Let's get to it:
MATTHEW JOHNSON FROM CASHIERS, NC: Do you think that Pressley Harvin III solidified his position as the starting punter after his performance in the Hall of Fame Game?
ANSWER: Not to nitpick, but Jordan Berry ended the 2020 season as the punter and since he's still on the roster, he technically remains the starting punter. I won't argue that Pressley Harvin III had an impressive showing against Dallas in the preseason opener, but I would not declare that competition over, if for no other reason than Harvin has yet to prove himself as Chris Boswell's holder. Kameron Canaday has shown himself occasionally to be inaccurate with some snaps, and Berry typically corrals those and gets them in a position where Chris Boswell can make chicken salad … I believe Harvin has to get to the level where Boswell is comfortable with him as the holder. Then, if he keeps punting the way he did against the Cowboys, the job will be his.
TIMOTHY BODDORF FROM SANTA FE, NM: Does the NFL mandate that all clubs must spend at least a certain percentage of their salary cap each year?
ANSWER: Yes, and it's commonly referred to as the Salary Floor. I believe a provision in the Collective Bargaining Agreement calls for teams to be audited every two years to make sure they are spending to the floor at least. Teams determined to be non-compliant simply are assessed the money between the floor and where they have been determined to have spent, so for teams they're in a situation where they either have to spend the money on players or lose it to the league.
KEN WALDROP FROM ONTONAGON, MI: With the addition of a 17th game to the regular season schedule and quarterbacks playing into their 40s, do you see teams giving some players an extra week off aside from the bye, sort of like the NBA does?
ANSWER: In the NBA, what you're talking about is referred to as "load management," but it's important to remember than an NBA regular season consists of 82 games, and even with an expanded regular season in 2021 an NFL regular season contains only 17 games. Having such a relatively small number of regular season games increases the importance of each one, even with an extra team from each conference qualifying for the playoffs. It's rare for an NFL regular season to get to the final weekend of the regular season with all of the available playoff spots in both conferences having been clinched, and for that reason I don't foresee NFL teams going to a version of the NBA's "load management" procedure. Just too risky when there always seems to be a team or two that misses the playoffs by a game.
RAYMOND CHASON FROM CONNEAUTVILLE, PA: Who do you think will be our wide receivers on the opening 53-man roster behind the starters and Ray-Ray McCloud?
ANSWER: As of today, which is 48 hours before the second of four preseason games and three full weeks before teams must cut down to 53 players, I believe the top five receivers on the roster are: (listed alphabetically) Chase Claypool, Diontae Johnson, Ray-Ray McCloud, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and James Washington. It's possible the team could decide to keep six wide receivers on the roster, but I believe the sixth would have to be a significant special teams contributor. And of course, the top five could change over the course of the next three weeks.
JACOB BURROWS FROM QUINCY, MA: Is it just me or did Dwayne Haskins play better than Mason Rudolph in the Hall of Fame Game?
ANSWER: I don't think it's just you, because there are a lot of Mason Rudolph haters out there, and they likely would be in agreement with you. My personal opinion is that neither Mason Rudolph nor Dwayne Haskins did anything during the Hall of Fame Game to impact the current pecking order of the depth chart at quarterback, one way or the other.
KEN MAULDIN FROM CLYDE, TX: I'm sold on James Pierre after watching the Hall of Fame Game vs. Dallas. He closes on the ball with such quickness and anger – I love this guy. I just wanted to know your thoughts on this young man. Any background on him?
ANSWER: Coming out of Deerfield Beach High School in Florida, James Pierre was considered a three-star prospect and the No. 48 safety in the Class of 2016 by 247Sports.com's composite rankings. Pierre originally committed to the University of Miami, then changed his mind and committed to North Carolina. Pierre eventually wound up at Florida Atlantic, where he played in 37 games over three seasons and finished with 80 tackles, three interceptions (all coming in his final college season of 2019), and 15 passes defensed. Pierre signed as an undrafted rookie with the Steelers in 2020 and was the only undrafted rookie to earn a spot on the team's 53-man roster. With just about every NFL team looking for cornerbacks, I recently asked Coach Mike Tomlin why Pierre wasn't drafted.
"There are just a lot of good football players in college," said Tomlin. "There are over 120 college football teams. There are teams that don't get a lot of national exposure and attention via television, often referred to as 'the group of five,' and he went to one of those programs (Florida Atlantic). There are a lot of guys who are capable of playing. Our team is represented with a lot of regional Mid-American Conference guys, and we've gotten exposure to those guys because of regional television and the fact their games are on TV during the course of the week. A lot of those MAC guys are from this part of the country, and a lot of those coaches recruit the Pittsburgh area, and when they do they come by and spend time with us, and so we gain an understanding about some of those players. I really think it's about exposure. Kids at big programs get big-time exposure; kids at smaller programs get less exposure. And sometimes quality players slip through the cracks, and Pierre is definitely one of those who, looking back on it, no doubt was draft-worthy. But we're glad we have him. But as you can see, and it's the beautiful thing about our profession, it doesn't matter by what means you get here, because if you have the skills and the mettle to stay, you'll have an opportunity to carve out a role for yourself."
KEITH MILLER FROM CANTON, OH: How do the Steelers stand with compensatory picks next year?
ANSWER: The announcement on that won't come for another six months or so, and I've never been able to master the formula used to figure it out. Figure it out correctly, anyway.
LARRY HEMINGER FROM SAN DIEGO, CA: Could you explain the process and timing for cutting down to the 53-man roster and how the practice squad is formed? Does a player need to be waived first before they can be offered a spot on the practice squad?
ANSWER: All NFL teams are carrying 90 players on their rosters right now. Those rosters must be cut to 85 players on Aug. 17, then to 80 players on Aug. 24, and then to 53 players on Aug. 31. After teams cut to 53, and then following a 24-hour period during which players with fewer than four seasons of NFL experience must go through the waiver system where they could be claimed by any of the other 31 teams. Once the waiver period expires after those 24 hours, all teams will be permitted to sign players to the practice squad. As of this writing, it's still undetermined how many players can be on each team's practice squad in 2021, or what the procedure is going to be for players to be able to move back-and-forth from the practice squad to the active roster, but I can tell you that every player is eligible to be on a practice squad, regardless of age and/or years of experience in the league.
DAN ARMITAGE FROM RIVERVIEW, NEW BRUNSWICK, CANADA: I am not a fan of Thursday night games (too short a week). Has it ever been discussed to have two Monday night games and eliminate the Thursday night game? I believe the ratings would be just as good.
ANSWER: I believe the Thursday night football package is here to stay, because it's too attractive and lucrative to the NFL to be able to sell an additional package of games on a different night of the week to a streaming service, as an example, instead of a traditional network. And since that additional revenue is shared between the owners and the players, I don't see either side being willing to give up that money.
TONY MODZ FROM SURFSIDE BEACH, SC: You've done an excellent job of explaining how players get paid through the regular season and playoffs, but how do they get paid for practice and exhibition games?
ANSWER: NFL contracts only pay players during the season, although there is a stipend paid to players for preseason games provided they are on an NFL roster, in accordance with terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Players are not paid for practice, but if they are on a team's roster through Tuesday of a regular season week they do qualify to receive that week's game check.
JOSEPH SEMETKOSKEY FROM INDIANA, PA: Who do you think will be a surprise player this year for the Steelers?
ANSWER: If I told you that, it wouldn't be a surprise, would it?