Let's get to it:
RICH PINTERICH FROM BERWICK, PA: If the Steelers pick a running back at No. 49 overall, or anywhere early in the upcoming draft, is there a concern about the number of carries that player may have had at the college level? The top 25 NCAA career rushing yards leaders show very few who have had great NFL careers, with the exception of Tony Dorsett, LaDainian Tomlinson, and Herschel Walker, to name a few. Can you name any running backs who didn't get a ton of carries in college but turned into productive, or even Pro Bowl running backs?
ANSWER: I cannot speak to a specific number of carries during a college career that would spur concern for the Steelers, but your sentiment is exactly why I personally would not jump at the chance to draft Jonathan Taylor, because Wisconsin running backs always seem to come into the NFL with a lot of carries on their bodies. Taylor's number is 926, and that would scare me. Anyway, here are some college running backs who finished their college careers with 700 or fewer carries who would described as "pretty good," and five of them are enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Emmitt Smith (700), Walter Payton (598), Barry Sanders (523), Franco Harris (380), and Jim Brown (361). Among active players who fall into that same number of carries category: Ezekiel Elliott (592), Derrick Henry (602), and Le'Veon Bell (671).
DAVID HAYES FROM HARTSELLE, AL: Do you see the Steelers making back to back offensive selections with their first two picks in the upcoming draft? When was last time the Steelers used first two draft picks for offense?
ANSWER: Because the Steelers could use more immediate help on offense – a playmaking receiver with difference-making speed, a running back with the potential to be a three-down weapon, up-and-comers on the offensive line – as opposed to needing mostly depth on defense, it's possible their first two picks in this draft, which are the 49th and 102nd overall, could be spent on offensive players. The last time the Steelers used their first two picks on offensive players was in 2012 when guard David DeCastro was the No. 1 pick and tackle Mike Adams was the No. 2 pick. The last time the Steelers used their first two picks of a draft on offensive skill positions was in 2008 when running back Rashard Mendenhall was the No. 1 pick and wide receiver Limas Sweed was the No. 2 pick.
BROOKE WALLS FROM JACKSONVILLE, FL: Very soon the Steelers could be the team with the oldest, non-Heisman Trophy winning quarterback in the AFC North at the helm. What is your feeling about this? Worried or confident?
ANSWER: There might not be anything less significant to winning a Super Bowl than having a former Heisman Trophy winner as the starting quarterback. The first Super Bowl was played following the 1966 season, and in the 55 college football seasons since then there have been 28 quarterbacks who won the Heisman Trophy. Here is that list, in chronological order: Steve Spurrier, Gary Beban, Jim Plunkett, Pat Sullivan, Doug Flutie, Vinny Testaverde, Andre Ware, Ty Detmer, Gino Torretta, Charlie Ward, Danny Wuerffel, Chris Weinke, Eric Crouch, Carson Palmer, Jason White, Matt Leinart, Troy Smith, Tim Tebow, Sam Bradford, Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III, Johnny Manziel, Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota, Lamar Jackson, Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray, and Joe Burrow. Understanding that some of the recent Heisman winners haven't had much, if any, time to win a Super Bowl, but from those 28, there is precisely ONE Heisman Trophy winning quarterback to go on to win a Super Bowl – Jim Plunkett, who won two with the Raiders. What is your feeling about that?
DARYL TOWTON FROM LONDON, ONTARIO, CANADA: With three Steelers (Bill Cowher, Troy Polamalu, Donnie Shell) set to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this year, I was wondering who among the Steelers already inducted were elected on their first year of eligibility?
ANSWER: That list, in alphabetical order: Mel Blount, Terry Bradshaw, Joe Greene, Jack Ham, Franco Harris, Jack Lambert, Chuck Noll, Troy Polamalu, and Rod Woodson.
ERNEST GUTIERREZ SAN JOSE, CA: After Chase Young it appears that there is a significant drop-off with the rest of the edge rushers in this year's draft. With that being said, do you think the Steelers would try to sign Clay Matthews for experienced depth and to be part of the outside linebacker rotation?
ANSWER: This suggestion made me think back to the 2006 season when the Steelers signed Chad Brown, who had been the team's second-round draft pick in 1993 and then left as an unrestricted free agent in 1997. In 2006, coming off a win in Super Bowl XL, the Steelers' backups behind starting outside linebackers Clark Haggans and Joey Porter were Arnold Harrison and James Harrison, and the Steelers signed Brown to fill the role I believe you are suggesting for Clay Matthews. At the time, Brown was 36 years old, and Matthews will be 34 in mid-May. For this Matthews-to-the-Steelers to happen, he would have to be willing to accept a backup role and be willing to play for much less than the amount of his most recent contract, which was a two-year, $9.5 million deal with the Los Angeles Rams. If Matthews was amenable to the role and was willing to accept a salary the Steelers could fit under their cap, I could get on board with it.
TIM SCHUCKERS FROM BIG RUN, PA: Have Artie Burns or Sean Davis been signed by another team?
ANSWER: Artie Burns agreed to a one-year contract with the Chicago Bears, and Sean Davis agreed to a one-year contract with the Washington Redskins.
CHUCK BONGIOVANNI FROM LEESBURG, VA: Now that the Steelers have placed the franchise tag on Bud Dupree, are negotiations for a long-term contract still in the works? If so, and/or if they can't come to a long term agreement, when can Bud sign the franchise tag, and do you expect any shenanigans like we've seen recently?
ANSWER: At the moment, I believe the Steelers are concentrating their efforts on making final preparations for the draft and then executing it as well as possible given the unique circumstances this year. There is plenty of time to negotiate a long-term contract for Bud Dupree, because the deadline for getting that done isn't until July 15. Dupree had said after the season that he would sign the franchise tag, so there is no real reason currently to suspect any shenanigans, and he can sign the franchise tender at any time.
CHRIS ROBERTSON FROM PALM BAY, FL: Why is there so much talk of the Steelers taking a wide receiver with their second-round pick? With three young wide receivers – JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Washington, and Diontae Johnson – already on the roster, it seems that adding yet another young player with potential will end up with one of them falling by the wayside. Wouldn't it make more sense to sign a veteran or special teamer for cheap to fill out the wide receiver depth chart, and use the draft pick on an area with less depth?
ANSWER: You mean signing a veteran/special teamer on the cheap to fill out the depth chart, say, like Johnny Holton. That kind of a move doesn't make the offense any better, and you should understand that the Steelers are looking to add a specific kind of wide receiver to the current group. They're going to be looking for someone who has playmaking ability, specifically when it comes to scoring touchdowns, and preferably doing it with difference-making speed. The idea is to surround Ben Roethlisberger with as many dynamic playmakers as possible – hence the signing of tight end Eric Ebron – to build a unit that can become a complement to a still-improving defense that led the NFL in sacks and takeaways last season. Adding another Johnny Holton doesn't get them there, and there will be countless times during the upcoming regular season when the Steelers will deploy four wide receivers at a time, and it would be a big help if all of them were threats to the opposing defense.
DAN FISHER FROM MOHNTON, PA: The year Terrell Edmunds was drafted in the first round by the Steelers, Marcus Allen was projected as a higher pick in a draft publication. Do the authors not know what they are talking about, or do the Steelers know who will fit in their system better? And are the Steelers giving Allen enough playing time to see if he can play?
ANSWER: The way it works in the NFL is that players EARN playing time based on what they show in practice and/or in preseason games. Once a team gets to the part of a season where the games count in the standings, the business is to win and if a team doesn't win, then the players and coaches are out of a job. Because Marcus Allen has spent the bulk of his first two NFL seasons on the practice squad, it would appear that he is perceived as not being ready to play in games that count but that the team sees, or hopes to see, him continue to develop to the level where he is ready to play in games that count. As for draft publications, read them at your own risk. If the people who wrote those actually knew what they were writing about, they would have jobs in the NFL.
ZACHARY SEFNER FROM COLUMBUS, OH: Was Tony Dungy the last Steelers player to play both offense and defense in an NFL game? Dungy was a defensive back and played some quarterback in a game during the 1970s due to injuries. Can you tell me when that took place and why he was in at quarterback?
ANSWER: Tony Dungy came to the Steelers as an undrafted rookie defensive back who had played some quarterback during his college career at Minnesota. The Steelers entered the 1977 season with only two quarterbacks on their roster – Terry Bradshaw and Mike Kruczek – and in the regular season's fourth game (in Houston against the Oilers on Oct. 9), that decision bit them in the butt. Bradshaw injured his wrist in the first quarter, and Kruczek separated his shoulder on the final play of the third quarter, which meant Dungy had to enter the game at quarterback. In that game, Dungy completed 3-of-8 passes for 43 yards, with no touchdowns, two interceptions, and a rating of 25.0. He also intercepted a pass that day while playing defense. As for the last Steelers player to play both offense and defense in a game, that would be Rod Woodson. Once Bill Cowher was hired in 1992 to succeed Chuck Noll, Woodson, who had played both offense and defense at Purdue, began lobbying for a chance to try offense in the NFL. Woodson did line up on offense for a handful of plays during his time with the Steelers, which ended after the 1996 season, and in 1993 – the season in which he was voted Defensive Player of the Year – he was credited with one carry for no yards.
COLLIN GRIFFITH FROM JOHNSTOWN, PA: I have heard about the possibility of a contract extension for Cam Heyward, and there also is the possibility that we sign Bud Dupree to a long-term contract. With our limited salary cap space, how will this work?
ANSWER: Cam Heyward's salary cap number for the 2020 season is set to be $13.3 million, and the franchise tag on Bud Dupree carries a cap charge of $15.8 million for 2020. An extension for Cam Heyward could be done in a way where he would receive more money but his cap charge for 2020 would be lowered, and that's the same principle for doing a long-term deal with Bud Dupree. In fact, getting both of those deals done undoubtedly would put the Steelers in a better cap situation in 2020 than the one in which they currently find themselves.
JOHN MAIR FROM RIDGE, NY: With the expended playoff format now in place, I'm wondering how many consecutive years the Steelers would have made the playoffs if it was in place earlier?
ANSWER: If the new seven-team-per-conference playoff format had been in place earlier, the Steelers would be working on a 10-year streak of qualifying for the postseason, and Coach Mike Tomlin would have had the team in the playoffs for every season of his tenure here except for 2009. In 2009, both the Steelers and the Texans both finished 9-7, but Houston would have gone into the playoffs on a tiebreaker. And in 2017, instead of a bye and then losing at home to Jacksonville in the Divisional Round, under the new format the Steelers would have hosted Baltimore in the Wild Card Round.