Asked and Answered

Asked and Answered: April 12

Let's get to it:

ANGELA SMITH FROM BALTIMORE, MD: Are the Steelers talking about trading wide receiver Diontae Johnson?
ANSWER: My impression is that's a media-generated topic in the aftermath of some of the recent big-money contracts signed by NFL wide receivers coupled with the fact Diontae Johnson is entering the final year of the contract he signed as a rookie in 2019. With Johnson entering the final year of his rookie contract, he could become an unrestricted free agent in March 2023. But it's my opinion that Johnson is far more valuable to the Steelers this year as a starting wide receiver than he would be as trade bait for whatever another team would be willing to give in return for a receiver who has had some bits of inconsistency in each of his NFL seasons to date and is under contract for just 2022.

CHRIS FARIS FROM CARMICHAEL, CA: Given the depth in the draft of defensive players, with the real possibility of getting value in the second round and the team's need for a big-play wide receiver, would you swap the No. 20 pick in the first round of the upcoming draft and possibly future picks for D.K. Metcalf? I wouldn't necessarily give up the house, but if he could be gotten for the No. 20 this year and a first-round pick next year I would be interested. Am I off base?
ANSWER: Since you asked, I would say you're another fan proposing fantasy football trades in the real world. D.K. Metcalf is under contract for the 2022 season at a salary cap hit of close to $4 million and then can become an unrestricted free agent in March 2023. According to Spotrac.com, Metcalf's market value is $24.2 million per season, and that website is projecting he'll sign a four-year deal worth something around $97,185,816 once he reaches the open market. So, your trade idea is to give up two first-round picks for a player who likely will be playing for another team before it's even time to watch another team spend the second of those No. 1 picks you traded away. Still think that's a good deal? Me neither.

NICK MOSES FROM SIMI VALLEY, CA: Are the Steelers interested in signing Tyrann Mathieu? Do they have enough room under the cap to sign him to a one- or two-year contact as so many veterans seem to be doing these days?
ANSWER: The Steelers have an interest in signing Tyrann Mathieu, and they would have enough cap space to sign him to a two-year contract for what they believe he is worth. The issue is whether Mathieu agrees with the Steelers' assessment about what he is worth.

ROGER HOWARD FROM SEVEN VALLEYS, PA: Eliminate regular season overtime? I like it. Fortune favors the bold. It seemed that earlier in Coach Mike Tomlin's tenure the Steelers went for 2-point conversions fairly often. Where do they rank among the "boldest" teams in the NFL these days?
ANSWER: With the recent explosion of analytics and some coaches' strict adherence to percentages that advocate going for it on fourth downs regardless of field position, I feel confident the Steelers under Coach Mike Tomlin would be viewed as one of the more traditional teams in the league when it comes to being "bold." However, I can cite a couple of relatively recent examples of Tomlin going against conventional wisdom in situations that either could have led to overtime or in overtime itself.

The first instance came during Week 5 of the 2015 season, with the Steelers in San Diego on Oct. 12 for a Sunday night game vs. the Chargers. Ben Roethlisberger was inactive for the game, and the Steelers started Mike Vick at quarterback. With Philip Rivers posting a game that had him complete 35-of-48 for 365 yards, with two touchdowns, one interception, and a rating of 99.7 that allowed the Chargers to own a decided edge in time of possession (33:43-26:17), the undermanned Steelers were battling and searching for a way to pull out a win. After a Josh Lambo 40-yard field goal with 2:56 remaining gave the Chargers a 20-17 lead, the Steelers took possession at the 20-yard line following a kickoff that went for a touchback. Vick converted a third-and-1 with a 15-yard completion to Darrius Heyward-Bey, then on a third-and-6 Vick escaped and ran for 24 yards to the San Diego 17-yard line, and then on a third-and-10 he completed a 16-yard pass to Heath Miller that put the ball on the Chargers 1-yard line. With five seconds remaining, and after a Chargers timeout, Tomlin eschewed a tying field goal and had his team line up in the Wildcat. In a one-play, win-or-lose situation, the ball was snapped directly to Le'Veon Bell who got the ball across the goal line as time expired. The Steelers won, 24-20.

The next instance came during Week 5 of the 2019 season, an Oct. 6 game vs. the Ravens at Heinz Field. Ben Roethlisberger had injured his right elbow and was done for the season, and the Steelers were starting Mason Rudolph at quarterback, with Devlin Hodges serving as the backup. The Steelers were in good shape against their division rivals until a blatant cheap shot by Earl Thomas concussed Rudolph and knocked him out of the game. That meant the Steelers were down to Hodges, but on the strength of a defense that was torturing Lamar Jackson to the tune of 19-for-29 for 161 yards, with one touchdown, three interceptions, five sacks, and a rating of 54.9, the game went into overtime. The Steelers won the overtime coin toss and instead of taking the ball Tomlin opted to take the wind on a day that also included rain. Tomlin later explained his reasoning this way: down to Hodges at quarterback, it seemed unlikely the offense would be able to go down the field to score after Justin Tucker's inevitable touchback on the kickoff, which meant that after a punt the Ravens only would need a field goal to win. Tomlin decided to flip the switch on the Ravens, depend on his defense on overtime's opening possession, and then the Steelers could win with a field goal from Chris Boswell, who would have the wind at his back. When the Steelers defense forced a three-and-out on the opening possession of overtime, and the offense started at the Pittsburgh 32-yard line following the Baltimore punt, things were progressing according to plan. But on second down, Hodges completed a 10-yard pass to JuJu Smith-Schuster, who fumbled, the Ravens recovered and ended up with the ball at the Steelers 34-yard line. Three running plays gained 6 yards, and then Tucker came on to kick a 46-yard field goal and give the Ravens a 26-23 victory.

CHRIS WELBURN FROM GLASTONBURY, CT: With the potential exception of your first-round pick, when did we start thinking that draft resources would have immediate impacts? Shouldn't last year be the exception, and isn't it possible that with a couple more key free agent signings (safety and wide receiver) that it sets the team up to draft and develop the talent before the players are expected to be key contributors?
ANSWER: With the exception of first-round draft choices, draft picks are signed to four-year contracts, and if you're willing to give those players a redshirt season, that means a team has them for only three years under the cap-friendly rookie deals before those players can hit unrestricted free agency. Doing it your way – heavy on free agent signings – is going to stress the salary cap every year and once a franchise quarterback is identified and gets to his second contract, there isn't going to be sufficient cap space to surround him with talent capable of contending each and every season. The Steelers believe in building their roster through the draft and filling in with free agency. This offseason's activity in the free agent market is an outlier, and so the Steelers have to hit on the majority of their draft picks and then get them onto the field as soon as possible.

C.B. BREON FROM VERO BEACH, FL: What is your thought on Joe Haden switching to safety? I remember Rod Woodson was able to do it at a Pro Bowl level, but he was an exceptional athlete.
ANSWER: The more pertinent question would be: What is Joe Haden's opinion on switching to safety, because Rod Woodson wouldn't do it until it became clear to him that he no longer was capable of being the kind of cornerback he had been earlier in his career. And as for Haden's potential switch, in my mind it doesn't really matter for the Steelers because Haden would be a free safety and the Steelers currently are looking for a strong safety. And I'm not in favor of moving Minkah Fitzpatrick.

EDWARD WATSON FROM GRAHAM, NC: Do the salaries for the head coach and assistant coaches count against the salary cap in the NFL? And was Franco Harris offered a contract extension in 1984 when he left for Seattle?
ANSWER: The only salaries that count on an NFL team's salary cap are player salaries. And in 1984, Franco Harris was under contract when he and his agent decided to hold out of training camp. That's why the Steelers halted negotiations on a contract extension, because Harris was in the option year of his old contract. And since there was no unrestricted free agency in the NFL in 1984, Harris didn't "leave" for Seattle. The Steelers cut him, and the Seahawks then signed him.

TERRY GARDNER FROM MUNCY, IN: Derek Watt is scheduled to earn $2.75 million in 2022 and to count $4.7 million on the salary cap. Is the higher cap number due to a previous signing bonus that was prorated, or why is there a higher cap number?
ANSWER: The higher cap number for Derek Watt partly comes from a previous signing bonus that was prorated and also as the result of a restructured contract that helped the Steelers save some cap space in the short term in exchange for pushing that cap hit down the road.

EDWARD UMLAUF FROM SAVANNAH, GA: What do you think it would take to acquire Cooper Kupp?
ANSWER: The Los Angeles Rams are not going to trade Cooper Kupp, so put that entire idea out of your mind. To quote Coach Mike Tomlin: "Never say never, but NEVER."

JERRY WEST FROM SOUTHPORT, NC: How would you rate the free agents signed by the Steelers as to their ability to actually make a difference? It seemed that James Daniels was the only one who was rated highly.
ANSWER: Those kinds of ratings don't mean squat and they're often compiled by people who don't know diddly. And since that applies to me as well, I'm going to wait to see how those guys perform on the field before making any assessment.

RYAN YEDLINSKY FROM LANSING, KS: Do you believe the team will solidify General Manager Kevin Colbert's successor before the draft to be a part of the process, or will they wait until May to make a final decision? It's been a long time since the Steelers changed GMs.
ANSWER: It may have been a long time since the Steelers changed the person atop the player personnel department, but it hasn't been very long at all since Steelers President Art Rooney II said that nothing was going to happen on the GM front until after the draft. Besides, most NFL contracts for individuals in player personnel don't expire until after the draft, and so there is a good chance the person the Steelers want to hire is under contract to his own NFL team until after the draft.

LARRY SKINNER FROM BARTLESVILLE, OK: In the unlikely event that we end up selecting Liberty quarterback Malik Willis in the first round, where would he be on our depth chart going into training camp?
ANSWER: He would be below both Mason Rudolph and Mitch Trubisky on the depth chart, is my guess. With very few exceptions, such as Najee Harris, Coach Mike Tomlin simply slots rookies at the bottom of the depth chart and then allows their performance during training camp and the preseason to determine where they end up on the first regular season depth chart.

JAMES ROBERTSON FROM EDINBORO, PA: I'm totally in agreement about no overtime in regular season games. My question has to do with instant replay. And boy am I cynical. Do you think teams support the use of instant replay because it gives the network an opportunity to sell more commercials?
ANSWER: I believe teams support the use of instant replay because there continues to be the opinion that it can fix/correct officiating mistakes, even though there continue to be annual additions to the mounds of evidence showing replay does no such thing on a consistent basis.

JOHN MITCHELL FROM ALEXANDRIA, VA: In your opinion, would it be wise for the Pittsburgh Steelers to trade up for a quarterback in the upcoming draft?
ANSWER: In my opinion, it would be the polar opposite of "wise."

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