Poll Question: What should the Steelers' first priority be in free agency? Answer #1: cornerback (58%)Answer #2: receiver (4%) Answer #3: defensive end (4%) Answer #4: nose tackle (21%) Answer #5: offensive line (4%) Answer #6: safety (9%)
Teeroy_b: Hi Ray, do the Steelers have any restricted free agents and if so, do you see them applying tenders to any of them?
Ray Fittipaldo: The Steelers have no restricted free agents. They do have one exclusive rights free agent -- offensive lineman Eric Olsen, who joined the team late last season after all those injuries.
Alan: Any insight as to when you think Worilds will be locked up long term?
Ray Fittipaldo: It would make sense for them to get that done sooner rather than later because signing him to a long-term deal would free up more money that can be spent in free agency if they are so inclined. As of this afternoon the Steelers had a little more than $3 million in cap space to spend after reworking Antonio Brown's contract last week. Of course, more should come if/when Ike Taylor and his $7 million salary is off the books, or reduced.
Miller: Tough to predict, but throw a dart: What kind of names would you see when the Steelers pick in round 2?
Ray Fittipaldo: You're right. It is hard to say because you don't know which direction they'll go in round 1. If they don't get the big, tall WR they want in the first round they could get the second-tier big, tall WR in the second or third round. The same goes for CB. This is a deep draft for CBs so they can likely get a quality one in round 2. The tight end from Notre Dame, Troy Nicklas, is intriguing, too. He is more in the mold of Heath Miller, a solid tight end in the run and pass game. But with the Steelers extending Miller last week I am not so sure they are looking to draft one that high this year.
Jay: Hi Ray, What ever happened to Terry Hawthorne?
Ray Fittipaldo: Hawthorne was the team's fifth-round pick last spring out of Illinois. To the best of my knowledge, he never hooked on with another team. I know he dealt with some injury issues during camp and didn't have much of a chance to make the team because he was out for so long. "You can't make the club from the tub" certainly applied to him.
Zack: Who would fit better paired with antonio brown Emmanuel sanders are Hakeem nicks
Ray Fittipaldo: How about Markus Wheaton, last year's third-round pick, or a WR they draft in May? If they can't re-sign Jerricho Cotchery they could be in the market for a free agent receiver, but more than likely a WR like Cotchery, someone to play in the slot and be a part-time player.
Teeroy_b: I see varying opinions on who "experts" think is the top WR (besides Watkins). I would say Evans, Lee, then Benjamin. Same thing with the cornerbacks. I would take Gilbert over Dennard. Agree or disagree?
Ray Fittipaldo: That's basically what I have seen in most mock drafts and big boards since the combine ended and I don't disagree much. Gilbert likely cemented his status as the top CB because he ran and tested so well. The same goes for Evans, who is now pretty much entrenched the No. 2 WR in the draft behind Sammy Watkins. It will be interesting to see what teams think of Benjamin, especially the Steelers. He did not test as well as Evans but he has a similar body type. I think he's more late first round than mid first-round at this point.
DE: Hi Ray. I sent this to you via Twitter a few minutes ago. But, I will ask my question here instead. Anyway, any inside information on who the Steelers are targeting in free agency? Perhaps Brandon Spikes, Terrence Cody? I keep hearing about CBs.
Ray Fittipaldo: I think they're trying to re-sign some of their own free agents and they're looking into some other team's CBs. However, the top CBs are commanding much more on the open market than I think they Steelers would like or have the ability to pay, so I am not sure if any of those happens. Maybe a mid- to low-tier CB they think they can develop. Of course, if that happens, Taylor is likely out the door.
Miller: So with guys seemingly only 'rising' right now, who gets pushed down from guys like Gilbert and Mike Jones moving up? If Ebron falls, that's my preference. If the Steelers pass, I bet the Ravens take him. Then go CB in round 2.
Ray Fittipaldo: Ebron has great upside. He wasn't much of a blocker in college at UNC, but he tested really well and showed in games he can be a dynamic receiver in the passing game. I've been on the record before that I wouldn't mind Ebron because you could make him a de facto tall WR Ben needs for a year or two and then make him a full-time TE after Heath Miller retires, whenever that is.
Miller: Just off Twitter: @AdamSchefter 2m
Steelers will release LB LaMarr Woodley at 4 ET Tuesday, designate him a post June 1 casualty, per source. He will be free to sign Tuesday.
Ray Fittipaldo: I just saw the tweet from Schefter. Obviously cannot confirm right now, but we all knew this was coming.
Tony O: Are the Steelers still high on Nick Williams and Brian Arnfelt?
Ray Fittipaldo: I think they are high on Arnfelt. They brought him to the 53-man roster late in the season. He's another one of those developmental players they like to groom on the defensive line. I don't know if he turns into a big contributor this season or not, but I think he has potential. As for Nick Williams, he was injured in training camp and place on injured reserve. He did not practice much if at all, so the jury remains out on him. They did invest a draft choice in him so he'll have a chance to make an impression again this spring and summer.
Latrobe guy: considering the current state of affairs with the team, and the number of draft pick they have, do you feel this my be one of, if not the most important drafts in the past 20 years?
Ray Fittipaldo: Every draft is important. That's how teams, especially the Steelers, build their teams. The Steelers don't dip much into free agency, so the draft is their opportunity to identify players and get them in their program. I think it's been well-documented how the drafts in recent years have not produced as many contributors as previous drafts. I'm thinking the '08 and '09 drafts off the top of my head. So in that sense, yeah this draft is important and if you want to say more important because of some misses in recent years you can say that.
Jake: Hey ray, do you see the steelers restructuring anymore contracts/cutting anyone else other then woodly and Taylor?
Ray Fittipaldo: No, I don't. Those are the two big ones that can clear the most cap space. And Woodley's release doesn't do much for clearing space this year. The relief comes in 2015 and 2016.
Teeroy_b: Hypothetical situation here, but if the Steelers had the #1 pick, with the current roster and didn't trade down, who do you think they would pick? Who's the real #1 on their big board?
Ray Fittipaldo: That's a good question. A lot of teams probably have Clowney atop their boards, but he has some red flags and I'm not sure if the Steelers would take him. Maybe Khalil Mack or Sammy Watkins. Or maybe Greg Robinson or Jake Matthews.
JamesinNYC: I think there are some decent NT out there that you will not have to overpay, and then not have to draft in the first round. Do you think WR and CB are that much more important than S or TE that you choose the 2 or 3rd best vs 1 S or TE?
Ray Fittipaldo: Good question, James. Here's the dilemma about safety. Polamalu just re-signed so I think their plans are to try Shamarko Thomas at free safety, at least to start with. Do you really want to invest a first-round pick in a safety? I guess it would be good if that guy was good enough to supplant Thomas, but then what do you do with Thomas, a fourth-round pick they think has potential? For the same reasons, I don't think they have a great need at TE after reworking Miller's deal. At least not this year. So in terms of needs this year I think WR and CB are the two biggest and this draft is plenty deep at both positions, which means they can address both in the first couple of rounds if they are so inclined.
John: Will the Steelers miss Woodley?
Ray Fittipaldo: The Steelers will miss Woodley if Jason Worilds and Jarvis Jones do not produce. But he was a luxury they could not afford. He was a very good player when healthy but he hasn't been able to stay healthy for the past three years.
Zack: If the steelers do release woodley like it's being reported and foote gone who do you see being the other mlb and filling woodleys spot
Ray Fittipaldo: Worilds will fill Woodley's spot at LOLB. Jarvis Jones takes over at ROLB. Vince Williams took Foote's place last year and he did fairly well for a rookie. If they draft an ILB high I'd expect Williams to get a chance to retain that role.
DSF: Sorry to beat a dead horse here, but with respect to the nose tackle and the 3-4, last week you said that MT likes the 3-4 b/c it lets better athletes on the field (I'm assuming linebackers) to deal with the athletic QBs these day. You also mentioned a third way of not having a dominant nose tackle, but that third way was allowing the DE, like Keisel, rush the QB more. But doesn't this play in again to the problem? The 3-4 defense is built upon the NT and DEs eating up linemen so the LBs can make plays, but with the exception of Heyward, our DEs are not that athletic. So again, it seems like a system without the fit and having DEs rush the QB defeats what MT likes about the 3-4 and the generally philosophy of the 3-4, does it not?
Ray Fittipaldo: Tomlin's point, if I remember correctly, was having athletic OLBS who were able to chase down athletic QBs.
Tony R: Given likely availability, your opinion on 1st round selection of Clinton-Dix, Ebron, Denard or Mosley. Personally I would be happy wit any of them but prefer Ebron
Ray Fittipaldo: I'll rank them as I see the best players with the most potential:
But once again, if it's close the Steelers have a bigger need for a CB.
ZACK B.: Raji, Paul Soilai. Some solid NT's out there. Think Steelers will take a look?
Ray Fittipaldo: As I wrote in the blog late last week, Soliai is looking for more than the $6 million a year he just made with the Dolphins. I don't think the Steelers can afford that. Raji was good early in his career, but he's tailed off some.
JamesinNYC: Any chance they make Worilds prove it for a full year or at least part of the year(I know Steelers never talk contract during the year)? I guess my biggest fear is he gets hurt again and that dead money hits forever.
Ray Fittipaldo: I think it makes too much sense for both sides to get a long-term deal done. The Steelers would prefer to have the cap space and the assurance that they'd have Worilds for more than one year. And Worilds would like to have some long-term stability as well. No player wants to play on a one-year contract. It's why all players hate the transition and franchise tags.
JamesinNYC: Dennard has the tape from last year, if his pro day is good does he jump ahead of Gilbert?
Ray Fittipaldo: Dennard's pro day is tomorrow. He'd have to run really well to go over Gilbert, who ran more than a tenth of a second faster than him at Indy. I think Gilbert was a 4.3 and Dennard was 4.5 something. I don't see Dennard running that fast. But if he improves his time and tests well he could solidify as the No. 2 CB.
matt: Any chance steelers go after cromarty
Ray Fittipaldo: I don't think so.
DSF: Right but for those athletic OLBs, they need the DEs to eat the linemen, which is what they don't have. Hence it would seem they have no choice but acquire a dominant NT and DE who can eat up blocks
Ray Fittipaldo: Right. I think what Keisel said last summer was an adjustment to the way they wanted to do things because the OLBs hadn't provided the big pass rush the defense had been accustomed to. So the scheme didn't change. It was tweaked. And quite honestly I don't know how much because it wasn't much of a story the rest of the season, only for that day or two in camp when he said it.
luke: Which teams do u think will target woodley. Ravens??
Ray Fittipaldo: Not the Ravens. They just reworked Terrell Suggs' contract and they have Elvis Dumervil on the other side. He'll find work, but I don't see the Ravens as a destination.
Miller: Still don't understand why there's such a delay in awarding compensatory picks. For how much front offices like to prepare for the draft, wouldn't it be advantageous for clubs to have more time to know what selections they have? Not like the NFL front office is a beehive of activity right now.
Ray Fittipaldo: I think we should know by the end of the month. If I'm not mistaken, Gerry Dulac said in his chat last week that they often announce those at the annual owner's meetings. The owner's meetings are in a couple of weeks.
Fury 1: Ray, When will the Steeler extend M. Pouncy?
Ray Fittipaldo: As Ed Bouchette laid out in the blog this morning it might make sense to extend him now because of his roster bonus and what he'll count against the cap. There are varying views on Pouncey from outside the organization. Most, if not all, the views inside the organization last year was that they liked Pouncey. New line coach Mike Munchak has never coached him, so I don't know if they'd wait until Munchak has a better idea of him. For what it's worth, I talked to several former players who played under Munchak and they said Pouncey was a perfect fit for Munchak's zone scheme, so all signs point to Munchak wanting to work with Pouncey in the long-term.
Guest: How did his coaches feel timmons handled the play calling duty this season?
Ray Fittipaldo: Not sure about how the coaches feel exactly about this, but Ryan Clark among others often said it made a big difference when Larry Foote went down because he was the guy responsible for aligning the defense. I'm not sure if that was blind loyalty to Foote or if there was some truth in that. I'm sure it was a little of both. Just another example of how complicated the Steelers defense can be.
Phil: Other than Timmons, can you assess the inside linebacker depth chart heading into April?
Ray Fittipaldo: Vince Williams did pretty well for a rookie last year filling in for Foote. Sean Spence is trying to come back from that bad knee injury. We really don't know much about his status heading into OTAs. Spence reported near the end of the season he was enthused about his progress. We'll see what the coaches think this summer. And they like Terence Garvin as a depth guy. Maybe with some seasoning he can turn into something more. There's not a ton of depth there.
Jack Splat: Love the chats, Ray. Sort of a follow up question but how realistic is it that the Steelers sign a big name/big$ CB in FA? They should cut Taylor and Woodley but even with that money it seems far fetched. What do you think?
Ray Fittipaldo: As mentioned earlier the top CBs are going for $8-10 million per year. I don't think the Steelers are in position to make that kind of move. Not ruling out a mid- to low-tier FA CB but a big-money one seems unlikely because of their cap situation.
Tony O: Cutting Ike would save them 7 million with a 4 million dollar cap hit(dead money) would he not be smarty to take 2.5 million a year at this point and save us 8.5 total?
Ray Fittipaldo: It might be smart for him, but maybe his agent thinks or knows he can make ,more on the open market.
Seth: Cotchery will surely be signed before 4pm tomorrow, right?
Ray Fittipaldo: That would make Ben happy, but there are no guarantees. If it was a slam dunk it would have happened already.
Zack: If the steelers release Taylor how much cap space would they get compared to if he takes a pay cut
Ray Fittipaldo: They'd save his $7 million in salary. He'd count $4 million against the cap because he's on the books for $11.something million as a cap hit.
Eric: Hi Ray, what would the release of Woodley do for the teams cap now? Or would it only help us sign our draft picks in June? I guess I am not sure what the post June 1st release does because teams can sign him Tuesday.
Ray Fittipaldo: Read this: http://www.post-gazette.com/sports/steelers/2014/02/16/On-the-Steelers-Analysis-Economics-key-to-Woodley-s-fate/stories/201402160057. Ed Bouchette laid it all out a couple of weeks ago.
DE: A lot of people are pushing for a tall WR. But, what do the Steelers think of Derek Moye who is 6'5" and Justin Brown who is 6'3" (2013 6th rounder) stepping up? Do they have enough confidence in them? I really expect the Steelers will go D early and often.
Ray Fittipaldo: If the Steelers had any confidence they would have played more last year because the Steelers had the same need for a big, tall WR then. But Moye only dressed for a few games and was used sparingly when he did. Justin Brown never made it off the practice squad. He was sixth-round pick who was beaten out for a roster spot by Moye, an undrafted free agent. Don't get me wrong, Moye and Brown are in the NFL and obviously have some talent, but we're talking about different types of talents that are available in this year's draft.
luke: Do u think there going to bring back drawer??
Ray Fittipaldo: Dwyer was solid as a short-yardage back last year after he was re-signed. But he's not a great fit for the scheme, which is what they'll be using under Mike Munchak. They need RB depth, but I'm guessing they'd sign or draft a back who is better in the scheme they'll be using.
dave: So releasing lamar what kind of cap space will the steelers have to sign free agents
Ray Fittipaldo: As mentioned earlier, Woodley's release provides little in cap relief this year.
Bill L: True/False--Dan and Art are very reluctant to rip the rug out from players under contract. James Harrison and Woodley are exceptions...
Ray Fittipaldo: There were plenty of others beside Woodley and Harrison. Joey Porter, for example.
Ray Fittipaldo: Ok, that's all the time I have this week. Thanks for participating and we'll do it again next week at the same time.