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Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

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Welcome back to your weekly edition of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ mailbag. And boy, do things look a lot different than one week ago. This has easily been Pittsburgh’s most aggressive free agency ever and given us plenty to talk about. So we’re here for the next hour to answer whatever is on your mind.

To your questions!

ifihadatail007: With this gloriously unfamiliar offseason the Steelers are putting together, is Safety or DL the largest remaining hole the fill (or something other than those two)?

Alex: Top two needs in the immediate, short-term are a starting SS and slot WR. Team doesn’t have anyone on their roster right now to fill that. Edmunds, JuJu, even McCloud still remain free agents. So that is where my current focus sits at.

srdan: Hi AK, I’m increasingly of the opinion that receivers are being commoditized similar to running backs. Outside of maybe 15 guys in the league (Hopkins, Adams, Hill…) the rest seem to be very interchangeable and don’t move the needle much. That is how we end up in arguments of Washington vs Claypool. Do you agree?

Alex: To an extent. But you can have a worse RB and a good o-line and make your run game work. It’s harder to make your pass-game work if your WRs aren’t as skilled. But there has been so much depth, such a glut in the market at the position because of the college game, that it’s easier to find WRs. So many guys with height/weight/speed or twitchy-types. It’s almost easy to find talent now and why for like, the last three years, we’ve been talking about being able to wait until Day Two to find one. Which is basically what the Steelers have done. Day two picks in JuJu, Claypool, Washington, Diontae, etc. That’s been the sweet spot.

Steven Small: Could WR be in play with our 1st round pick and if so, anyone you like for pick #20?

Alex: Not going to rule it out. Steelers positioning themselves nicely with a lot of adds and depth this offseason. Could go a lot of directions. Have to think if they are loading up in FA so they can be/willing to be aggressive for a QB. Can’t forget about that even after the Trubisky signing.

We’ll see where the rest of FA goes, where Tomlin/Colbert end up on the Pro Day circuit, and go from there. I still think a Day Two WR is more likely but again, not saying no to Round One.

Jerry Reid: Hey Alex, is it wrong to feel this level of optimism even before the draft?

Alex: If it’s wrong, then I don’t want to be right. Winning the offseason isn’t the end-all but it’s nice to be active and busy and buzzing and add some quality pieces. Don’t want to pretend like the Steelers have signed nothing but elite talent – Trubisky is still an ex-bust trying to restart his career, Mason Cole felt like bit of an overpay, and Jack has some warts – but certainly happy with how things have come together. Adds are greater than the sum of its parts.

falconsaftey43: 

Obviously not have a franchise QB is a huge limiting factor, but it sure is more fun this time of year to actually add some starter quality players.

What do you think was the biggest problem with the run defense last year?

Alex: It is! Very unusual feeling to have. Not often I’m*this* busy this time of year.

When you’re 32nd ranked run defense and historically bad, literally the worst in franchise history, it’s a lot of things. But core issue was the d-line. Not only the injuries and loss of talent there but pushing young players into roles they weren’t equipped for. Loudermilk played more, Buggs and Mondeaux were a mess, they didn’t have a NT until Adams late in the year, forced to play Archibong for a handful of snaps. Blown assignments, poor execution, it was a lot of guys in roles that weren’t supposed to be there. Heck, even Carlos Davis barely got to play and he isn’t even all that good.

So to me, the goal to improve run defense was doing things like adding at ILB (which they have) but just getting the group healthier. Alualu’s return, Tuitt’s return (hopefully) that pushes Wormley from decent starter to excellent depth. And now Loudermilk isn’t a wide-eyed rookie and Adams isn’t catching the moving train. It was less about adding new pieces and more about retaining and developing. Which is how things are unfolding. We’ll still see about Tuitt.

Wham Charles:

Hey Alex,

Do you have an idea approximately when we’ll hear about Tuitt?

Thanks,

Wham

Alex: No idea. Not sure if the team even knows. We’re all in wait and see mode.

The Pittsburgh Steelers: 

Read a couple articles from Jags sources that say it’s a known thing that Myles plays infinitely better when he’s not a wearing green dot (even one article mocking Urban for taking a month to realize it when it was so we’ll know to anyone who followed the team. I can link if you’re interested)

But to my understanding, they kept Devin away from the green dot as well.

What are your predictions on green dot duties given that info?

Alex: I hadn’t read that article. If you have a link or if you can just tell me where to find it, I’d appreciate that. I mean, someone has to do it. I imagine a lot of guys, especially the ones who rely on their athleticism, are better without the extra layer of playcalling duties.

But given the money and play, I would expect Jack to be the three-down backer this year. And wear the green dot.

Ryan Fazi: 

Alex,

FA has certainly changed things. Who would be your choice at either WR or S in round one

Alex: I’ll let the rest of FA play out because it could change more. In terms of names there, you could see a Pickens or Ross, though most would argue that’s a bit too early. Hasn’t stopped Steelers before and the Pro Day workouts are huge.

At safety, you’re talking Lewis Cine from UGA or Jaquan Brisker from Penn State. Both fit.

Daniel Moon: Hi Alex, Would you want Honey Bader OR JuJu Edmunds for the Steelers’ final FA move?

Alex: Give me Honey Badger. Let’s go big with this defensive mentality. That’s how the Steelers will win games in 2022. Run the ball, play great defense, swarm and take the ball away.

Roux: 

‘m sure this is wrong, but I’d like to hear why it’s wrong. Who am I describing: former UDFA, FA CB pickup, better in zone than in man, tries hard to support the run game but is only OK at it, stiff and struggles to turn fluidly to run with bigger, faster WRs? Antwon Blake. Sure, Levi is taller, but not bigger. Alex, please convince me that Levi isn’t a rich man’s Antwon Blake!

(I will fully admit I have watched no film of Wallace other than what is in the scouting report.)

Alex: Yeah, I’d call that wrong. In part due to the size. Different body types. Wallace was a UDFA who has started 52 games for a good Bills team as a quality #2 corner. If he was Antwon Blake, he wouldn’t have made it this far.

Nicholas Arnhold: With the breaking news that Witherspoon will be returning, what are your thoughts on a CB room including Witherspoon and Levi on outside with Sutton at Nickel and Norwood/Maulet at Dime?

Alex: I’m happy. Especially Witherspoon’s return to potentially get a high-end cover guy who can challenge top guys. Worried Sutton and Wallace would struggle there. But there’s stability in that group. Sutton another year (if he stays at outside corner, which I’m not so sure about, remember 2021 was his first year as a full-time outside corner) Witherspoon with a full offseason, Norwood in his second year, etc. So it’s just a lot calmer this year with better depth, always important in the secondary.

Dan Blocker: Hi Alex – I really like the Levi Wallace signing. Can he play nickel, or will he mostly be outside?

Alex: Outside corner. Not a slot guy.

Cody: 

Hey Alex,

Why pay Chuks that money when the feeling around the league was that La’el Collins was going to be released and he could potentially come in at the same price? I just dont get not taking a swing on a 28 year old right tackle. But outside of that i am excited for how its went so far! Now give me jameson williams or Chris Olave

Alex: Eh, we could play that game quite a bit. Okorafor’s contract comes out to just under $10 million per year but it’s structured much differently and really is pay-as-you-go. Plus you don’t know if you would get Collins and it would require assets. Not always going to get the maybe “ideal” guy all the time.

ÄB:

Hey Alex,

I still believe Steelers will go QB round 1, and with Seattle & Carolina being the most obvious suspects to draft Willis, I think the trade up won’t happen until day of draft to jump ahead of the Seahawks to grab him (and to see if Detroit actually might take him at 2). They’ve never been one to hide away from who they like. I feel like Willis is their guy (so far). What spot and with who do you think they need to trade to do you think to get him?

Alex: That’s still a tough and complicated question to answer. Other dominoes to fall at QB like what happens with Watson/Baker/Ryan/Garoppolo. And it’s not just about who is in front of you but who is potentially behind you trying to trade up, too. So there’s a lot of layers.

For me, I’m just waiting to see what Pro Days Tomlin/Colbert go to and I’ll take it from there.

Matt: Hey Alex, obviously lots of signings the past couple days. Teams don’t just generally let good players walk for no reason, but in the excitement around these signings, that often gets looked over or explained away (e.g., player was only let go because of a regime change on his prior team). Is your excitement on any of these guys muted because of this? It seems like we often get guys, get hyped on them, and then later come to understand after seeing them play in a black and gold uniform why they were let go to begin with

Alex: I understand your point. But that’s something that can be said about every free agent. There can be a variety of reasons. Players who don’t want to come back even if their team wants them back. Bills would’ve loved to re-sign Trubisky but he had the chance to go start somewhere so obviously he left. Sometimes it’s about money. Sometimes the player doesn’t like the team/fit/scheme/culture. I don’t know if James Daniels was loving his time in Chicago. Maybe he wanted to go somewhere new. Regime changes in Chicago and Jacksonville too.

So I get your point and it’s always a thought in the back of your head. But all I can do is watch the player and evaluate him.

JMD: What is more likely based on the all of the free agency moves this week: the Steelers trade up into the top 12 of the draft, or the Steelers trade down out of the first round?

Alex: I’m not saying they’ll move up to top 12 but that is infinitely more likely. They have never traded out of the first round mid-draft in the Noll/Cowher/Tomlin era. I don’t see any reason they’ll move down at least 13 spots.

Christopher Pokins: Alex, what can we say about this FA period? If this wasn’t Colbert’s last year he should make it his last. What a way to drop the mic. Lifelong Steelers fan and have never been this excited about the team prior to the draft. Checking all boxes like you said, possibly but hopefully got to take a QB. Anyway, thinking maybe CB, S, WR first three rounds based on value in each round. Give me your 1st, 2nd, 3rd round wishlist for each of those three positions. Sorry if this is repetitive but I’m sneaking this question in as I teach my first grade class.

Alex: It’s been a lot of fun. I’m not sure if I have a complete list right now for you. It’s some of the names I mentioned before. Andrew Booth a name to watch at CB. Cine/Brisker at safety. WR, Pro Days (right now) telling us Pickens/Ross and of course Skyy Moore’s name has been batted around quite a bit. Hopefully it’ll crystalize for me more as go deeper into Pro Days and the rest of FA.

Banastre Tarleton: Assuming they could get him for <$5 million, would the Steelers ever consider Patterson as a backup RB? He seems like the perfect Swiss Army Knife for Canada.

Alex: Definitely, fun fit in this offense. But he touched the ball over 200 times last season. 153 as a runner. That ain’t happening in Pittsburgh with Najee so I’m not sure why he would want to come here to play 7-10 snaps a game and touch the ball 3-5. He’s 31 (today, happy birthday to him). Last chance to get paid and his value is good coming off his 2021 season with Atlanta.

Michael Stickings: 

Hi Alex,

The mind truly boggles at the Steelers’ free agenda period so far. It’s like some alternate universe. Anyway, for the new signees, I’m seeing numbers that show a low 2022 cap hit with significant potential increases in 2023 and beyond, such as for Jack. I know the Steelers retain a good deal of flexibility through what are generally highly team-friendly deals, but is there a problem — or do you foresee a problem — for 2023 and beyond, if, say, Jack, Chuk, etc. are kept through the length of their deals? I also know they will likely have room to deal with any such challenges, including restructures and such, but it still seems like they’re trading 2022 and some flexibility for longer-term cap challenges.

Alex: Understand your point. We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. Lot will change two offseasons from now. Roster is going to look different. Some players will work out, some won’t, etc. I’m certainly glad they didn’t sign these guys to 4-5 year deals. All were reasonable contracts. So let’s just se how they do in Year One and take it from there.

David Rudin: Hey Alex. You getting much sleep these days? I’m loving this last year of Colbert and your comment liking it to his own personal Rumspringa! Any ideas on Colbert’s becoming a born-again-free-agency fan? Somebody spike the kool-aid? Or did he just finally get some money to play with and this has been his personality all along?
My other question is how disruptive is it to suddenly throw together a bunch of guys who haven’t played together before in terms of creating cohesion? I’m wondering if that’s why the Steelers’ Way was to draft and develop your own and use Free Agency sparingly.

Alex: Ha, no, not much. But it’s worth being a little tired if I get to talk about all this craziness with you guys. He did have a lot more money to spend this year and so that certainly was a motivating factor. In past years, even if he wanted to be aggressive, they couldn’t afford it. I don’t know if this has always been his personality but I think they want to remain competitive an without a franchise QB, you better improve the rest of your roster. Or else you won’t compete.

That turnover is a concern. My concern is just the youth of this team and lacking/losing leadership. Underrated factor to consider. But the same would be true of draft picks. They’re all new faces.

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