:

Alex…..

Where you got JuJu going and for how much?

Alex: Still up in the air. My guess is he goes to the Jets. Could be one-year or long-term deal. My guess? 3 years, $38 million. Just above what Corey Davis got.

uncledread: Did the Steelers miss the boat on Hasaan Reddick? Former first round pick who came into his own last year and can play both inside and outside going to Carolina for 2 years/8 million. Could have filled two, or at least 1 1/2 holes. That’s the kind of signing that wins trophies. I guess all the warnings about not expecting much from free agency were true but is it too much to expect something other that BJ Finney and Chris Wormley? If JuJu signs with the Jets I think I’ll be sick.

Alex: Unless I missed something about a voidable year, I read it as a one-year, $8 million deal. Which Pittsburgh had no way to afford. So didn’t miss anything there.

CP72: AK,
Do you think Ben is surprised with how many guys we’re losing? I’m still shocked he came back for this. I’m just curious if he didn’t fully grasp what 2021 was going to be.

Alex: That’s a good question. I mean, he shouldn’t be surprised. I was surprised to see someone like Alualu leave but the others: Dupree, Hilton, JuJu if he does sign elsewhere, none of that should come as a surprise or shock. Hopefully there was an honest conversation about that between the FO and Ben before his new deal. If the Steelers didn’t make that clear, shame on them.

stan: 

I’m still trying to wrap my head around this week. How could Banner have other suitors that drove the price up on the Steelers? He’s started one NFL game and barely beat out Okorafor to get that one. I assumed he’d be re-signing for the minimum. And when Beachum re-signed for less with the Cardinals, I was really scratching my head.

Secondly, why release Vince now? They didn’t need to do it to sign Sutton and Banner. They would have had to do something before signing their draft picks or making any other big moves, but if they knew that then why not cut him last month to give him more of a chance to negotiate with other teams?

Alex: Because teams need offensive linemen. A guy like Pat Elflein got cut by the Vikings this year, claimed on waivers, and still ended up getting $4 million a season. Offensive linemen, and tackles in particular, are the scarcest position in football. This is a strong draft class but the FA market for offensive linemen is always hot. Matt Feiler isn’t a better player than Mike Hilton. But he’s getting paid more ($7 million vs $6 million) because of the position he plays. So it’s not a shock to know there were other suitors.

Eh, they pretty much needed the money. Once Banner was done, they literally had just a couple hundred thousand of cap space left. If you were going to do any other move, or something came together at the last moment, you needed to make sure you had that space. They waited longer than I thought they would on cutting him.

UK/Steeler Fan since 1969: Hey Alex, since our needs are many at #24, do you take the bpa from your big board, or bpa at a urgent need po.? And if they differ who would you take as the bpa? Or as the urgent need if they differ?

Alex: My philosophy has always been where value and need intersect at its highest point. So it’s not always going to be truly BPA. And it’s not always going to be need. But a high grade player at a need and a guy who will see the field right away.

For the Steelers, you’re right that it could go in a lot of different directions. But my belief is that it will still be OC or RB in round one.

Dan Blocker: Hi Alex – In your opinion, is Avery Williamson even a consideration for Vince Williams ILB spot? I would think they’re going to the draft for #98’s replacement, but then again, there are only so many draft picks. What are your thoughts on ILB?

Alex: Eh, maybe, but I think Spillane is the more likely option. Obviously Williamson isn’t even under contract right now. But I would go with Spillane, *maybe* take the big first round swing at ILB if the board falls right (or wrong, depending on perspective, big run on RBs for example) but more likely, draft someone on Day #3.

DropTheHammer: 

Do you believe the Steelers place less value on Tackles than other teams as a matter of philosophy, or do they never seem to target the dancing bear because they don’t pick high enough? I cannot name a Steeler OT who’s an all-time great. QB, RB, Guard, Center, WR, and any position on defense… no problem. Same for TE I suppose, with the possible exception of Heath Miller (who I would personally rank higher on my TE list than any Steeler Tackle on that one).

And if it is philosophy, what does that say about the odds of pulling the trigger in Round 1 of this year even if it’s for a guy like Darrisaw (the class’s OT3)?

Alex: I think it’s probably more of the latter. They’ve had some pretty good OTs over the years. More on the develop side of things, guys like Villanueva, but they’ve drafted them high too. Marcus Gilbert was a 2nd round pick. So was Marvel Smith. I don’t think there’s a philosophy of being against drafting a tackle. You usually just don’t get that stud LT when you’re picking in the 20s.

Ravens Team Gynecologist: Alex,

Looks like there is a lot of value out there in the free agent RB market. Do you think the Steelers dip their toe in that pool?

Alex: I’d be surprised. Snell/McFarland are your backups. Adding someone else in that similar role is a bit redundant unless it’s a super-cheap, pass catching option like the ones I’ve suggested (Chris Thompson, Dion Lewis, Theo Riddick). Guys who don’t carry dead money if you cut them. Focus for them I think is on the draft. RB will be taken within their top two picks.

Jefferson_St_Joe: Does the use of voidable years on a contract mean giving up the rights for compensatory picks when the contract voids? It seems like many guys are going to be squeezed in this market and looking for 1 year deals.

Alex: To my understand, yes, it means you don’t get a comp pick. Because the player is being released with the contract voiding. The contract isn’t expiring in the “it ran out” sense. Which is one good reason not to loid up on those types of deals unless they’re older veterans who wouldn’t get you much (Haden) or are about to retire (like Ben).

But you’re right. I could see a lot of guys taking one-year contracts (and for the player, who cares if it voids) and trying the market again in 2022 when the cap is in a much better place.

HinesWardFan: Alex, what percent chance do you think we re-sign Vince before August?

Alex: Can’t rule it out but I think it’s low. He’d have to come back for the minimum. I think/hope he can get a little better than that. But we’ll see what his market looks like. Houston is handing out 1000 contracts this offseason and just traded a thumper like McKinney. Vince would be a solid replacement for a team who could probably use his leadership.

WeWantDaTruth: Alex, how best to fill the void at NT? Free agency? Draft? Buggs or Davis?

Alex: Internally, expecting Buggs and Davis to battle it out. Slight chance Wormley kicks inside like Alualu but Alualu was 6’2 1/2 and Wormley is over 6’5. Leverage would be an issue.

I would probably sign a low-level vet to compete with those guys. Buggs has been frustrating, even if the talent is there, and Davis has played less than 60 career snaps. But I don’t know if the team would do that. I’d prefer the cheap vet option over the draft pick though with all the other needs that must be addressed next month.

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