Let's get to it:
KEN MAULDIN FROM CLYDE, TX: I really appreciated Joe Haden while he was here. It seems like his career, a very good one, sure came to quiet ending. I know he was a salary cap casualty with the Browns, but how many teams had a chance to pick him up before the Steelers nabbed him? Did he have to clear waivers?
ANSWER: As a vested veteran when the Browns released him in August 2017, Joe Haden was not subject to waivers, and the Steelers signed him the day after the Browns cut him. The following passage is what I wrote about that 24-hour period for Steelers.com:
"There had been rumors circulating through the NFL grapevine that the Browns were looking for Haden to take a pay cut from the $11.1 million salary he was owed for 2017 on a contract that was then to pay him in the neighborhood of $21.5 million for 2018-19.
"Haden's agent is Drew Rosenhaus, and while there are many adjectives that have been used by NFL teams to describe Rosenhaus, no one ever said he wasn't savvy in the ways of working the system. Of course, Rosenhaus advised against Haden taking a pay cut, and of course that made trading him almost impossible because whatever team might be interested in such an arrangement would have had to be willing to pay nearly $35 million plus player or draft pick compensation for a 28-year-old cornerback who has had recent injury issues.
"That then forced the Browns' hand, and as could've been predicted, Haden was cut on Wednesday afternoon, and as a vested veteran he was able to sign with any team at whatever price was negotiated by Rosenhaus. A few hours later, Haden was at the Steelers team hotel in Charlotte (the night before the preseason finale) yukking it up with his new teammates after passing a physical with his signature on a new three-year contract."
LARRY MORRISON FROM PENSACOLA, PA: If Jalen Carter happens to fall to 17, do you believe the Steelers will select him?
ANSWER: I am confident that is something the Steelers will discuss/debate, weighing the risk/reward of selecting Jalen Carter vs. the other players possibly available at 17th overall in the first round. The issue likely would be re-visited however briefly during the time the Steelers are on the clock, but the heavy lifting on that possibility would have been a topic during the grading and ranking of the prospects. Who else might potentially be available at that spot would be a significant factor if the decision was mine, but it's also possible a definitive decision on Carter's character might get made before the picking begins on April 27.
ERIC CHRISTOPHER FROM PHOENIX, AZ: When a draft-eligible player is invited by a team for a personal visit, does the team foot the bill for all of the player's expenses, such as airfare, hotel, and meals?
ANSWER: The procedure is really no different than an interview for a position at any other multi-million-dollar company. The company flies the candidate into town, puts the person up in a hotel, and around the time spent on meetings and tours and introductions, there are meals shared. The social component of the interview/visit is important, too.
MIKE PALOMBO FROM MCMURRAY, PA: When discussing a player's value on special teams, you always hear about tackles. But on the return teams, other than the returners, how do the Steelers evaluate a player's value? Are there any metrics besides numbers of holding and blocking in the back penalties?
ANSWER: Not to sound like an old man, but it's not always about metrics. There is an art to scouting and identifying talent, and a lot of times it comes down to grinding – digging in and scouring video. Then, you add in what was learned during the on-campus visit by the area scout, maybe mining some sources for inside intel. That's usually the way those guys are found.
TONY PATRICK FROM POLAND, OH: I was wondering if the players are allowed to use the training facility year-round. I have seen where Kenny Pickett and others went to Florida to train. If the players were to work out at the training facility, would the league consider that like OTAs?
ANSWER: I don't know that it's technically illegal, but there really is nothing convenient about Steelers players trying to use the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex for offseason workouts during the period that comes before the start of Phase 1 of the offseason program, which begins for teams with returning head coaches on April 17. The weather in Pittsburgh at the time would be iffy, and the facility wouldn't be empty because Pitt would be involved in spring practice at the same time. And it's not like the players could stay in their own houses or apartments, because most do not live full-time in Pittsburgh during the offseason. Off-site just makes more sense.
BILL ALLEN FROM SPRING VALLEY, OH: Do you have any concerns with the re-shuffling of new offensive linemen for the upcoming season? It took several games for the offensive line to get familiar with playing together last season.
ANSWER: An offensive line's ability to perform as a unit is important, but I don't foresee that being a problem with the unrestricted free agents the Steelers have signed – plus whomever they might draft. This will be the second lap around the track with offensive line coach Pat Meyer, so there will be consistency there, and the guys who have been added so far are proven NFL-caliber players. I'm not predicting multiple Pro Bowl selections, but assimilation should not be an issue.
CARTER NIELSEN FROM DENISON, IA: Do you think the Glenn Thomas hire will improve our offense this coming season?
ANSWER: That certainly is the intended outcome. Coach Mike Tomlin always has said that he "doesn't care where good ideas come from." Glenn Thomas was hired because there was a sense he had some good ideas to contribute to the group. He will be heard, and then the results will speak for themselves.
JB JOHNSON FROM BASTROP, TX: Is Miles Killebrew still on the active roster? He seems to be a very comparable player to Keanu Neal, the recently signed unrestricted free agent. I thought when Killebrew got a chance to play, he accounted for himself pretty well.
ANSWER: Miles Killebrew is under contract to the Steelers through the 2023 season, for which he's due a base salary of $2 million. But your evaluation of the two as similar players is just not accurate. Killebrew will be 30 before the start of the 2023 season, and in his seven NFL seasons he has started only 4 games. And when it comes to playing time, Killebrew has played more than three-times as many special teams snaps than he has defensive snaps, 2,254-646. Neal will be 28 at the start of the 2023 season, he has started 61 of his 80 career NFL games, and he has played 4,244 defensive snaps and been voted to one Pro Bowl. Killebrew is a valuable special teams player and a spot fill-in as a safety. Neal is a proven NFL starting safety with credible statistics on his resume.
JON WILSON FROM LUDLOW, MA: Do you think the Steelers will be able to accomplish a trade before the draft that would allow them to accumulate more picks?
ANSWER: Of much more importance than working to accumulate more picks is figuring out how to use the ones you have to make the team better. The Steelers currently have four of the top 80 picks in this draft, and them adding 4 quality players with those is more important and would have a much bigger impact than working on a trade. And even if a trade back in a round for more picks was to materialize, it wouldn't happen until the heat of the moment, because which players the team might be passing by making the trade would be a consideration.
KEN WILSON FROM MILTON, FL: As a Pitt alumnus, I have been watching defensive lineman Calijah Kancey, and his comparisons to Aaron Donald are well-founded. He is a little undersized to be a stout lineman. Do think he might be considered as a hybrid inside linebacker and that we might have to bundle our first 2 picks to move up in the first round to pick him?
ANSWER: All due respect to Calijah Kancey and Pitt football, but I'm not trading the 17th and 32nd overall picks in this draft to be able to pick him. That price is too high for one player, and these Steelers need more than one player.
VICKI RIZZO FROM ST. CHARLES, MO: When the Steelers host draft prospects, do they put them through a physical workout, or is it simply a chance for them to get to know them on a personal level?
ANSWER: The primary purposes of a pre-draft visit is to fill in any gaps in the information-gathering process with the particular player. The vast majority of players brought in for a pre-draft visit have worked out either at the Combine or a Pro Day, and if one hasn't been able to do that, the medical reasons why would be investigated.
GORDON JENSEN FROM DAYTON, OH: Since the Steelers have the first pick on Day 2 of the draft this year, it would be likely they would know who they would be picking the night before. Is there any chance they would give that player a heads-up, or is that prohibited?
ANSWER: For what possible reason would the Steelers notify a player that they were planning on picking him before it was time to do the actual picking? How could that possibly help the team? The player will find out soon enough. Need-to-know basis.
JAVIER MORI FROM LAS VEGAS, NV: Donnie Shell was recently inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2020, but you don't hear much about his cohort at safety on those teams – Mike Wagner. Do you think he is a bit unheralded and a forgotten member of that defense?
ANSWER: Those who were involved with those Steelers defenses of the 1970s understand the contributions Mike Wagner made to the successes of those units, and by extension, the successes of those teams. Wagner contributed 36 interceptions and 12 fumble recoveries (48 total takeaways) in 116 starts; he tied for the NFL lead in 1973 in interceptions with 8; and he added five more interceptions during the playoff runs in 1974-75-76. Wagner is underrated in some quarters, but he was inducted into the Steelers Hall of Honor as a member of the Class of 2020, and he was deserving.