Pittsburgh Steelers Heath Miller celebrates his touchdown against the Browns in the first half of a December game at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.
By Ray Fittipaldo / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Comment From Adam: What have you read about Eli Apple, the CB who has been pegged as a possible first round pick?
Ray Fittipaldo: He is generally regarded as the No. 4 CB in this draft and he's been a popular player to mock to the Steelers at No. 25. He came out as a redshirt sophomore so he's young. I don't believe he'll turn 21 until August. He is about 6-1, which is the height the Steelers covet for a first-round corner. However, he's not a finished product. Just because he's likely to be a first-round or early second-round pick doesn't mean he'll be a starter from Day One. Given his age and lack of experience he might be someone who is slowly worked into a rotation as a rookie. But given his skill set he's someone who could develop into a longtime starter.
Comment From truesteelerfan: Do you think any of the reports about free agent Tight Ends are likely to happen, or do you feel will try thru the draft or with James/Spaeth for a year?
Ray Fittipaldo: I'm not sure which reports you are referring to, but I'd be surprised if the Steelers did not sign a TE in free agency. Even if it's just a depth signing to safeguard against the team not finding the TE they desire in the draft. One of the best TEs in free agency is Dwayne Allen of Indianapolis. He would be signed as a starter. Others could be signed to compete with James and Spaeth. As far as the draft goes, if they don't get Hunter Henry of Arkansas or Austin Hooper of Stanford, I don;t think they'd be getting a sure-fire starter in this draft. The next guys such as Nick Vannett of Ohio State are good, but I don't see much difference between him and James. Vannett is interesting. He's a good blocker, but it's hard to gauge what kind of receiver he'll be in the NFL because Ohio State rarely looked his way. I wouldn't rule out drafting someone like Vannett, though, because Spaeth is 32 and it would be good for James to have some competition for the starting spot in future years should they not sign a starter in free agency.
Comment From Adam: Brady just signed an extension and says he wants to play well into his 40s. Have you seen anything to suggest he can't play until at least 45 (not counting the history of players who play in their 40s)?
Ray Fittipaldo: Not yet. He does a nice job of keeping himself in shape. But no one is immune to aging. No one knows when the skills will diminish, but eventually they will. I don't think it will happen in 2016 based on the way he played in 2015.
Comment From Adam: What kind of recovery should we expect from Bell? My biggest concern is that it takes him a while year to return to form. Do you think he will be able to go week one?
Ray Fittipaldo: Kevin Colbert said at the combine that they're not going to put a timetable on his recovery. I know a lot of people read into that that Bell might not be ready for Week 1 of the regular season. Or it could just be a case of the team not wanting to rush him unnecessarily. We should find out more in the coming weeks and months. Bell hasn't talked about the injury to my knowledge.
Comment From Adam: How is Beachum's recovery from ACL surgery? Do you expect he will get a big money offer in Free Agency?
Ray Fittipaldo: It only takes one of the other 31 teams to make that big offer. From what I understand he's progressing well, but I don;t have any details on his timetable.
Comment From truesteelerfan: Gut feeling on who will be Ben's primary back-up next season?
Ray Fittipaldo: Landry Jones or Bruce Gradkoswki. I'll say Jones now because he's under contract.
Comment From Bob: Who is your favorite safety that you think would be a good fit for the steelers In he draft And/or free agency?
Ray Fittipaldo: Eric Weddle has been a popular name, but I'm not sure the Steelers could afford him. If they are setting their sights on a second-tier guy who could come in and start one of the names I like is George Iloka of the Bengals. Not sure if he'll re-sign before he hits free agency, but he's a good player who is young (25, I think) and could grow into a role the way Mike Mitchell has over the past two years. And I think he could fit in that $ 5 million a year price range that the Steelers are probably looking to pay.
Comment From truesteelerfan: Do you think they are happy with our options as #3 RB for next year in house - or do you anticipate we'll address via draft or late in FA after maybe some cuts happen?
Ray Fittipaldo: I wouldn't be surprised at all if they drafted one to compete with Fitzgerald Toussaint. He did well in his limited amount of playing time, but they'll need a legit backup in 2017 because DeAngelo Williams is entering the final year of his two-year contract.
Comment From Adam: WHy do the Steelers allow their FAs to test the market? It's possible we could lose Gay, Foster, and Beachum all at once.
Ray Fittipaldo: Because sometimes those players see what other teams are willing to pay and it doesn't match up with what they thought they'd earn on the open market.
Comment From guest: hi Ray, I asked Gerry and Ed this but curious on your rankings of the top QBs in the game today mainly where do you put Ben? Top 3, top 5? and depending on where you slot him rank your 1-3/5 guys
Ray Fittipaldo: I think he's top 3. Brady still has to be No. 1. Aaron Rodgers No. 2. Ben No. 3.
He's the 2015 NFL MVP, but no way I'd pick Cam Newton any of those other guys.
Comment From Adam: Are you concerned about the Browns eventual first round QB? I feel as though any QB they take becomes garbage. On the other hand, maybe Goff or Wentz can become stars.
Ray Fittipaldo: I'm not convinced any of these guys will become future stars. Wentz seems like the guy with the highest ceiling, but there are lots of questions about him and the competition he faced in Division I-AA. It seems like they've been searching for their franchise QB ever since they came back into the league and took Couch with the No. 1 overall pick.
Comment From truesteelerfan: Think we'll have any changes on our coaching staff before next season? I would have thought we'd see something before now.
Ray Fittipaldo: I think if changes were going to be made they'd have been made in January.
Comment From kris: Do you think the steelers will draft a DL if he is the best available player with the 25th pick?
Ray Fittipaldo: If they did the guy would have to be more than a nose tackle. He'd have to be a guy who could stuff the run on first and second down and stay in the game as a rotational guy who had some pass rush skills as well. This is a deep draft for defensive tackles so you might be able to find a a guy like that, but I doubt it's in the first round just because you want your first-round picks to be on the field a lot. Last year the nose tackle was on the field only about 33 percent of the time. Even if stays in as part of a rotation with Heyward and Tuitt he's not playing 70 percent of the snaps because those two are so good.
Comment From Guest: If I were the steelers brass, I'd be restructuring contracts like crazy to find the money to sign Weddle, Sean Smith or one of the other young DB veterans that I could plug in the secondary from day one. It doesn't like they are going to do that and I think it's a mistake, even if they have to pay a top DB 8-10 mil a year. They are that close to the SB. Do you agree?
Ray Fittipaldo: I don't think they'll stray far from the formula that has worked over the years. They've had the most success with the second-tier free agents. If they do sign a starter in free agency I expect it would be someone in that tier.
Comment From Andy: Do you think the Steelers covet any defensive backs enough to trade up in the first round to take them, a la the moves they made for Troy or Santonio?
Ray Fittipaldo: It's always a possibility, but they're already without fifth- and sixth-round picks so I doubt it.
Comment From tyler: Do you you think Robert golden has improved enough to become our starting strong safety?
Ray Fittipaldo: He filled in for three games when Will Allen was hurt and I thought he did OK. But part of me thinks if he hasn't ascended to a starting role after four years it's not likely to happen. They need to upgrade over Will Allen. If it's not Golden it just might be a free agent or a draft pick.
Comment From truesteelerfan: Will Munchek as OL coach get any input as to which guys on his OL to resign - maybe he can see more potential than ppl in the office for this guy or that one - since unlikely to keep both Beachum and Foster?
Ray Fittipaldo: Sure. All assistant coaches give their input on free agency and the draft.
Comment From Guest: Would you anticipate any of last year's practice squad players making it to dress on Sunday's next year - or even possibly make an impact at all?
Ray Fittipaldo: Tight end Xavier Grimble is interesting. He played at USC, came out early and overestimated his worth. So he spent the year on the practice squad. He was impressive as a receiver in practice, but I don't know about his blocking. In fact, he was much better than some of the other TEs on the roster as a pass catcher it made me believe he was really behind as a blocker. So maybe he'll get bigger and stronger and earn a roster spot this year. Another guy is guard BJ Finney. He had a really good camp last summer and got hurt in the final preseason game. He came back in the middle of the season after he rehabbed his injury and stuck on the practice squad. he could be an option at left guard if the Steelers don't draft one.
Comment From Joe C.: Any word on Pouncey's recover? When will we know if he is ready to go?
Ray Fittipaldo: Kevin Colbert said last week at the combine his rehab was progressing well.
Comment From The Card Says Moops: What are your thoughts on Ramon Foster. He's a solid player but I don't see any team throwing him the kind of money that the Steelers couldn't also afford, if they were willing.
Ray Fittipaldo: You might be surprised. Some teams like the Jaguars and Raiders have to spend up to the salary cap after years of spending well below the cap. So sometimes guys get overpaid. But if you're asking me if Foster is worth $1.8 or 2 million a year for the Steelers I'd say yes. I just think he might find more money on the open market.
Comment From Steve: Ray thoughts on Steelers signing or being interested in Cromartie? He'd add experience / leadership and talent to the backfield...a bit expensive maybe..Bills are interested & they have limited cap space
Ray Fittipaldo: He's older and he has a history with Rex Ryan so I think that's where he probably ends up.
Comment From Guest: I've been chatting with other fans - and seems like we're pretty split about signing Weddle - any insight as to if the sides have gone any further than "exploring" if this would be an option?
Ray Fittipaldo: We'll find out soon. Free agency begins March 9. Agents and GMs laid the groundwork for deals at the combine.
Comment From Adam: Could the team, with their cap restrictions, resign Decastro, Foster, Gay, and sign a FA safety? I just don't see how they restructure things.
Ray Fittipaldo: Signing DeCastro long-term would actually create cap space for this year so I think that could happen, but I'd re-sign Gay and McLendon and sign a safety. Not Foster.
Comment From Steve: Ray, are RBS a "plug" position for Steelers? Seem to be...and you can great talent in later rds...I hope they don't mortgage future on Bell..
Ray Fittipaldo: It seems to be that way for every NFL team. But Bell is special. If there is a way to keep him without a huge salary I say go for it. By the way, the 2016 franchise tag for an RB is $11.8 million. Bell almost certainly would cost more than $12 million with the tag in 2017.
Comment From Adam: WHat have people been suggesting that we cut Timmons? Don't we owe him 15 million one way or another? How much would we save if he was cut anyway?
Ray Fittipaldo: I think they'd save $ 6 or 7 million by cutting him. But I don't think they will. I do think they'll try to sign him to a two-year extension to lower his cap hit though. Or they could ask him to take a pay cut.
Comment From Steve: ray, what CBS / S 's are realistically going to be available in the 25 pick? If they are gone as they were last yr. do Steelers pick the "best athlete" available? Whether its a LB or O lineman?
Ray Fittipaldo: CB Eli Apple of Ohio State could be there. There has been some talk of S Vonn Bell of Ohio State, too, but I'm not sure if he's a first-rounder. He's been projected more into the second round. So if not a defensive back then look at Hunter Henry, the tight end from Arkansas. Maybe offensive line too if there is someone high on their board.
Comment From Guest: Think Williams could fill Timmon's shoes after this year? I love how aggressive he is, even if not as fast as Spence.
Ray Fittipaldo: Williams is fine as a run stopper. I think the question would be in pass coverage.
Comment From Guest: With Eli Apple's great workout today,, I don't think he's going to be available for the steelers at 25 anymore. Who else do you project they might take in round one?
Ray Fittipaldo: Apple ran a 4.4 and he showed strong in the other drills, but don't count him out for the Steelers just yet. The combine is only one part of the process for teams, and Apple isn't a guy who wowed in games. He was good and there is no doubt he has potential to be very good in the NFL, but there is some risk there because of his age and the fact that he's not polished.
Comment From JD: Sammy Coats looked like the real deal against Denver, what do you see his role being next season?
Ray Fittipaldo: If he's not the No. 4 WR behind Brown, Bryant and Wheaton then it would be a disappointment. Heyward-Bey is a team guy and everything, plays special teams, etc., but Coates has the ability to be a major contributor if he can show he has consistent hands.
Comment From Watsa Katch: Clemson's top round CB Mackensie Alexander seems a natural to fill Ike Taylor's shoes. He hasn't intercepted a pass since high school. Agree?
Ray Fittipaldo: Alexander is probably the No. 3 CB in the draft. He might be available, but a lot of the mock drafts have him going in the middle of the first round.
Comment From Guest: Think there is any chance the Pats get any of the draft picks back?
Ray Fittipaldo: No
Comment From Guest: Do you think they WANT to go into next season with Antonio being our primary punt returner, or is he the permanent back -up plan that always ends up being put into action?
Ray Fittipaldo: He's good at it and the coach seems to think there is limited risk. It's not like a kickoff return where he can get drilled. For the most part, punt returns are safer and the best returners know how to sidestep danger.
Comment From Adam: Any chance they shorten the preseason to 3 games by next season?
Ray Fittipaldo: That would be a dream come true for players and fans. As for owners, it's all about the $. I'd be pleasantly surprised if they did the right thing.
Comment From Adam: I feel bad for Suisham. One min he's the most accurate kicker in our history, the next he gets injured and replaced. Should the NFL have a policy to protect players who get replaced due to injury?
Ray Fittipaldo: That's the business part of it. But it's not like he's going to be out of work. He's good enough that another team will scoop him up, perhaps even in a trade.
Comment From truesteelerfan: Just wanted to say Thanks for being here for us during the off season Ray - I know not the most exciting part of the year for many of us - but appreciate your input for clearing up news rumors we hear. This internet thing sure helps spread a lot of talk. So a genuine thank you.
Comment From Jake From State Farm: When do you think the Steelers will know who is on the offensive line? Before or after the draft?
Ray Fittipaldo: I'll say after the draft.
Comment From Adam: What's a reasonable deal Bell would except as an extention in terms of millions per year?
Ray Fittipaldo: Maybe Brown and Bell can play for the same amount of $ like Crosby and Malkin. That would be nice. How about $12.5 million per year over three years for both of them. Would you go for that? I don't think Brown would.
Comment From TSgt Fisher: Would the Steelers have any interest in Hasselback as a backup QB or do we have enough over 30 backup QB's already?
Ray Fittipaldo: Hasselbeck had some injury problems at the end of the year so he'd be in the same boat as Gradkowski. Are you healthy enough to play in 2016? It'd be tough to rely on a 40-year old QB for any length of time if Ben went down.
Comment From Guest: With Heath Miller gone do you think he will be more missed in regards to his leadership and presenxe in the locker room or for his production, blocking ablility and being a safety vlave for Ben>
Ray Fittipaldo: Both. He was a great leader by example. He meant a lot to a lot of people in that locker room and that building. The past few years he had a harder time getting open and running after the catch so that will be replaced much easier. But don't underestimate how much a leader means on a football team.
Ray Fittipaldo: Ok thanks for taking part in the chat this week. We'll do it again next week. Look for my next Steelers four-round mock draft on the blog at post-gazette.com later in the week.
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