Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

Welcome back to your weekly Thursday Pittsburgh Steelers’ mailbag. As always, we’re here for the next hour to answer whatever is on your mind.

To your questions!

Dante: You’ve mentioned the black hole at slot between Sims and Gunner O. and the lack of production there since the Claypool got traded. Would it make sense in 11 personnel to give Boykin a shot at lining up outside and putting Diontae/Pickens in the slot more? I get that motion is a big part of the Canada offense but I think Boykin can at least threaten to stretch the field or potentially win on a 1 v. 1 back shoulder throw while scheming up more opportunities to their top 2 wideouts in the slot.

Alex: To an extent, it’s worth a shot, though I don’t expect a ton from Boykin in the passing game. They are moving Johnson around a bit more, including work in the slot, which we saw in that Colts’ game.

I had the idea on the podcast of running 12 personnel with Freiermuth as a standup slot receiver and Zach Gentry as an in-line blocker. But I also understand Sims and Olszewski are at least used as decoys and motion guys in some of the run game stuff and Freiermuth couldn’t do that, which I know is the point you’re making.

It’s really just recognition those guys aren’t adding much and slot needs to be addressed in the offseason because Johnson and Pickens are still primarily outside receivers.

Stone Age Tone: Hey Alex. With #41 out on MNF do you know if Bush got to wear the green dot, or did they come up with another plan when Jack left the field? If so that would be long overdue in my humble and very distant opinion.

Alex: I hadn’t looked really all year how the green dot was being distributed. I assume it’s been passed around because they haven’t had a linebacker serve as an everydown defender. But I wouldn’t be surprised if Bush had it for the Colts’ game. He was a 100% snap guy in this one and took over dime packages with Robert Spillane out. So that would make sense.

To a bigger point, as I wrote last week, I like Bush’s body language and communication this year. He seems more active, more vocal. Maybe I’m a prisoner of the moment but it’s stuff I don’t remember seeing last year. And that speaks to confidence in his game and how he’s progressed.

Christopher Pokins: 


Not ready to say Pickett is a franchise QB, but see some very promising development in his game. As a rookie he hasn’t turned the ball over in three weeks, shows a lot of poise against pressure, and has been making great reads. Sure he has missed a few throws, but also has had some big drops by WRs and RBs. Think his biggest problem is following a franchise QB and having fans spoiled by Ben. From your perspective how do you feel about his development to this point in the season?

Alex: I’m encouraged. Especially what he’s done since the bye. Chance to reset, review, and he’s played pretty well since then. Still work to do, still watching and not concluding, but I like the trend he’s one. Making good decisions, taking care of the football, taking charge and being a leader. We’ll see where the rest of the season goes. I want to get to watch the whole thing unfold before drawing any initial conclusions.

Chris Carey: I believe Highsmith is under contract for another year isn’t he? You see this more in the MLB than the NFL, but wouldn’t it be a good idea to try and get him signed now? Overpay what he would be set earn in 2023, and then hopefully underpay when it comes to the final year or two of a new contract. Buy out a couple years of free agency. Can we pay him plus both TJ and Fitzpatrick?

Alex: Yes, he is signed through the 2023 season meaning there is one more full year left on his rookie year. I’m sure he’ll be at the top of the Steelers’ list come next summer. There probably won’t be many – or any – other candidates, to be honest. From that 2020 class, Chase Claypool is gone and Kevin Dotson isn’t in line for an extension. He’s just trying to have a starting role next year.

But it comes down to cost and it won’t be cheap. It’s less about any overpay, we’re talking just one year left on his deal, so it’s not like baseball where a guy has multiple years of team control/arbitration and so maybe you overpay there to get a deal done through a couple years of would-be free agency. It just comes down to assessing fair market value. He won’t get Watt money but he’ll want to be paid well. With the cap spiking, he should get more than what Bud Dupree received and I could see Highsmith nearing the $20 million per year figure. At least as an asking price. The Steelers can counter by keeping him on a cheap rookie year and the threat of a franchise tag, which they used on Dupree before letting him walk. So there will be a dance to do be had there but yes, we’ll be talking about a possible Highsmith extension six months from now.


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