Let's get to it:
ROBERT WITKOWSKY FROM HATBORO, PA: What is the status of Anthony McFarland as far as contributing to the running game? With all of the Steelers' running game woes, why hasn't he played a bigger part in games? Was he a bust pick?
ANSWER: Whoa. Slow down. I'm not forecasting that Anthony McFarland is going to be a Pro Bowl running back, but suggesting he might be a bust after a rookie season that included no offseason program or preseason games is a bit premature. Because there was no offseason program or preseason games in 2020, McFarland's development was slowed, and the idea of throwing him onto the field during the regular season "to see what he can do" has to take a backseat to trying to win a game each week. It might be accurate to maintain that McFarland wasn't prepared to play as a rookie in 2020, but I think it's unfair to label him as a "bust pick." And there is no "status" as far as contributing to the running game right now because this is the offseason. Until the players gather for whatever offseason program is going to be permitted, the Steelers really have little contact with their veteran players. I would suggest to you is that the answer to your question about McFarland's potential future with the Steelers and in the NFL won't come until training camp begins and the preseason games are played.
CARLOS JONES FROM SARASOTA, FL: With Marlon Mack under contract for $2 million with the Colts, will there be a good chance of trading a late-round pick for him?
ANSWER: The Colts re-signed running back Marlon Mack to a one-year, fully guaranteed $2 million contract on March 23. Why would they turn around and trade him to the Steelers for a late-round draft pick? Because it's unlikely that a late-round draft pick could be used on a player capable of replacing Mack.
ERIN KEELAN FROM HONOLULU, HI: I do not think Kalen Ballage is starting running back material. Why sign someone who doesn't fit the Steelers style? Was this a desperation move since we lack for running backs or simply a money issue?
ANSWER: First of all, nobody – except you – has mentioned Kalen Ballage as a starting running back, so relax. The Steelers signed him for the NFL minimum salary, and as a result he doesn't count on the salary cap, which only includes the top 51 players on the roster at this point in the calendar, nor will he count in the compensatory draft pick formula. Roster limits at this time are 90 players, and teams are going to need numbers to fill out a training camp roster. This is a total and complete overreaction on your part.
TIMOTHY WALKER FROM NEW ORLEANS, LA: What do you think of the Steelers drafting Notre Dame tight end Tommy Tremble?
ANSWER: Provided it's done at the appropriate time during the draft, I could see the move as making sense.
CHAZ KELICAN FROM WARDENSVILLE, WV: How does adding a 17th game impact the players' contracts and does it automatically increase the salary cap?
ANSWER: Adding a 17th regular season game impacts the salary cap in this way: Owners and players share what is referred to in the Collective Bargaining Agreement as designated gross revenue, and it's that revenue share that goes into determining the salary cap. More regular season games means more designated gross revenue, which means an eventual increase in the salary cap. As for the impact on individual players, I refer to a story written by Dan Graziano that appeared on ESPN.com: "The CBA specifies that any player whose base salary is higher than the minimum number for a player of his service time will be eligible to receive an extra game check as long as (A) his contract was executed prior to Feb. 26, 2020, (B) his was not renegotiated or restructured in any way that added to subtracted value to it, and (C) he's on the active roster, inactive list or injured reserve for the 17th game. 'Extra game check' is defined as 1/17 of the player's base salary, and it's to be paid as a lump sum at the end of the year."
CARLOS ARVIZU FROM MEXICO CITY, MEXICO: What's your take on having one fewer preseason game to evaluate players? I'm under the impression Coach Mike Tomlin has expressed that by the time the preseason games happen he has already made up his mind.
ANSWER: That is an inaccurate portrayal of Coach Mike Tomlin's view, and as evidence I offer the instances of players earning a roster spot based on their performance in the preseason finale. As for the length of the preseason, I believe three games is sufficient to make the correct evaluations. If individual coaches/teams want more of an opportunity to evaluate players, there is always the potential for joint practices during the training camp period. And for the "lucky" teams that are selected to play in the annual Hall of Fame Game – it will be the Steelers and the Cowboys this August – it still will be four preseason games.
WAYNE HASCH FROM LOS ANGELES, CA: In the last 10 drafts the Steelers have selected 13 players from the Big 10 and six from the MAC. They have only picked 10 from the PAC-12 and one from the Mountain West. This would seem to indicate a geographical bias. Do you agree?
ANSWER: A geographical bias, or a reflection of the caliber of football currently being played in the PAC-12? My opinion is the more players drafted from Alabama and LSU, the better. Because the SEC is the best conference in college football.
DOUG PARR FROM CHARLOTTE, NC: As much as I prefer building teams through the draft, didn't Tampa Bay win both free agency and the Super Bowl last year?
ANSWER: Tampa Bay won the Super Bowl because the Buccaneers signed Tom Brady. All of the other offseason free agency moves were window dressing. If you want to label signing Brady as being enough to "win free agency," I won't argue, but that's not what I took the question to mean.
MARK BARTER FROM DOVER, DE: Do you think it will be difficult to keep both T.J. Watt and Minkah Fitzpatrick?
ANSWER: Easy or difficult doesn't really matter. What matters is will they or won't they. I believe they will.
EDWARD UMLAUF FROM SAVANNAH, GA: Is it likely the Steelers will be able to keep T.J. Watts when he becomes an unrestricted free agent?
ANSWER: By the time T.J. Watt is eligible for free agency, the Steelers won't be as strapped under the salary cap as they are this year, and they also will have the franchise tag at their disposal and the room under the cap to use it. And if a long-term contract with Watt hasn't been worked out, they will use the franchise tag. Of that I have no doubt.
RICK SANTRY FROM ALLENDALE, NJ: I generally like the way things have gone so far this offseason. Having the wide receiver position solidified with Ju-Ju Smith-Schuster's return, and with Tyson Alualu coming back to anchor the defensive line, our needs appear to be mostly on the offensive line and running back. So if push comes to shove, do the Steelers go offensive lineman or Najee Harris/Travis Etienne with the 24th overall pick?
ANSWER: I believe that to fix the running attack, a dynamic back has to be added, and so the Steelers have to do that in the upcoming draft when the opportunity presents itself. They should have that opportunity to add a dynamic running back in the first round, but I'm not as sure that they will have it in the second round by the time it gets to their turn to pick.
ADAM ZALEWSKI FROM MONROE TOWNSHIP, NJ: Is there any news on a Jesse James reunion ? Did he sign elsewhere?
ANSWER: No news. And Jesse James remains a free agent.
ROBERT RICHARDSON FROM MODESTO, CA: Do Steelers draft picks get a housing allowance after they're selected?
ANSWER: The Steelers house their new rookies in a Pittsburgh hotel during the time of the offseason when they're in Pittsburgh. Come training camp, all players are housed at Saint Vincent College. Then those who make the 53-man roster are on their own for housing.
ISAIAH CARRIER FROM MIDDLETOWN, OH: What do you think of the Steelers trading their first-round pick for maybe a second-round pick and a third-round pick in this year's draft? Then maybe draft running back Javonte Williams and center Landon Dickerson, and then maybe add tight end Tommy Tremble in the third round?
ANSWER: As I've written many times before, you do realize this is the real world and not a video game, right? For your scenario to happen, all you'll need is a team willing to trade up into the bottom of the first round and give up a No. 2 and a No. 3 pick to do so; then all of the other 31 teams have to cooperate so the Steelers can pick Javonte Williams and Landon Dickerson in the second round, and then Tommy Tremble in the third round. If all of that happens, if all of those pieces fall into place, it's a genius move. But what if it doesn't?
JOEL SEVCO FROM HERSHEY, PA: I have asked this question three times. Who do you think was the best linebacker (inside or outside) the Pittsburgh Steelers ever had? Keep ignoring me.
ANSWER: And I have answered this question more than a half-dozen times. Jack Ham. Start paying attention.
TOM GAGE FROM BURLINGTON, NC: Do you think Joe Haeg or Rashaad Coward will be a starting lineman for the Steelers?
ANSWER: The Steelers didn't sign either of those offensive linemen to be full-time starters, but either of them could be called upon as a temporary injury fill-in starter. Maybe one or both develops into something more, but the expectation for Joe Haeg or Rashaad Coward isn't to be an immediate full-time starter.
JORDAN HENDERSON FROM MIAMI, FL: Do you think there will be a reunion with Le'Veon Bell and the Steelers? Just because he might still have the ability and could sign a cheap contract.
ANSWER: I believe the Le'Veon Bell ship has sailed, primarily because I'm having trouble believing that a guy who turned down a five-year, $70 million contract proposal from the Steelers and then also sat out an entire season instead of playing under the franchise tag for around $16 million guaranteed back in 2018 would be willing to come back on "a cheap contract."