Strackbein Mailbag: Once a Steeler, Always a Steeler? James Conner's Job Security, and More

Noah Strackbein

It's mail time! Yes, I stole that from Donnie but when you're that good at intros you should expect your work to be repeated. 

This week we have plenty of questions from James Conner's role in 2020 to a possible AB return and the NFL's new playoff format - even Artie Burns got involved. 

Thank you everyone who sent in their questions and always feel free to drop your questions in our Twitter or Facebook DM's for next week's!

Let's get started...

QUESTION: Is James Conner the starting running back in 2020?

Yes. The Steelers aren't going to give up on James Conner even if they draft someone early. Conner is a starting running back in the NFL when healthy, and the organization's concerns are clearly health related. 

Chances are they will add another valuable back to the mix this offseason but only to play alongside Conner. They don't want to rely on a combination of runners to fill the void if he has to miss more times for whatever reason during the season. 

James is the starter heading into Week 1 unless he faces another injury. But until his health keeps him from the field the Steelers want him to be their running back in 2020. 

QUESTION: Is a return to the Steelers a possibility for AB? Once a Steeler always a Steeler.

"Once a Steeler, always a Steelers." Yeah, I heard it too, but that doesn't mean he's coming back to Pittsburgh. Mike Tomlin made it clear to point out that the organization will be willing to help him but not sign him. 

AB may be on the comeback after a wild year but he hasn't proven anything about what he's going to be like in a locker room. Right now, the NFL has a picture of Brown as someone who fights his way out of teams he no longer wants to be on. 

The Steelers would love to have the talent of Antonio Brown on their roster but they certainly don't want the noise. It was their motto in 2019, that's not going to just go away after a season. 

Brown might end up on a roster in 2020 but for right now he's still on the exempt list and it's hard to see anyone taking a chance on a loose cannon like him. 

QUESTION: Do you think Artie Burns' career gets revived with a new team?

I sure hope so. Burns was so miserable in Pittsburgh by the time his rookie deal was over. He didn't have a place on the team and it was clear he just didn't want to be there. 

Someone will take a chance on him this season and his recent signing with Drew Rosenhaus was a perfect move. The two will be looking to get Burns to a place where he can prove himself for a year or two and then look for a bigger deal. 

He's still a first-round pick. Even if he might have a been a reach, the Steelers weren't selecting a fifth-round talent when they drafted him. They saw something and so did the rest of the NFL and another team will be looking to add him to their roster. 

Hopefully it means he finds success again. 

QUESTION: Is is a guarantee Hard Knocks is coming to Pittsburgh? 

Pretty much. There are five teams eligible for Hard Knocks this summer - Steelers, Broncos, Cardinals, Lions and Jaguars. None of them have the storylines that the Steelers do, though. 

HBO wants the storylines. With Pittsburgh, they get Mason Rudolph vs Myles Garrett, Antonio Brown backlash, a recovering Ben Roethlisberger, revived defense, Mike Tomlin - who's a show within himself - and the comeback of one of the league's most historic franchises. 

They haven't announced who will be behind the cameras this summer but the Steelers training camp looks to be the hot spot for Hard Knocks. 

QUESTION: What's the current tight end situation? 

Currently, Vance McDonald is still on the roster and Kevin Colbert says the team would like to bring back Nick Vannett. That could easily change, and likely will, before the spring is over. 

McDonald holds too much cap space for the Steelers not to move on from him. Vannett is a quality young tight end who could fill the starting role. This may mean they add another tight end in the draft or give Zach Gentry an expanded role in 2020. 

No moves have been made but the silence around McDonald seems to be a clear indicator he's on his way out. Vannett has made it known he wants to play with Ben Roethlisberger and when I talked to him at the end of the season, he kept reminding me how much he loves this team. 

If they can afford his asking price, Vannett stays and McDonald leaves. But currently, nothing has been done. 

QUESTION: Would a seven-team playoff help the Steelers in 2019? Your thoughts on it next year?

No. Unfortunately, Duck Hodges was not walking into the postseason and winning a game. At the end of the year, the Steelers couldn't score more than 10 points in a game. That doesn't win in the playoffs. 

Moving forward, I personally like the layout of the playoffs. Seven teams gives the top seed an even bigger advantage which they deserve. 

I'm not too informed on the financial side or how this is going to impact the players so I don't have a detailed response to it yet. But, my initial reaction is that this is a good move by the league and should add more fun to postseason. 

Removing a preseason game is also in the team and league's best interest. The fourth game was pretty much a waste as it was. Playing in 17 regular season games could cause concerns for players' health. 

Thank you for another tremendous mailbag! To get more involved with everything Steelers, join our community page and follow us on Twitter @si_steelers. 


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