Let's get to it:
ED UMLAUF FROM SAVANNAH, GA: It puzzles me why there is only one player from the Steel Curtain in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I would be interested in knowing your take on this phenomenon?
ANSWER: It puzzles me, too, and it has for a while. First, allow me to clarify for the readers that your usage of "Steel Curtain" refers to the Steelers defensive line of the 1970s, which was the origin of the nickname that over time came to refer to the entire defensive unit. Anyway, I believe it's fair to place the Steel Curtain among the most feared, famous, and productive defensive lines in NFL history – certainly in that era – along with the Fearsome Foursome of the Los Angeles Rams and the Purple People Eaters of the Minnesota Vikings. Yet the Steel Curtain is the only one of those three to have just one member – Joe Greene – enshrined in Canton. The Fearsome Foursome has Deacon Jones and Merlin Olsen in the Hall of Fame, and Carl Eller and Alan Page represent the Purple People Eaters.
The member of the Steel Curtain who has been overlooked by Hall of Fame voters, in my opinion, is L.C. Greenwood. During his career, Greenwood had 73.5 sacks during the regular season, and he led the Steelers in that category in three seasons during their 1970s dominance. He also added 12.5 more sacks in the playoffs, including four in the Super Bowl X victory over Dallas, and he batted down three of Fran Tarkenton's passes in the Super Bowl IX win over the Vikings. Yes, why Greenwood isn't in the Hall of Fame has "puzzled" me for a long time.
STEVE YOUNG FROM ST. DAVID, AZ: Do the Steelers have any officially retired jersey numbers? Also, with the league approving wider usage of single-digit numbers, could the Steelers finally retire John Stallworth's No. 82 and Lynn Swann's No. 88?
ANSWER: The Steelers have retired two numbers: Ernie Stautner's No. 70 and Joe Greene's No. 75. There currently are no plans to retire any more numbers.
ROBIN ADAIR FROM PETERBOROUGH ONTARIO, CANADA: I am wondering if you have any information on how I can purchase the book about Troy Polamalu. No. 43 will always be my favorite Steelers player.
ANSWER: The book you ask about is titled, "Polamalu," and the author is Jim Wexell. It is available on shop.steelers.com or through jimwexell.com. When visiting shop.steelers.com, go to the top nav bar, click on "Fan Gear" and the drop-down box will take you to the category "Videos & Books." A word of caution, however: I have been informed that shipping costs to Canada, no matter where you order the book, are in the neighborhood of $32. Another option you may want to consider is that there is going to be an e-book version of "Polamalu" available on Amazon this week.
SEAN DELANEY FROM UPTON, MA: I know the Steelers create their own draft board, but how do they assess what other teams may do?
ANSWER: They don't assess what other teams may do, because that would be a waste of time. There is a lot of misinformation floating around leading up to every draft, and trying to figure what the other 31 teams are going to do is wasted time that is better spent making sure their own evaluations are accurate and correct. Then when their turn comes, if there is a player on their board at a position of need that they believe is worth being picked at that spot, they pick him. The work and the effort go into getting their own evaluations and grades right. They don't worry about the other teams.
CHRISTIAN MIELNIK FROM PITTSBURGH, PA: I understand the Steelers make draft picks based on the best player available, not by a specific position. What is their process in determining who another team will choose? Do they have an internal committee that analyzes the needs of other teams? Do they utilize computerized mock drafts?
ANSWER: The Steelers make their draft picks based on the best player available at a position of need determined by the makeup of their roster. And as I explained in the above answer, they don't waste time worrying about what other teams might do, because there is no accurate information out there upon which to base those kinds of forecasts. Computerized mock drafts? When was the last time you saw a mock draft that was even remotely accurate?
CHARLES SELLARS FROM BARTON, NY: What happened to the Steelers' 19 unrestricted free agents?
ANSWER: I can see somebody needs to visit Steelers.com a little more regularly, eh? Tyson Alualu, Zach Banner, Jordan Berry, Joshua Dobbs, Cassius Marsh, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Cam Sutton, and Chris Wormley all re-signed with the Steelers. James Conner (Arizona), Sean Davis (Indianapolis), Bud Dupree (Tennessee), Matt Feiler (Los Angeles Chargers), and Mike Hilton (Cincinnati) signed with other teams, as noted. Jordan Dangerfield, Jayrone Elliott, Jerald Hawkins, Danny Isidora, Alejandro Villanueva, and Avery Williamson remain free agents as of this writing.
KHARI CLEMMONS FROM McALPIN, FL: Growing up in Pittsburgh, I was a fan of Dennis "Dirt" Winston, but I don't hear his name mentioned much when the "great" Steelers linebackers are discussed. Where do you think he ranks in the line of Steelers inside linebackers?
ANSWER: First of all, Dennis Winston was an outside linebacker for the Steelers, because at no point during his seven seasons in Pittsburgh did the team employ a 3-4 alignment. And not to disparage Winston in any way, with the Steelers he was primarily a backup outside linebacker and special teams player. The primary starters at outside linebacker during Winston's tenure with the team were Jack Ham and Robin Cole, and that was why Winston started only 21 regular season games over seven years with the Steelers.
MARK TRIMBLE FROM CHEYENNE, WY: Can you explain player salary when it comes to player contracts based on the round in which they were drafted? Are there pay brackets the contract has to stay within based on draft position which is set out by the collective bargaining agreement?
ANSWER: Since the 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement, draft picks have been paid by a slotting system. The salaries aren't mandated by the CBA, but the way it works is that players are paid in descending amounts from the first pick in the first round to the final pick of the seventh round. That's basically the way it works, and since then there have been few-to-none unsigned rookies by the time training camps open.
HAL TROLLER FROM ROCKY MOUNT, VA: How do you feel about the new onside kick rule?
ANSWER: I think the league is in a tough spot with onside kicks, because it's trying to eliminate the collisions that result on those plays because of safety concerns, while not completely eliminating the opportunity for a team to erase a late-game deficit. This particular change – limiting the number of players the receiving team can have in the box to nine – is worth a try, but I don't know whether it's going to have the kind of impact that would solve the problem. My guess is ownership is unsure about that as well, which is why the rule only was approved on a one-year trial basis.
WILLIAM HEISE FROM SUMTER, SC: After reading about Willie Parker, I was wondering if he holds the Steelers record for the longest run from scrimmage?
ANSWER: The longest run from scrimmage in franchise history covered 97 yards by Bobby Gage in a game vs. the Chicago Bears on Dec. 4, 1949. Willie Parker has the longest run in Super Bowl history, which was that one for 75 yards and a touchdown in the 21-10 win over Seattle in Super Bowl XL.
RODGER BENNETT FROM TAMPA, FL: Do you think the Steelers will trade up to get Najee Harris? When draft day buzz starts, and they get wind of a team taking Harris before them, will they stay in their original spot and take an offensive lineman or bite the bullet and trade up?
ANSWER: In my opinion, the Steelers have too many areas to address during the upcoming draft to be able to afford using more than one pick on a particular player. And even if Najee Harris is picked before the Steelers' turn in the first round, it's not necessarily guaranteed the team automatically would respond and choose an offensive lineman. Maybe the Steelers end up having two running backs ranked in the top 24 on their draft board, and simply pick that other running back.
BRIAN WILSON FROM CYPRESS, CA: Seems like we have two right tackles in Zach Banner and Chuks Okorafor. What do you perceive we are doing to secure the left tackle position? I'm assuming Banner may move there.
ANSWER: Of the two players you mention, I believe Chuks Okorafor would get the first shot at left tackle, and Zach Banner would be the right tackle, which is where he started in 2020 before injuring his knee. There's also the possibility that a rookie draft pick could end up in the mix for a starting job as well.
JOHN GAYNOR FROM SAINT CLAIRSVILLE, OH: Any chance Greg Lloyd has a shot at the Hall of Fame?
ANSWER: I think a case can be made that Greg Lloyd was well on the way to putting together a resume worthy of Hall of Fame consideration before he tore a patellar tendon in the 1996 regular season opener against the Jaguars in Jacksonville, but that injury and then an ankle injury late in the 1997 season slammed the brakes on that, and Lloyd was out of football after the 1998 season when he was just a shadow of himself with the Carolina Panthers.
KEITH HENDERSON FROM FLORENCE, SC: I am getting the sense that it's either the best offensive lineman available or the best running back available through the first two rounds of the upcoming draft for the Steelers. If there is a run on tackles prior to pick No. 24 the best choice may become the center from Alabama, but center doesn't appear to be a popular position of choice during the first round. Do you have any numbers on previous first round picks at center?
ANSWER: It's not exactly going out on a limb to anticipate the Steelers targeting running back and offensive line (tackle or center) with their first two picks in the upcoming draft, and most believe the team will target those two areas in some order. I do not have any numbers on previous first-round picks at center, and even if I did those numbers are irrelevant. What difference does it make if there hasn't been a center drafted in the first round in X-number of years, or that only X-number of centers have been drafted in the first round over that previous 10 drafts, or 15 drafts, or whatever? That has no impact on what happens on Thursday or Friday of this week. If there hadn't been a center drafted in the first round from 2000-09, would that mean the Steelers shouldn't have picked Maurkice Pouncey in the first round in 2010?
MICHAEL REYNOLDS FROM MONROE, LA: Scenario 1: One running back is gone prior to our pick at No. 24. Do you believe this will force our hand to select a running back in the first round? Scenario 2: All three running backs (you know the ones) are available at No. 24. Do we select an offensive lineman and hope to get our running back in the second round? And lastly, do you see a scenario where we might be able to trade back, accumulate perhaps a later round or better positioned pick and still get a top running back and offensive lineman?
ANSWER: My keyboard just let me know it's very happy the draft is this week, because it's tired of me typing the same thing on it over and over and over again: It's not the what, it's the who. But I feel rather confident that if Najee Harris, Travis Etienne, and Javonte Williams all are picked before No. 24 overall, the Steelers won't react to that by picking the fourth running back in this class. As for the trading scenarios, there are way, way, way too many variables involved to predict if and how that might unfold. That's a decision that has to be made in the moment.
KAI NORRIS FROM KAMPALA, UGANDA: You say Najee Harris is the best fit for the Steelers, and of course I am in no position to challenge you on that. However since we need a feature back who can work well when blockers aren't helping him, wouldn't Javonte Williams be a better fit? I must admit he's my top option simply because watching him play is so fun.
ANSWER: You have been relentless in submitting and re-submitting and re-submitting this question, and this time you caught me in a good mood. First of all, what I wrote about Najee Harris is that if it were my decision, which it is not, I would pick him if he was available with the 24th overall pick in the first round. My opinion of Harris was formed the same way you formed your opinion about Javonte Williams – by watching his college games on television. I'm not a scout, and so I don't have a scout's level of knowledge about the strengths and weaknesses in the two players' games. Yes, I like Harris, and apparently you like Williams. You're not going to convince me you're correct, and I'm not going to convince you that I'm correct. But I believe we're both interested in the Steelers drafting a running back who will be a significant factor in restoring their running game to the level it needs to be for the offense to be a part of a contending team.
JIM GRAVES FROM WATERTOWN, NY: I just got out of the hospital with COVID-19 and wanted to let you know how much I look forward to and enjoy reading your column. It was something to look forward to as I struggled to get well. Thanks for keeping me entertained and stay safe.
ANSWER: I'm happy to hear you're doing better.
DAVE KERINS FROM DUBLIN, PA: If one of the top quarterbacks in this draft class falls into the Steelers' lap in the first round, should they pick that quarterback? I don't want a repeat of 1983 when Art Rooney Sr. ended up saying to his people, "You should have drafted Marino."
ANSWER: You have absolutely nothing to worry about, because that has no chance of happening. None of the 2021 quarterbacks is Dan Marino.
STEPHEN STITCHER FROM DENVER, CO: The Steelers have taken two players from the same school in four straight drafts: Cam Sutton and Joshua Dobbs from Tennessee in 2017; James Washington and Mason Rudolph from Oklahoma State in 2018; Devin Bush and Zach Gentry from Michigan in 2019; and Anthony McFarland and Antoine Brooks from Maryland in 2020. If you had to bet on it happening again this year, which two players from the same school could you realistically see the Steelers drafting based on Pro Day visits, virtual meetings, etc.?
ANSWER: I wouldn't waste 50 cents of your money on a bet like that.