Poll Question: Which NFL teams has improved its team most via free agency? Answer #1: Broncos (58%) Answer #2: Patriots (29%) Answer #3: Seahawks (0%) Answer #4: Jaguars (0%) Answer #5: Raiders (8%) Answer #6: Browns (5%)
Alan: What do you think of the Cam Thomas signing? Just a big body to be used for depth, or do you think he can not only start at NT, but be an effective space eater as well?
Ray Fittipaldo: It's interesting. Thomas is a more prototypical 3-4 nose tackle, so I think their intent is to see if he can provide some competition for Steve McLendon. It's not that they want to push McLendon out, but they want to find ways to improve their rush defense. Plus, McLendon is more than capable of being versatile and moving to end. So I think they want to see what they have in training camp and then adjust from there.
Guest: Ray, Any chance they can still sign Carreker at DE?
Ray Fittipaldo: Alex Carrington, the 3-4 end who last played for the Bills. He visited last week and left without a contract. I saw some tweets that he had two other visits set up. They can still use a DE because after Heyward all they have are first-year guys Brian Arnfelt and Nick Williams.
ZACK B.: Any updates on the Worilds extension? We could use some extra cap room.
Ray Fittipaldo: I have not heard anything new on the Worilds front. Ed Bouchette reported last week that they hadn't really talked about an extension yet. But yes, they can use the cap space. The NFLPA had the Steelers $3.5 million under the cap before the today's Guy Whimper signing, so it's probably around $2.5 million now.
Nick: Apparently they just resigned Guy Whimper. Will we be ANY better next season?
Ray Fittipaldo: Yes, Whimper was re-signed a short while ago. He's a depth guy. They now have eight offensive linemen under contract next season. I can see them drafting a guy in the middle to late rounds to provide some competition in training camp, but they're pretty much set there with the five starters plus Cody Wallace, Whimper and Mike Adams as backups.
Alan Gifford: Cotchery gone now you think and would Lance Moore be a suitable replacement
Ray Fittipaldo: If Cotchery is gone I missed that. I know Moore is coming in for a visit tomorrow. He's a different type of player than Cotchery, who was really valuable in his role as the third WR int he slot last year, especially in the red zone. We'll see where that goes.
Nathan: Would you agree that Cornerback and Wide Receiver are glaring needs going into the draft, and most likely the Steelers first selection? Ike Taylor is done after this season and AB is the only proven receiver on the roster.
Ray Fittipaldo: Absolutely. You are dead on there. I think those are the first two picks. And the good thing for the Steelers is the draft is deep at both positions so they should be able to get a very good player in rounds 1 and 2 at positions of need.
Guest: What are the chances Mike Evans falls to 15 in the draft?
Ray Fittipaldo: In most of the mock drafts I have seen since the combine, where he enhanced his status with some impressive numbers running, he has been gone by 15. I might have seen one or two when he was still available, but he is now considered a top 10 talent. And even if he's not taken in the top 10 you'd have to worry about the Rams and the Giants taking him at 12 and 13
Guest: Who are they most likely to draft in the first round?
Ray Fittipaldo: Right now, I'd guess one of the corners, Gilbert or Dennard, but we still have two months until the draft.
Al: Hi Ray, have a question its is said that this years cap number is $ 133 M more or less. Does that number include the salaries that will be paid to the rookies that are about to be drafted, or how does this works , thanks !
Ray Fittipaldo: In the offseason, only the top 51 salaries count, so no the 2014 draft picks are not part of that. Plus, the Steelers will pick up some space when Woodley's contract officially comes off the books June 2.
Guest: What's your take on the Sanders contract shopping situation, I heard that the agent was barred by the players association in the past seems like we should be glad he took his mess elsewhere
Ray Fittipaldo: I follow agents on Twitter and some of them were bashing Sanders' agent for what occurred. And I know there was a news story or two that mentioned several teams were unhappy with how that played out. I think it's safe to say the agent will not last very long if GMs don't trust him, unless he somehow gets some major players. That doesn't appear to be the case now. I think I read where Sanders is one of only 2 NFL clients.
Mike From PA: Ray, does the signing of Mike Mitchell and Pittsburgh's decision to keep Will Allen, Troy Polamalu, and Ike Taylor give any indication that Pittsburgh might not be drafting someone in the secondary in the first round this year? Could this mean they are leaning more towards a drafting wide receiver or linebacker at this point?
Ray Fittipaldo: I wrote about this in the blog today. http://sportsblogs.post-gazette.com/sports/steelers-steelers-blog/2014/03/17/Free-agency-success-has-shaped-Colbert-s-drafts/stories/201403170004. I think it takes safety out of the equation in the draft, but corner remains a big need because Taylor is only around for one more year.
Raul from Mexico: Ray, cap money will be available after june 1 dje to Woodley's release. Would that be to pay draft picks or Steelers brass can use part of it to bring in more FAs?
Ray Fittipaldo: Both, if any free agents that are still available are worth bringing to camp.
Guest: how can the steelers create more cap room to sign a wr and de to create more depth?
Ray Fittipaldo: They can sign Worilds to an extension. Other than that, I am not sure how much they can do between now and June 2. Maybe someone like Alex Carrington, who is coming off an injury, might not sign until after June 2.
Jason: Do we draft a reciever in first round this year? Id love for one time since Burress have a actual dominant big reciever.
Ray Fittipaldo: People always like to bring up Burress as a dominant big WR, but he never really played that big. He was never good at going up to get those 50-50 balls and always seemed to end up on the ground. That's exactly how he got hurt at camp last year. He went up for a 50-50 ball against a defensive back and landed wrong on his shoulder. So while Burress certainly was effective for the Steelers I am not sure he should be defined as a big WR if you know what I mean. The Steelers need a big body that will compete for catches and give Roethlisberger bigger windows in which to complete his passes.
Parker: Who do YOU want us to draft first round?
Ray Fittipaldo: Mike Evans if available. If not, Gilbert or Dennard. If all three are gone, Ebron
Guest: It doesn't look godo for resigning Cotchery and while they could use him is it that big a deal if he walks?
Ray Fittipaldo: He's not a starter, so it's not a huge deal, but he played such an important role last year in the red zone that I think it could be damaging to the offense if he does not return. I suppose they could find a slot WR in free agency or draft one that will provide the same kind of production, but that's taking a big chance.
Ray Fittipaldo: Polamalu and Mitchell at safety. Allen and Taylor at corner to start the season, although I can see a rookie corner starting by midseason, especially if taken in round 1. Jones and Worilds at OLB. Williams and Timmons at ILB. McLendon at NT. And Heyward and SOMEONE not on the roster yet at the other DE.
Guest: I know things can still change with the draft and more FA signings, but as of now, who do you think will be the startes on defense next season? Especially with the new signings at DT and S
Ray Fittipaldo: Oops. Forgot to post question before last answer. There it is.
Oregon Duck: HI Ray whats the cap situation look like? Enough money to add a few players before draft?
Ray Fittipaldo: After the Whimper signing today I think it's around $2.5 million.
Sam: I like Dennard more then Gilbert do you agree? If neither are on the board I like Jason verret
Ray Fittipaldo: Verrett is smaller than Dennard and Gilbert, so that's why he has a low first-round grade. I don't go for him at No. 15. Gilbert is faster and probably has more big-play capability, but Dennard is said to be just a solid all-around corner that can come in and likely contribute right away.
Guest: Why do we hear how important it is to build through the draft but whenever we find young talent we let them leave i.e Sanders/Wallace/Keenan Lewis?
Ray Fittipaldo: Well, the Steelers didn't make a strong push to re-sign Sanders, so sometimes there is the situation where you want to move on with guys you draft. The Wallace situation is a tough one. They tried to negotiate a long-term deal with them. He wanted too much money so they signed Antonio Brown to a long-term deal instead. The Keenan Lewis signing is the one that hurts the most. He was a corner, a position of need, and the did not sign him after he proved he could play. He had a very good year for the Saints, and the guy that started instead of him (Cortez Allen) was injury-prone and had to benched at one point for ineffective play.
matt: Do u think Allen Robinson is still a good second round choice
Ray Fittipaldo: He ran a slow time (4.7) at the combine in Indianapolis. But he does have good tape and went up and made a lot of tough catches the past couple of years in the Big Ten. I wonder if he's a mid-second round pick or now because of the slow 40 a late second-round or even a third-round pick. Some other WRs might have jumped ahead of him because of his performance at the combine.
John: Hi Ray, love your chats and blogs. Do you think that know with the thin situation at the DL that the Steelers could trade down a little, grab some extra pic and draft Nix? They could move Mclendon to DE and you would get a solid line with Heyward Nix nd Mclendon
Ray Fittipaldo: Unless they have already made the decision to move McLendon to DE how many nose tackles do you need on your roster? They just signed Cam Thomas last week. And they still have Hebron Fangupo on the roster, though he might not be there by the end of camp. I just don't think you invest in a guy like Nix unless he falls in the draft and you pick him because he is the highest graded player on your board in the second round.
Emil Boures: Now that we have re-signed Guy Whimper do the Steelers not select any OL in this year's draft?
Ray Fittipaldo: I can see them draft a guy in the mid to later rounds, someone to compete with Whimper or Wallace. If they like that player they can cut one of those guys or keep the rookie on the practice squad. But I can't see them drafting one high.
Bill: What's your thoughts on James Starks? I personally think he would be a perfect compliment to Bell if the price is right
Ray Fittipaldo: Well, they need some depth at RB. They carried three halfbacks last year and they only have Bell under contract now. I can see how a guy like Starks fits in their plans, but I also know you can get a starting-caliber RB in the mid to later rounds of the draft, so I am quite sure you can find backups there or even in the undrafted free agent pool.
Dylan: If Mike Evans and Justin Gilbert are available at 15, who would be YOUR pick?
Ray Fittipaldo: Mike Evans because your best player is Ben Roethlisberger and an addition like Evans could be the difference between a good offense and a great one.
Jam: I like Jason verret a lot if dennard or Gilbert aren't there. Good vertical and doesn't shy away from tackles
Ray Fittipaldo: I have read and heard a lot about him. I think Mike Mayock called him the best slot corner int he draft. The Steelers already have a good slot corner under contract. His name is William Gay and he excelled in that role last season. If you draft Verrett you might be asking one of them to play out of position so to speak.
Mike: If the Steelers do not pick a wide receiver or corner in the first round who else can you see the Steelers taking?
Ray Fittipaldo: Honestly, I don't think that will happen, but if it did and TE Eric Ebron is there I would take Ebron.
Matt: Do you see Steelers being more proactive with prospective FA contracts prior to start of the season. Seems like we are bleeding draft classes of late.
Ray Fittipaldo: I think that's happening now. Mitchell and Thomas signed last week. They had Carrington in for a visit. Moore and Starks re scheduled to be in tomorrow...
Guest: What kind og guaranteed money does James Sarks command? Ray Fittipaldo: Veteran's minimum or thereabouts. Unfortunately, for running backs, they can be had for cheap, which is why I don't think you overpay for one in free agency.
Alan: Chances the Steelers take one of the top 3 offensive tackles if one of them slides to #15?
Ray Fittipaldo: 2% JamesinNYC: Ray great blog post, love your number crunching. How is Nick Williams doing? I had hopes for him as a sleeper pick, he was also a mock draft pick so I liked him even before.
Ray Fittipaldo: I remember John Mitchell being high on him last April when he talked about him the day they drafted him. Unfortunately for Williams, he was injured in camp and never really got a chance to show what he could do. He is a good athlete, a former basketball player who did not play football until college, so I think there is development that has to take place. And when you pretty much miss an entire year that makes it harder to make an impression the next. But I think they'll give him a chance to make an impression in camp.
Fury 1: Ray, Is the Green Bay RB Starks coming in today or tomorrow? I hope the sign him, he would be a great compliment to L. Bell. What is your take on him?
Ray Fittipaldo: Starks was the starting RB in Super Bowl XLV. He's Ok, but as I said earlier I don't give him much above the veteran's minimum to be on my team. He's a backup and you can find those guys on the street in July or August after other teams make moves in camp.
Tony R: I think Evans and Ebron will both be there in RD1, as will Denard. With the depth at WR and CB what would you think of a strategy of selecting Ebron to double as TE, red zone threat and occasional slot option then a CB in RD2 and maybe M. Bryant at WR in RD3?
Ray Fittipaldo: You obviously thought that out, but I have a hard time seeing a scenario where all three of those guys are available. But I have been on the record saying if Evans is gone and Ebron is there they should consider him because of what you said -- he can serve as a de facto big WR before transitioning to Miller's full-time replacement whenever that is.
Sandy: If dennard and Gilbert are both available who do you see as the best fit for us? Gilbert in my opinion fits the scheme better being that dennard mainly played man to man at Msu but I love dennards toughness, what do you think?
Ray Fittipaldo: I asked Kevin Colbert about the drafting of cornerbacks when it comes to the Steelers scheme and his response was "if you have red paint you paint the barn red." So what he was saying was if you have a really good prospect at your disposal you design your scheme around his talents and not vice versa.
Luke: The last few years there have been certain prospects that have fallen to us for various reasons. In 2012 it was DeCastro who was supposed to be long gone, and last year, when Jarvis Jones's slow 40/spinal situation seemed to cause him to fall to us. Who do you think are one or two names in this years draft that could, for whatever reason, fall to us at pick #15?
Ray Fittipaldo: The way these QBs are being picked apart I could see one or two of them falling deep into the first round, but the Steelers don't need a QB. Other than that, there really isn't a situation that I am aware of what would make a guy fall. Of course, that could happen in the next two months, but right now I don't know of any major red flags with any of the top guys in the draft.
Dylan: Ray, with our little depth at WR, what do you think about Pittsburgh bringing Santonio back in for a visit?
Ray Fittipaldo: Would have happened by now if they had interest. They moved on from Holmes the minute they traded him. Plus, he was injury-prone with the Jets and not terribly productive when he was healthy, although it should be pointed out his performance vs. the Pats in the 2010 playoffs likely helped the Steelers reach Super Bowl XLV.
Luke: Why don't we kick the tires on guys like Kenny Britt or SIdney Rice? Both are the big receivers that were coveting, and both have excelled in the past when paired with a big armed, pocket passing qb(rice with favre and Britt in Tennessee with Matt Hasselbeck)
Ray Fittipaldo: Britt has had major off-the-field issues, so I can see why the Streelers would not want to bring him in. Rice is interesting, but he is coming off an injury, too, and a little long in the tooth in a year the draft is deep with quality WRs. It's a tough market for free agent WRs.
Ryan: How would you like to see the rest of free agency play out for the Steelers?
Ray Fittipaldo: Cotchery and Carrington would be good gets, but I don't know if that's likely at this point.
Fury 1: Ray, Why would the Steelers not be interested in looking at Gren Bay WR James Jones? I think he would be a great addition to the team. He would be a big upgrade over what they have now and could start if Wheaton need more time to develope into a starter.
Ray Fittipaldo: He's had injury issues. Apparently, no other teams see him as a great value at this point either because he's still out there. I know he was effective for a while in Green Bay, but that can be a situation like being successful in New England or Denver. How much of it has to do with the QB you're playing with?
Miller: Aren't we taking for granted that the OL's good performance at the end of last season a little? With the level of competition and the fact that Adams and Gilbert are still not proven? I understand the optimism associated with Munchak coming aboard, but I wouldn't say that our OL is a strength just yet.
Ray Fittipaldo: I don't think it's necessarily a strength either, but you do have Pouncey coming back to shore up the middle. And the two guards played well. So the middle of the line should be fine. There are some concerns at both tackle positions, but I wrote a while back that Munchak would be this unit's most significant offseason signing. I think this is one instance where a position coach can make a big difference for a team.
Matt: Is Kelvin Benjamin a worthy pick for 15 or is that too high?
Ray Fittipaldo: Good question, Matt. He is a third-year sophomore but he's actually an older prospect. I think he is 23 or 24 whereas Evans is 21, I think. Plus, Benjamin did not test as well as some of the other WRs at the combine. He might be a bit of a reach at No. 15 but a steal in the middle of the second round.
driheet07: Donald (Pitt) seems to be gone before Steelers pick. If not would they be interested?
Ray Fittipaldo: I don't think so. He is a classic 3-techique in a 4-3 defense. I know some draft analysts think he can be a versatile player and play end in a 4-3, too, but to be honest I have not heard from anyone that he would be effective anywhere in a 3-4. He's too small to play nose and not long enough to play end.
JamesinNYC: Evans, Gilbert, and Dennard are off board...those would be my choices in order..Steelers choose Benjamin or Ebron?
Ray Fittipaldo: I would choose Ebron. I don't pretend to know who the Steelers would go with.
Seth: Do you think fans are a little too focused on the salary cap? There are so many pieces to it, unless it's your full time job I don't see how anyone can understand it.
Ray Fittipaldo: It's become a big offseason topic for fans because of free agency. But I agree with you. It's very difficult to understand. And the Steelers are under now and will have plenty of room once Woodley's numbers come off the books June 2.
Miller: As rookies hardly play in LeBeau's scheme or if they do, rarely have an impact, aren't we expecting a lot, even for a CB, to come in and make a difference? And with the success of the Seattle's very young defense, is there a thought that the complexity of his scheme may be a bit unnecessary given the team's transformation/youth?
Ray Fittipaldo: You make a good point, but there are two positions in that defense that are easier transitions -- nose tackle and corner. You have to know the complexities of the defense to a certain extent with both of those, but really if you're a nose you just go out there and eat up two blockers. And if you're a corner you're shadowing a WR.
Fury 1: Ray, Staks would be a great backup to bell and then the draft a RB like D. Archer to be a speed back that OC Haley likes. What about that?
Ray Fittipaldo: You're right. Haley does like those types of backs. He got Chris Rainey in his first year and had LaRod Stephens-Howling in that role last year before he got hurt. Not that Rainey was very good in that role...
Pistol: Any news on Embernate?? I know they were very high on him until he was injured. Is he someone that could take that last o-line spot?
Ray Fittipaldo: He's coming back from a major knee injury. He's someone who will compete if he is healthy, but I have to be honest I do not even know if he'll be ready for camp. Coret: When do you think we'll get an update on Carrington?
Ray Fittipaldo: I think Carrington is in Oakland today...
Ray Fittipaldo: OK, thanks for all the great questions this week. We'll do it again next week. And for college basketball fans out there stay tuned to my Twitter @rayfitt1. We might have an NCAA tournament chat scheduled soon.