Let's get to it:
PAUL THORNTON FROM WASHINGTON, DC:
Who has been the most productive player that the Steelers have taken as a result of a compensatory pick?
Photos from Hines Ward's retirement press conference.
ANSWER: The Steelers have done OK, not great but OK, with compensatory draft picks, with Kelvin Beachum, Will Gay, and Willie Colon, but by far the best use of a compensatory draft pick was the one they used in the third round of the 1998 NFL Draft. That's when they picked Hines Ward.**
MARK DUGGER FROM VERONA, NY:
I read something about Le'Veon Bell being drug tested on April 20, and the site stated that the NFL "can start drug testing this week." Does the NFL not randomly test players all year round?
ANSWER: Players are randomly tested all year around for performance enhancing drugs, and also for street drugs if they currently are in any phase of the NFL's substance-abuse program. If an individual is not in the NFL's substance abuse program – which would mean that individual has no positive tests with the league or any drug-related arrests on his record – he can be tested for street drugs only once during the period from April 20-to-early-August, with the specific date in August to hinge on when the player's team reports to training camp.
RYAN O'TOOLE FROM MECHANICSBURG, PA:
I see questions/comments everywhere about the backup quarterback for this coming season, and there is virtually no mention of Bruce Gradkowski other than "they have to see him throw." Is it a 99 percent certainty the Steelers have no interest in re-signing him, or is there a real chance they bring him back?
ANSWER: I've written this before, and hopefully this is the last time. The issue with Bruce Gradkowski is health, and the Steelers have to be confident he can stay healthy even if they have to use him in a preseason game or as an injury replacement during the regular season. Last year, Gradkowski was hampered by a shoulder injury all through the offseason program, and he opened training camp on PUP. Shortly after being activated off PUP, Gradkowski saw some action in a preseason game and was injured again. He subsequently was placed on the injured reserve list. If Coach Mike Tomlin comes to believe that Gradkowski will get hurt every time he has to play, then he won't be back. Remember Byron Leftwich? That's what happened with him.
GENARO VAN DER MAAL FROM EAGLE PASS, TX:
A question regarding Josh Norman. With the Steelers being so close to another Super Bowl appearance, and considering Ben Roethlisberger's health/age, and how the defense desperately needs a solid veteran cornerback, and considering the team has no cap space, how does Steelers management deal with this type of situation?
ANSWER: Easy one. Steelers management chooses not to react to the scenario you lay out, because it doesn't believe real problems can be solved by adding a big-money free agent who immediately comes to be seen as a savior simply by the size of his contract. First of all, the Steelers aren't one player away from winning a Super Bowl, because no team ever is one player away from winning a Super Bowl. It's way more complex than that.**
Now, I have some questions for you: You gonna pay Josh Norman more than Antonio Brown? How do you think that then plays out on the practice fields at training camp? Pay him more than Maurkice Pouncey and Cam Heyward? What if you do that, and it turns out that Norman is a guy who had one great year but isn't actually a great player?
During the free agency era, the only individual players you can even make a case for as far as being the difference in whether a team won the Super Bowl or not, in my opinion, are Deion Sanders and Charles Haley when they were flipping from the Cowboys to the 49ers in the 1990s. Those are Hall of Fame players. You think Josh Norman ends up in the Hall of Fame? Me neither.
CHRISTIAN SAUNDERS FROM BEREA, OH:
Cardale Jones. Six-foot-5, 250 pounds. Big guy, big arm, mobile in the pocket. Sound familiar? I think the idea of Ben Roethlisberger having three-to-four good years left is a little generous. Jones is a little rough around the edges due to lack of starting time at Ohio State, but I believe he has good character and a lot of potential upside. If he fell far enough in the draft, what would your thoughts be on drafting Cardale and benching him behind Big Ben?
ANSWER: Last week, it was a Penn State fan. Today, it's an Ohio State fan. Cardale Jones couldn't win the starting job at Ohio State – he got onto the field only because of injuries – and then after putting together a couple of decent performances in big games, he became overhyped to a ridiculous level. He was given the starting job the next season and couldn't hold onto it because of too many turnovers, and so he was benched.
In entering the NFL, Cardale Jones is going to have to make the same adjustments and learn the same things and adjust to the same superior athletes that Landry Jones did, and when it comes to being a productive college quarterback, Cardale Jones isn't even in the same universe as Landry Jones. I don't see how Cardale Jones can come in and be a better backup right now than Landry Jones, and I'm not buying what you're selling, as to how a guy with 269 career college passing attempts is going to sit on an NFL bench for the next couple of years – maybe play some preseason games but then get no practice repetitions during the whole regular season – and then mysteriously be ready to be a starting quarterback in the NFL three years from now. Yep, must be an Ohio State fan.
DAVID DUNN FROM SWARTHMORE, PA:
With reference to draft picks, is it possible that a team and its draft pick never come to terms on a contract? And if so what would happen as a result?
ANSWER: It is possible, but the player's representative would be guilty of malpractice. If a drafted player never signs a contract, he would be eligible to enter the following year's draft. I cannot even begin to convey to you how stupid such a move would be, in terms of losing a year on the field, in terms of losing a year toward free agency if the player is good enough to get a second NFL contract, in terms of the atrophy of his skills that at such a tender age still must be sharpened through repetition. And because of the slotted system now in place for NFL rookies, it would be negligence on the part of an agent to steer his client down that road.
STEVE GROSZ FROM SPARKS, NV:
How about drafting a kickoff/punt return specialist or perhaps signing a proven free agent? Dri Archer failed at this role, Markus Wheaton performed below average last year, and using Antonio Brown seems like we are playing with fire. Do you envision a No. 3 or No. 4 pick on this position?
ANSWER: I'm not using a draft pick on a returner. Not in this draft. Kickoff returns are few and far between, and I don't understand the "playing with fire" narrative with respect to Antonio Brown returning punts. My preference would be for one of the rookies or a first-year pro fighting to make the roster, such as Eli Rogers, to take charge as a reliable punt returner, but I wouldn't hesitate to utilize Brown in that role in situations. He's perpetually in shape, he's able to protect himself. He's electric with the football in his hands, and he craves the touches. He's in no more physical danger returning punts than he is going over the middle as a receiver.**
TERRY TORTORA FROM YOUNGSTOWN, OH:
The Steelers engineered a draft-day trade for Jerome Bettis 20 years ago. The Steelers also received the Rams' third-round pick in 1996, and in exchange the Rams got the Steelers' second- and fourth-round picks in 1997. Who are these players?
ANSWERS: With the Rams' third-round pick in 1996, the Steelers selected outside linebacker Steven Conley from Arkansas. In 20 games with the Steelers during the three-season span from 1996-98, Conley had four sacks and one interception. He finished the 1998 season with the Indianapolis Colts, and then was out of football. As for the Rams, they used that second-round pick in 1997 on Ernie Conwell, a tight end/H-back who played seven seasons in St. Louis. Then the Rams packaged that fourth-round pick in 1997 with two picks in the sixth round, and they sent all three to the Dolphins in order to move up nine spots in the fourth round of the 1997 draft to select offensive lineman Ryan Tucker from TCU. Tucker played five seasons with the Rams before finishing up a 12-year career with seven in Cleveland. During his time with the Rams, Tucker was a reserve on the Rams team that won a Super Bowl by defeating Tennessee, and a starter on the Rams team that lost a Super Bowl to New England.
JONETTE VICTORINO FROM HONOLULU, HI:
I will be attending my very first Steelers game, and I'm coming a really long way to do that. I'm super excited, and I can't wait! I want to make this experience as memorable as possible, and with that my question is: I know the Steelers have some practices that are open to the public, but when are they and where do they have them?
ANSWER: The only Steelers practices that are open to the public happen at Saint Vincent College during training camp. So, if your visit is to include a regular season Steelers game, there will be no practices open to the public during that time. Need anybody to house-sit for you while you're in Pittsburgh? My wife is always up for a trip to Hawaii.
SCOTT JUNG FROM SEVERNA PARK, MD:
NFL.com keeps listing Senquez Golson as an unrestricted free agent, but as a rookie last year, how is that possible? Are they simply wrong?
ANSWER: It is impossible. Yes, NFL.com is simply wrong. Has been wrong for many months and failed to correct it. And thanks for allowing me the opportunity to point that out.
ALBERT JOHNSTON FROM DOVER, NH:
A resounding statement: the Steelers must sign Josh Norman at any cost. This is the best opportunity for them to solidify the secondary. They should not be cheap. Pay him. What say you?
ANSWER: I say I wish you were signing my paychecks and taking your own advice.