Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

Welcome back to your weekly Pittsburgh Steelers’ mailbag. As always, we’re here for the next hour to answer whatever is on your mind. I’m guessing…you have a lot to say.

To your questions!

*One heads up. The Steelers are bringing in their new signings for pressers shortly before this mailbag. I may be a little delayed in responding to you guys but I will get to everything throughout the day.

BananasFoster: Yes, the ILB group is much different now than last year, but is it better? And based on signings so far, any position you can rule out at #17? I still think they need more talent at each position they signed in FA.

Alex: I do think it’s better. I’m worried about the “let’s go sign more veteran FA ILBs to replace the veteran FA ILBs we signed who didn’t work,” a cycle this team has been on for about five years now but this ILB needed new blood. Just had no splash last season. Roberts brings a bit of that. Holcomb too, at least in 2021. But we’ll see how the room looks. This defense will need youth. It’s looking older with Peterson and if they add Dupree. They need speed too, especially at CB.

Trenton Simpson would be the candidate at 17 if they go that way. He checks the boxes, he’ll be on the short list.

Brian Tollini: 

eading into free agency I felt one of the goals Pittsburgh needed to accomplish was improving upon one position group enough so that it was eliminated as a need in the draft. Obviously it’s still early, but I don’t see any groups as a whole that have done that.

i.e. signing Bud Dupree or Parris Campbell (I know NY signed him) would take the pressure off drafting their respective position in the draft.

Do you feel this is still a reasonable goal and would you consider it an important one as well?

Alex: It can be hard to fully eliminate that, especially as you’re losing some pieces in the process. But they have options. They have vets at ILB at CB and probably an EDGE guy – like Dupree – that will give them flexibility into the draft. Not a glaring need. Pretty much their MO.

So we’ll see how the rest of free agency looks. Especially when it comes to who else they can re-sign. Edmunds and Gentry two ones I’m looking at and seeing who goes where.

Chad Prince: AK,
Was wondering your thoughts on defense. Obviously a lot of comings and goings, but do you think overall they’re a better unit? It feels that way, but I wonder if new players just makes me more optimistic.

Alex: Have to let the dust settle on the rest of FA and the draft. Right now, it’s kinda meh. ILB is probably more talented. Hopefully add more splash, more general athleticism. Jack didn’t have it. Spillane didn’t have it. Bush didn’t know how to use it. These guys are better in that regard.

But Sutton to Peterson is a clear downgrade. Dude in the prime of his career vs a guy in his golden years. I would’ve rather just paid Sutton. Losing that versatility hurts too.

And this defense could have growing pains. Losing trusted, smart guys in Spillane and especially Sutton. So they’re kinda swapping things around on the margins right now. Lot of shuffling, overall net is probably a little bit worse. What CB is gonna run with this league’s fast WRs? Not seeing it right now so still work to do.

draframe1: Hi Alex! Fun start to the year! Should we pencil in Kazee as the starting SS if no other signings at the position? I’m not sure he has the sand in the pants for being a starter

Alex: Whew you’re not kidding. Busy busy. I’m with you. He’s physical but his build isn’t great to be a SS. So I’d prefer not. He’s ideally the 6th DB. Can wear hats, replace some of the versatility lost with Sutton, than being a one-position guy, especially in the box. Frame isn’t really there. Right now, he is by default but we’ll see what they add in the draft.

James Cowan: 

Hi Alex,

Two questions:

You were less sure you wanted to pay Sutton than most. Would you have matched the Lions deal?

If Dupree is signed do you foresee Watt/Highsmith/Dupree packages like they had to good affect with Ingram

Alex: Yes, I would’ve. I thought $13 mil+ was getting pretty steep. I had talked about being more comfortable in the 10-11 range and predicted he’d actually sign for $11.5 million. So I felt like I was right on top of things. That’s a bit more palatable. I would rather by Sutton for three years at $11 mil than Peterson for *maybe* two at #7 million per.

Sure, they could do some of that, depending on how things look at ILB. It’s a potential wrinkle. When they’ve had good EDGE depth, they have found ways to get those guys on the field. Did it with Highsmith in 2020 and as you point out, Ingram in 2021 before he got dealt.

WeWantDaTruth: Hey Alex. Lots of movement at ILB, But I’m of the opinion that much of the success of the ILBs depends on the big boys in front to keep them clean. To that end, do you think we need a run plugger type in the middle? If so, where is that player coming from; draft or FA?

Alex: I do. I don’t know if they’re trusting Montravius Adams that much in the middle. They probably shouldn’t. Andrew Billings would’ve been perfect with the one-year deal he just signed. I prefer FA for the run stuffers because they’re cheap, pass rushers get paid, and I don’t have to burn the draft pick on a guy with an already limited ceiling. So that would be what I’d want ideally.

Dan Blocker: I’m a little surprised that Akhello Witherspoon is still on the roster, honestly. Do you think he still figures prominently in the Steelers plans? None of our current corners, Wallace, Peterson, or AW are nickelbacks, and while it might be nice depth to have, I can’t imagine any of these guys will sit. How do you see this sorting itself out?

Alex: You carry him to camp and see what he looks like. Obviously 2022 was a total bust. But you hang onto the 2021 hope he provided and see if he can be a #3 type. Right now, some insurance and depth with Pierre a FA and the draft not yet here. You’re not saving much by cutting him today, barely over $3 million, so just hold on for the moment.

draframe1: Does the apparent flirtations with Orlando Brown suggest that the team will target a tackle as early as 17? I am thinking a definite yes!

Alex: To an extent. Think they saw a top name sitting longer than expected and wanted to check in. Doesn’t hurt to ask. But it’s another big people-mover which jives with the Dawand Jones/Torrence interest they’ve shown. So that’s how I view it more than anything else.

CdnSteelerFan: How do you view DJ’s contract this year as compared to last? Is it still a relative steal? Or is the value not quite there based a bit on his production and the WR market not being as strong this year as last.

Alex: I was fine with it then and I’m fine with it now. He’s got his warts and 2022 was disappointing but the contract isn’t a killer. I still have confidence in the guy. So it doesn’t keep me up at night. It looked like good value at the time and I’m with the deal they made.

Scorpio: Hey Alex. I really like these moves to finally get rid of dead weight and add quality team leaders to this team! Do you all feel a big difference vs the old Colbert FA as well?

Alex: Colbert was pretty aggressive last year, remember. Daniels, Cole, Trubisky, Wallace. Some of the benefits of not having that big QB contract. But no doubt, Omar Khan isn’t just standing pat. First full offseason of a GM, it’s no surprise to see this roster shakeup a good bit. That’s usually how it goes. Guy putting his stamp and spin on things.

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