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Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

Back at it with our weekly Pittsburgh Steelers’ mailbag. As always, we’re here for the next hour to answer whatever is on your mind. Just drop them in the comments below.

To your questions!

GrumpyHighlander: Hamlin woke up and asked, in writing, who won the game. Sounds like great news!!!!!

Alex: Best news of the day, no doubt about it. All the credit to the medical staff on the field and in the hospital who saved his life. Incredible.

Yeshaya: Hey Alex, now that Damar looks like he thankfully turned a corner, how would you handle this game if you were commish? Have them only play 16 games and seed based on win %, call it a tie, flip a coin, add a week 19 and finish it then, Madden-bowl, or something else?

Alex: I wouldn’t play the game. And the one thing I think we’re pretty sure of at this point is the Bills/Bengals won’t be resumed. Both teams are in the playoffs and though seeding was important here, it really seems small in light of what happened to Hamlin. So no chance would I try to play this one again. It’s an unnecessary logistical nightmare.

From there, I’d just use win percentage for seeding. I would make the schedule and impact as least disruptive as possible. That’s not 100% perfect, no solution is, but it’s the cleanest and easiest. Seed the AFC by win % after Week 18 and change nothing else about the playoffs. In times like this, keep it simple. That’s my thought.

Yough 61: Alex, seems like there are several top flight QBs eligible for the upcoming draft. I have not seen much pre-draft hype surrounding Stetson Bennet. Any idea why? Seems like all the guy does is win football games

Alex: He’s in a long line of really good college QBs who probably won’t translate. A lot of SEC guys. AJ McCarron type vibes here. One, Bennet is an old QB. Dude is what, 24 or 25? Age matters less for QBs than any other position besides specialists but there’s this feeling his game is pretty much maxed out and can’t grow. He doesn’t have the top-end physical tools or elite size.

Teams bank on upside and potential and that’s why those guys go at the top of QB classes. And he doesn’t seem to have that. I won’t pretend like I’ve studied his game in-depth but that’s my feeling on him. And it happens every year. But he’ll be in the NFL next year somewhere. And maybe he sticks around. Wouldn’t be the first time.

Yeshaya: Considering today’s HoF cut, what do you give for Hines’ and Deebo’s chances of ever making the Hall?

Alex: For Ward, very low. Never say never but I’d put it at about 1%. At least for him to get through via the Modern Era voting. I can see him being part of the Senior Committee in 15-20 years from now when all the old heads talk about how they don’t make wide receivers like Hines Ward anymore. But he’s been the bridesmaid, never the bride throughout his whole candidacy. With the forever logjam at WR, there’s already three ahead of him right now, and more added each year, I don’t see it.

Harrison I was 60/40 on him making it at some point prior to yesterday. With him not making the finalists cut and three pass rushers ahead of him doing so, I might flip those numbers. I always figured he’d have to wait a bit but getting to at least the finalist stage out of the gate would’ve been a really positive sign. Now, I’m not so sure. I think he’s got a shot, call it 40%, but it might take five years.

derp_diggler: Hey Alex, seems the last couple years the Steelers have been trying to play a big WR in the slot (Juju, Claypool) etc, with limited success. Do you think they continue to go that route next year? Does Calvin Austin III project as a slot guy or do they push him outside and bump Johnson or Pickens inside?

Alex: We’ll see. Austin was an outside guy at Memphis but he was running primarily in the slot in camp before he got hurt. I expect that’s where he’ll resume once he hits the field in the spring and summer. There’s mixing and matching, Johnson and Pickens have played more in the slot in recent weeks, in part due to the team’s lack of production there. They do seem to like the “big slot” type and JuJu Smith-Schuster worked well there. But with Pat Freiermuth capturing that role well, there’s a case to be made another “big slot” is sort of redundant. Two guys with similar skillsets working the same area of real estate. So I’d be inclined to think they’d go with a more traditional option who can also work in the jet sweep/receiver run game. But it depends on their options and who is available. I don’t want to close the door on anything.

It also could depend on who is running the offense next year. If Matt Canada is here or if he isn’t, who is brought in and what their offensive philosophy is. So stay tuned.

Daniel Moon: Hey Alex, If the Steelers cut ties with WJIII, Trubisky, Gunner and few others, the cap figure should be around $30M. How would you spend this cap money to go all the way next season?

Alex: It really depends on the people. There’s the consideration of need but you don’t want to start throwing many at a problem without considering the actual players. Their age, their scheme fit, their character, their medical, etc. Obviously trench play is a consideration but the offensive line is looking better by the week. I’m still taking a hard look at LG. Dotson has been better but he’s Ahkello Witherspoon-like. Talented and can string together a good month of play but he’s never found seasonal consistency or trust.

I haven’t looked at much of a free agent list and things also depend on who the Steelers do or don’t re-sign. But I’d say a defensive lineman, a veteran backup QB, maybe a vet slot receiver, maybe an ILB, some safety depth, are all things very much on the table.

stan: Do you know what the process is for home scorekeepers not doing their jobs as required by the refs? I’m talking about the late-game situation where Andrews gave himself up but Minkah knocked the ball out because there was no whistle. The Ravens had already gotten a free time-out because of the refs’ failure to make a call, but on top of that the ref gave them another break by putting 3 seconds on the clock, moving the time from 15 seconds to 18. However, the home clock operator ignored that and set the time at 22 seconds and didn’t start the clock until the snap. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a situation where the home clock operator just ignored the refs like that. It really could have made a difference too, with Justin Tucker’s leg involved. For instance, if Tyler Huntley had more of an arm and completed that next pass that Minkah picked off (Wallace was there too), the Ravens would have tied the game whereas with a running clock they would have had to spike the ball with maybe 10 seconds left from the 30.

Alex: You followed it more closely than I did. I’m not sure of all the logistics there. I try to focus as little on the refs as possible, to be honest. I let everyone else think about that stuff. So I don’t have much of an answer for you.

I just watched it back and you’re right they put 22 seconds when the ref (his mic was cutting out though) said 18. So good point there. On the starting of the clock, the operator started it when the ref blew his whistle to signal the resumption of play so that seemed just fine. But yeah, the time seemed to be wrong but I don’t know if there was additional communication that we didn’t hear.

NickRVA: Hi Alex,
Hypothetical here, but how would you feel about the Steelers going after Pickett’s former OC (and Ben’s former QB coach) if they were to let go of Canada? Familiarity with team and QB. He’s at Nebraska, but didn’t see how their O did.

Alex: Sure, Mark Whipple makes sense. For his relationship with Pickett, Khan/the Rooneys know him well since he was on staff two decades ago. It certainly checks the boxes. Can’t guarantee that happens but he’ll probably be on my list of names who make sense.

Vance Mac: Too early to talk draft picks, but I can’t help smiling about having pick #34 in the teams pocket! Is this a team that has tons of holes to fill next year, and needs every pick? Or do a few more blue chip players put it over the top and back into annual contention?

Alex: Maybe a bit of both, ha. I’d say more of the former. A lot of areas I’d want to address. OL, DL, ILB, maybe CB, maybe safety, slot receiver, etc. Like I said above, what happens in the lead-up to the draft shapes the roster and a lot can and will change. They will spend money in free agency. They will sign starters. Things that look to be a need now might not be come the draft. But it’s nice to have higher picks and flexibility. Never a bad thing. This team will have the resources to improve the roster this offseason. No question about that. Now Khan/Weidl have to make the right choices.

CP72: AK,
We can release Jackson III, Witherspoon, and Jack to clear 24 million in cap space. I don’t feel like releasing any of those three would be considered a loss for the 2024 Steelers. Do you agree?

Alex: Jackson, definitely not. They better release him, ha. Witherspoon probably not but I think you wait and see what happens with Sutton. You may hold onto Witherspoon if you can’t retain Sutton. Jack, they’ll probably keep. He’s not played well this second half but he hasn’t been healthy at all either. Gutting through it. With Bush gone and Spillane/Allen free agents, though I am confident Spillane is re-signed, they probably carry Jack. But I doubt he’s here beyond 2023 on his original two-year deal. This team needs to draft an ILB. Of course, maybe Mark Robinson will turn out to be that guy.

KaiDex411: Do you see a situation where games are going to be cancelled more in the future due to prescient? Imagine the next serious injury when they get back to the game people will immediately ask why it isn’t being taken as seriously as the last very serious injury… should the game have been stopped back when Shazir was injured?

Alex: I doubt it but it has gotten me thinking. Especially about Shazier. I’ve had that thought a lot since what happened Monday night. Looking back, it’s kinda insane the Bengals/Steelers kept playing after Shazier’s injury. I guess because Shazier was alive/alert and no one quite understood how serious it was, players have been temporarily paralyzed and regained feeling/movement quickly (like Tommy Maddox in 2002) that no one initially knew how serious and long-lasting the injury would be.

But barring anything as extreme as Hamlin, I don’t see cancellations happening with any sort of regularity. Even a once-a-year type thing, though I imagine it will be a conversation piece during the next very serious injury which we hope isn’t for a long time.

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