Let's get to it:
ANTHONY BRAY FROM BOULDER CITY, NV: Do you believe the Steelers are counting on Calvin Austin III being one of their top three receivers coming into training camp, or do you foresee wide receiver being an area they use some higher draft capital, perhaps third or fourth round, to bolster the receiving ranks?
ANSWER: I believe it would be difficult to be "counting on" a player who was a fourth-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft who then was injured before the first preseason game of his rookie season and never played a snap. I also believe that adding a wide receiver in this year's draft is something the Steelers will consider depending upon the way the picking unfolds on April 27-28-29. What I'm not as sure about is that whether or not the Steelers add a wide receiver in the draft deserves to be seen as a referendum on Austin.
BUDDY POWELL FROM FORT MYERS, FL: Devin White wants out of Tampa Bay. Would you make a run at him? And what would you offer?
ANSWER: Ah, another example of the difference between Fantasy League and the National Football League. In Fantasy League, one team owner calls up the other team owner and a transaction is discussed, negotiated, and completed in a direct and prompt fashion. In the National Football League, even the most basic elements might not necessarily be what they seem. While "sources" have reported that Tampa Bay linebacker Devin White has requested a trade, other "sources" reported the Buccaneers have no interest in accommodating that request. The Buccaneers exercised the fifth-year option on White's rookie contract, and so he is under contract to them through the upcoming season – at a charge of $11.706 million – and then eligible to become an unrestricted free agent in March 2024. Maybe this is part of the machinations of a negotiation for a contract extension, because I would imagine the Buccaneers would not be quick to cut ties with a player they made the fifth overall pick in 2019 and has been a significant component of their defense ever since. And for any team to be remotely serious about approaching the Buccaneers about such a transaction would realize it would have to be able to satisfy the player's contract expectations moving forward. See the difference?
BILL McNEELEY FROM ABSAROKEE, MT: Can you help me understand how the game has changed, because it seems like quarterbacks threw far more interceptions in the 1970s and 1980s than in today's game. I love Terry Bradshaw, but his career stats were 212 touchdowns and 210 interceptions. Those numbers would get him benched in today's NFL, and Mike Wagner had more career interceptions than Troy Polamalu, 36-32.
ANSWER: Actually, everything has changed. Until the West Coast offense became popular in the 1980s, NFL teams threw the ball down the field instead of relying on rhythm passing where receivers ran quick routes and quarterbacks threw toward the sideline. That cut down on the time the quarterback had to hold onto the ball, which made it more difficult for the defense to generate a pass rush. Also, defenses could hit quarterbacks in that era, whereas today quarterbacks in the pocket are a protected species. Before the institution of the Mel Blount Rule, defensive backs could contact receivers all over the field until the ball was in the air, and today any contact with a receiver beyond 5 yards of the line of scrimmage is a penalty. See where I'm going here? Also, offensive linemen weren't permitted to extend their arms and punch in pass protection, and now that's a technique that is taught. There have been many, many rules changes and points of emphasis established that make it way easier to throw the football and to complete passes for high percentages and limit interceptions.
DAVID OROCHENA FROM POTOMAC, MD: My question is when will the nominations for the Steelers Hall of Honor open up?
ANSWER: Nominations for the Hall of Honor Class of 2023 will begin being accepted on April 17. The Steelers opened the Hall of Honor Museum, located inside Acrisure Stadium, last November, and the team has a lot of plans in the works to make it even more interesting and attractive to fans who either would be making their first visit or coming back for another. Since your question had to do with Hall of Honor nominations, I'd like to share one of those initiatives relating to that. Fans touring the Museum will be able to submit their nominations for induction into the Class of 2023 and be entered to win a trip to Hall of Honor Weekend, through use of the new QR Code features. The trip a lucky fan will win includes a 2-night stay in Downtown Pittsburgh, plus game tickets, Hall of Honor Dinner tickets, and Hall of Honor Museum passes.
SCOTT SHILEY FROM BRICK, NJ: I know that players understand that the NFL is a business and may not take offense when a brother is not re-signed, such as the Edmunds brothers (Terrell and Trey). But what if when the Steelers' turn in the first round comes and they pass on picking Joey Porter Jr. Does this sour Joey Porter Sr. on the Steelers organization? Do the Steelers care?
ANSWER: The Steelers aren't going to draft a player to appease that player's father, and a father who spent 13 seasons in the NFL and played for three different teams along that journey should have a pretty good understanding of the business end of professional football.
JEFFREY MILES FROM MIDDLETOWN, CT: I was debating some recent Steelers draft picks in a football group. The discussion turned to Devin Bush, and while I think he didn't pan out I also felt he showed great promise as a rookie. In that discussion somebody said he "only" had 89 tackles as a rookie, while I argued he had 109. ESPN.com and Pro-Football-Reference.com list him with 109, but NFL.com shows 89. We are wondering which number – if either – is correct?
ANSWER: You are correct in reporting the disparity in the number of total tackles credited to Devin Bush during his rookie season, and my opinion is that probably neither of the "options" provided are "correct." Tackle statistics are compiled on-site by the home team stats crew on a game-by-game basis. Certain teams' stats crews are notorious for the generosity shown when it comes to the awarding of a solo tackle or an assist to the home team's defensive players. As an example, Ray Lewis is listed with 2,059 tackles in 228 career games, which works out to an average of 9.03 tackles per game. Not to demean Lewis, but that's A LOT of tackles per game when the Ravens defense wasn't necessarily on the field for a lot of plays during his career, and there were a bunch of other very good players on those units who were amassing stats of their own. I never trust tackle statistics, and I would advise you not to trust them either.
JEFF PRIEST FROM VIENNA, VA: I know the Steelers hold the first pick in the second round of the upcoming draft. Do you think the Steelers would package that 32nd overall pick plus a later round selection to move back into the first round to get a player they like with the fifth-year option on his rookie contract?
ANSWER: There need to be two interested parties to get a deal done, and if it's for the fifth-year option on the rookie contract you'd have to find a team that didn't care about that. Trading back into the latter part of the first round would be something the Steelers will discuss leading up to the draft, but if they decided to pull the trigger, I would doubt it would be because of a fifth-year option.
BEN BATSON FROM LONDON, UK: The Steelers seem to have been more active in free-agency this year than in recent years – is that a fair observation? And if so, would you put it down to a change in GM approach, or simply because of the amount of holes left from losing unrestricted free agents?
ANSWER: The Steelers have had an active free agency period, no doubt, but they got busy in that area a year ago as well. During the 2022 offseason, the Steelers opened by signing a starting-caliber quarterback (Mitch Trubisky), and two starting offensive linemen (Mason Cole and James Daniels). They also signed Myles Jack, a former 36th overall pick, after the Jaguars released him, plus a returner in Gunner Olszewski. I don't believe Art Rooney II has any interest in abandoning the business model of using the draft as the primary method of roster building, and so I would attribute the activity to the rise in the salary cap in the two seasons after the pandemic year of 2020 and to the Steelers having the cap flexibility to make moves.
NICK MOSES FROM SIMI VALLEY, CA: I'm hearing a lot of pundits say that if Paris Johnson Jr. is available at No. 17 of the first round, the Steelers would be crazy not to grab him. I don't know much about him, but do you share that opinion?
ANSWER: From what I have come to understand, what would be crazy is if 16 teams passed on a prospect who grades out as no worse than the No. 2 left tackle available. If the "pundits" are predicting gross malpractice by the teams through the first half of the first round, I would pick Johnson and consider it in the "hitting the lottery" category.
JAY BONCHAK FROM KENNEDY TOWNSHIP, PA: The Dolphins and Rams are without first-round picks. If a highly rated tight end (the Dolphins lost Mike Gesicki during free agency) or a highly rated player the Rams coveted are still available after the end of the first round, and one of them offered the Steelers a No. 1 pick in the 2024 draft plus a No. 3 pick in this draft, would you consider making the trade?
ANSWER: You consider everything. But is this real, or is this just an imaginary scenario? Would those teams pay the price you describe – two picks, including a future No. 1, for a tight end? It's possible to come up with any number of what-ifs involving trades of picks during a draft. You consider everything, but the final decision is one that must be done in the reality of the moment, because I would find it hard to believe any team would be willing to give up a future No. 1 pick as part of a package to acquire the 32nd overall pick until it was time to be on the clock to make the 32nd overall pick.