Let's get to it:
FEDERICO JIMENEZ FROM QUERETARO, MÉXICO: In the April 6 Asked and Answered, you mentioned that one of the Steelers "needs" in the draft is an outside linebacker. Does that means that Alex Highsmith isn't starter caliber?
ANSWER: Alex Highsmith was drafted in 2020 to be a starter in 2021, and he will be a starter in 2021, barring injury. But to be at his most effective over the course of an entire regular season, T.J. Watt likes/needs a few snaps off over the course of a game to keep his energy level high for the fourth quarter, and based on his production there's nothing wrong with that. But after Watt and Highsmith, who among the outside linebackers currently on the roster would you feel comfortable inserting into the second half of a close game against the Ravens? That's why I view outside linebacker as a need.
DIABLO SAYAYIN FROM CDMX, MEXICO: We know that today the NFL Draft is a televised event of important magnitude. Do the teams have to comply with the time established between picks for each round even though they have the decision made? Or are they slow to decide because owners, general managers, and coaches are still arguing?
ANSWER: You are correct in recognizing that the NFL Draft has become a television show, and there are ways to manipulate the proceedings to heighten the drama. For example, just because a team has made a decision on which player it wants to pick in the first round, as an example, doesn't mean the people controlling the broadcast have to get that on the air immediately. Teams are warned not to leak the names of their picks, to wait for Commissioner Roger Goodell to announce the names of the picks from the podium, and because of the amount of money involved in the broadcast rights fees for the draft owners make sure their websites and social media platforms adhere to those rules. Nobody wants to kill the golden goose. In addition, there may be some indecision at work as well in the timing of the announcement of the picks, but another factor involved, especially involving the premium picks, could be exploration of trades.
MIKE BEIREIS FROM SHAKOPEE, MN: We now have two Hall of Fame classes – 2020 and 2021 – awaiting enshrinement. Have you heard if there are going to be different dates for the two classes? I know we have Steelers in both classes.
ANSWER: Yes, the Pro Football Hall of Fame will enshrine each of the two classes on a separate day. The Class of 2020, which includes Bill Cowher, Troy Polamalu, and Donnie Shell, will have its enshrinement ceremony on Saturday, Aug. 7; and the Class of 2021, which includes Alan Faneca and Bill Nunn, will have its enshrinement ceremony on Sunday, Aug. 8.
MERLIN BOESCH FROM KARLSRUHE, GERMANY: Can you give us an update on the status of our free agents? Who haven't found a new team yet?
ANSWER: Of the players who became unrestricted free agents on March 17, the ones who have yet to sign a contract with another team, as of April 7, are: running back James Conner, safety Jordan Dangerfield, quarterback Joshua Dobbs, outside linebacker Jayrone Elliott, tackle Jerald Hawkins, guard Danny Isidora, tackle Alejandro Villanueva, and inside linebacker Avery Williamson. Also, Vince Williams, and Steven Nelson, both of whom had their contracts terminated, have not signed with another team yet either.
BOB STANKLEFOOT FROM BOURBONVILLE, WV: Do you think the Steelers will continue with a pocket-passing quarterback for the foreseeable future or potentially shift to a quarterback who's both dangerous through the air and running similar to what might be considered the new trend with an offense?
ANSWER: There is a difference between a mobile quarterback and a running quarterback, and I still believe that the way to win consistently in the NFL is with a quarterback who can make plays in the passing game from the pocket. The ability to use his legs to buy time to give him and his receivers a better opportunity to make those kinds of plays is a nice addition to the player's arsenal, and I think some of that will have to do with the age of the quarterback. It's only natural to expect a younger quarterback to be more able to use his legs.
TERRY HALDEN FROM LETHBRIDGE, ALBERTA, CANADA: In every session of Asked and Answered, there seems to be some question about getting a new quarterback to be THE ONE in waiting for when Ben Roethlisberger retires. This must really depress Mason Rudolph, who must have the impression that Steeler fans have no confidence in his abilities. Am I the only one who sees in him the potential, given proper training, to be the heir apparent?
ANSWER: The way I view this is that too many fans are too anxious to make proclamations about an heir apparent or to anoint someone, as opposed to allowing the situation play out organically. And since Steelers fans complain about Ben Roethlisberger and complained about Terry Bradshaw back in the day, Mason Rudolph shouldn't be worrying about whether fans have any confidence in him.
SADLER SLATE FROM NASHVILLE, TN: Do you think the Steelers have any free agent moves left to make? Possibly bringing back guys like Al Villanueva, James Conner, Vince Williams, etc. or sign someone else?
ANSWER: Maybe, but those kinds of moves might not happen until after the draft, until after the Steelers see what needs they were able to address via the draft.
JACOB ZIMMERMAN FROM BISMARCK, ND: Who is the greatest cornerback in franchise history?
ANSWER: I would pick Mel Blount, because he was so dominant that he forced the NFL to change rules to limit his impact.
ROBERT MOOREY FROM IRMO, SC: I have read your answers regarding the upcoming draft, specifically about the first round. You seem to be leaning heavily towards a running back, especially if Najee Harris is available at No. 24. I have heard that interior offensive linemen have longer careers, I guess making them more valuable. I don't disagree with you. A back has more flash and looks more attractive, but do you agree that an offensive lineman would provide longer service?
ANSWER: It seems to me you're in favor of the Steelers using their first-round pick on an offensive lineman, and you're spinning a tale in an effort to get me to agree with you. If Najee Harris is available at No. 24, I'm picking him. If he's not available, I'm not automatically picking another running back. As I've written many, many, many times, it's not the what, but the who.
MATT GUNTER FROM RAPID CITY, SD: With the addition of the 17th regular season game, will that push the date for the Super Bowl out an additional week? When the Steelers won Super Bowl XLIII, that happened to fall on my birthday, Feb. 1.
ANSWER: I believe the days of you having a chance to celebrate your birthday and Super Bowl Sunday at the same time are over. The date of Super Bowl LVI is Feb. 13, and because the networks don't want to begin the regular season until the week after Labor Day, from now on the Super Bowl is going to be played closer to the middle of February than to the start of February.
ROB JAMES FROM ERIE, PA: Let's say the Steelers pick Najee Harris in the first round as you suggest. Wouldn't you want James Connor backing him up on a team friendly contract over any other running back currently on the roster?
ANSWER: But what if James Conner isn't interested in being a backup on a team-friendly contract in 2021?
AARON BREEZE FROM FRESNO, CA: The Steelers' draft strategy is usually to take the best player available rather than to meet the most immediate need on the roster. I'm really hoping the Steelers select Najee Harris if he's available at No. 24, but I'm terrified they will be predictable and go for a linebacker in the first round. Do you think the Steelers have a running back in the first round mind-set, no matter what?
ANSWER: No, I definitely do not think the Steelers have a "running back in the first round mind-set, no matter what."
BERNARD RAGLAND FROM PITTSBURGH, PA: Do the Steelers play four preseason games?
ANSWER: Yes. All teams, except the ones selected to play in the Hall of Fame Game will play three preseason games from now on. And because the Steelers 17th regular season game in 2021 will be against Seattle at Heinz Field, only one of their preseason games in 2021 will be played at home.
VINCE SCOTTI FROM COLUMBIA, MD: When will the dates for the Steelers 2021 schedule be released?
ANSWER: Initially, reports were that the NFL was going to release its 2021 schedule during the week of May 10-14, but now that the 17-game regular season has become official, the schedule release could be delayed by a week or so. Maybe not, but it's possible.
JOE MARKUSIC FROM PLYMOUTH, MA: Do you think the Steelers would be interested in bringing in Teddy Bridgewater?
ANSWER: Not nearly as interested as some of their fans. Understand that Teddy Bridgewater currently is under contract to Carolina for the 2021 season at a salary of $17 million, plus a $250,000 workout bonus, and a per-game roster bonus of $250,000; and then in 2022, the base salary goes up to $20 million with the same roster and workout bonuses in effect. What that means is that unless the Panthers cut Bridgewater, a team wanting to acquire him would have to do so via trade, and when making a trade a team inherits the player's contract.
GUY COURTNEY FROM FREDERICKSBURG, MD: When the discussions about great Steelers centers come up, it's always Mike Webster and Dermontti Dawson at the top. Where does Jeff Hartings fall into this discussion since he was a starter on the team that won Super Bowl XL?
ANSWER: Jeff Hartings belongs on a level below both Dermontti Dawson and Mike Webster because those two players are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Hartings deserves a bunch of credit for making the switch from right guard to center after signing with the Steelers as an unrestricted free agent in 2001, and he was voted to two Pro Bowls and was first-team Associated Press All-Pro in 2004. I have a lot of respect for Hartings for the way he played and the way he conducted himself on and off the field, and he earned a special place in Dan Rooney's heart forever when on the day after the 2004 AFC Championship Game at Heinz Field, which the Steelers lost, 41-27, to New England he told the media: "We honestly love each other. I honestly felt that I would rather lose a game like this with this team than win a Super Bowl with a team I didn't enjoy playing with."
ANDREW CLAY FROM PITTSBURGH, PA: How would you feel if the Steelers selected the tight end from Penn State, Pat Freiermuth, in the first round?
ANSWER: Rob Gronkowski was a second-round pick, the 42nd selection of the 2010 NFL Draft. I believe the second round is a better reflection of where Pat Freiermuth should come off the board.
DENNIS SLEEGER FROM YORK, PA: The Steelers have signed a few free agents. I believe most of whom won't make the team. Some will be on the practice squad. Can you name me any players besides James Harrison who started as undrafted free agents, ended up on the team, and made a big impact?
ANSWER: I don't know if this is a trick question, but there is a guy who is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2020 named Donnie Shell. He was an undrafted rookie in 1974 when the NFL Draft lasted 17 rounds. He played 14 NFL seasons, won four Super Bowl rings, and finished with 51 interceptions and 19 fumble recoveries. Google "Donnie Shell hit on Earl Campbell" and watch the video. I'm sure Campbell would agree that Shell "made an impact."