Labriola On

Asked and Answered: Aug. 20

LATROBE, Pa. – Let's get to it:

I read where the team just cut Tajh Boyd and picked up another receiver. I thought the team was already loaded there. Why pick up someone new? Aren't mandatory cuts coming up soon?


The first wave of cuts must be made by 4 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 25 when all teams have to get down to 75 players. In the meantime, there still are many practices to be held and a preseason game to play. In this particular situation, the Steelers weren't necessarily looking to add a player they believe can compete for a roster spot as much as they were looking to add a player to a position in order to have sufficient numbers there to conduct practice without over-working the guys expected to be the key players once the regular season is to begin. After cutting Tajh Boyd, the Steelers were left with four quarterbacks – Ben Roethlisberger, Bruce Gradkowski, Landry Jones, and Tyler Murphy – and teams typically carry four so as not to place too much of a burden on anyone's arm. Plus in this particular case, Gradkowski just recently came off PUP because of a sore right shoulder. With Murphy at quarterback, and with recently-signed veteran wide receiver David Nelson unable to practice because of a shoulder injury he sustained during his first on-field session with the Steelers, the team was left with only eight receivers. That's why free agent wide receiver Jarrod West was signed.**

There has been a lot of talk about the condition of the playing surface at the Hall of Fame Game. I was hoping you could provide some information about what was so different about that turf compared to some of the other artificial surfaces at other NFL stadiums, and why it was more likely to cause injuries.

First things first. That was not an NFL stadium, it was a high school field, which is at the heart of the problem. The venue where the annual Hall of Fame Game is played is a high school field used by Canton-McKinley High School. Before the game, you could stadium workers walking the field carrying large buckets, and they were reaching into those buckets and tossing handfuls of the contents across the surface, as if seeding the grass. Only, the surface there isn't grass. It was 11-year old FieldTurf, having been installed in 2004. They were "seeding" the fake grass with ground up tires, and to what purpose I have no idea. Once upon a time, it was a quaint notion to have an NFL preseason game at a high school field within the shadow of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but those days are long past. There is an artificial turf field on the campus of Saint Vincent College the Steelers will not use because of the potential risk to the players, and that field is in much better shape than the one in Canton. And by the way, the day AFTER the Hall of Fame Game, work began on replacing the surface and remodeling the facility. Too little, too late for Shaun Suisham and Cameron Stingily. Remember this the next time, the NFL starts paying lip service to player safety issues.

The Pittsburgh Steelers took on the Minnesota Vikings to kick off the 2015 preseason in the NFL/Pro Football Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio.

Am I right to infer that when teams trade a player the compensation is greatly affected by how long and how team friendly the involved contract is?

That certainly is a factor, and maybe the deciding factor, because if a team cannot fit the player's salary under its cap, or if the team making the trade cannot absorb the hit on its cap from the application of the player's remaining signing bonus, the deal cannot be done. That's why there are so few trades involving superstar players – it's those salary cap ramifications on both ends of the deal.

With Kelvin Beachum in the final year of his rookie contract, and likely the least expensive starting left tackle in the league, will the Steelers work out an extension or look to draft a new tackle in the first two rounds next year?

I believe that if a deal for a new contract can be worked out with Kelvin Beachum, it will happen. But can the sides agree on a number that satisfies everyone? The Steelers always have had some guidelines when doing contracts, and one of those is that nobody gets more money than the best player on the team at the position. In a situation involving offensive linemen, for example, nobody there would get more money than Maurkice Pouncey, because Pouncey is a two-time first-team All-Pro and nobody else on the unit even has been to a Pro Bowl. This is a good way to prevent jealousy within the locker room, because if the best players are getting the most money, there is a sense of fairness created that's an important part of putting together an unselfish team. Then it can become an issue of whether the player heading into free agency believes he can get more money from outside the organization. It's a business, and just as the team has the right to structure its own pay scale according to its standards, the player has the right to decide to test the open market when his contract expires. The Steelers also have picked up the fifth-year option on former No. 1 pick David DeCastro's contract, which means a cap hit of $8 million for 2016, and then after the 2015 season they're going to be looking at an extension for Le'Veon Bell. Beachum is a solid left tackle and a better person, the kind of guy teams must have to compete for championships. But I'm not smart enough to know whether all the numbers can work out.

Which player(s) from last year's roster is most in jeopardy of not being on the roster this coming season? How many of this crop of draft picks make the 53-man roster?

I'm sorry, but I'm not going to predict which veterans might get cut, because I don't know enough about it and it's disrespectful for me to speculate on someone losing his job. Cutting players is a job for others. As for the current rookie draft picks – the Steelers made eight selections from April 30-May 2 – I wouldn't cut any of them this year. I understand players first have to be waived in order to be added to the practice squad, but in terms of severing ties with any of the eight, I wouldn't do that. Senquez Golson seems to be headed to PUP or IR, but I see each of the other seven – Bud Dupree, Sammie Coates, Doran Grant, Jesse James, L.T. Walton, Anthony Chickillo, and Gerod Holliman – either making the 53-man roster or being added to the practice squad if they clear waivers. Right now, I would guess the guys with the most direct path to the final 53 are Dupree, Coates, and James. But there still are three preseason games remaining, and lost of practices sprinkled in among them.

Check out photos of Steelers tight ends who are competing for a roster spot heading into the 2015 training camp.

Do you believe that Jesse James can make the 53-man roster, or will he be placed on practice squad?

Jesse James was progressing nicely during the opening two weeks of this training camp, and then he had a bad game against the Minnesota Vikings in the preseason opener. He bounced back from that and finished the game against the Jaguars with two catches for 28 yards, including one for 22 yards that converted a third-and-10 in the fourth quarter. The Steelers are going to keep three tight ends, and James seems to have the most direct route to the No. 3 job right now. Third-year pro Michael Egnew was released on Aug. 2, and Rob Blanchflower, last year's seventh-round pick, was waived injured on Aug. 6. Undrafted rookie Cameron Clear had himself in the thick of the competition ever since opening some eyes during OTAs, but he needed to have a bone chip removed from his knee last week and hasn't been back on the field since. The competition isn't over, but James is in a good spot.

Bob, I need your help. Back in the 1970s, my grandfather gave me a Terrible Towel for Christmas. I don't remember the exact year, but my dad always told me it was the first year the Terrible Towels were sold. The problem with mine is that it seems like every time I've pulled it out over the last 8-to-10 years, the Steelers have lost, no matter the opponent and how overwhelmingly impossible it seemed they would lose – the 4-12 Oakland Raiders in 2012, anyone? My question is, what can I do to shake the bad mojo out of this Towel so that I can fly it on Sundays without having to feel like it's my fault the Steelers lose? I KNOW that it's not really my fault, but being the superstitious former athlete I am, I can't help but think my Towel is a jinx.

First of all, it's Craig Wolfley who's the Monarch of Mojo, and so I hesitate to delve too deeply into his realm. I do know this: your Towel is old, a relic from a bygone era. And while it has sentimental value and still should be treasured by the superstitious former athlete you are, it should be retired. Someone might own a Civil War-era rifle, and it might be his most prized possession, but he would have to understand he couldn't depend on that gun today. It's time to upgrade to a newer model Towel. A sleeker, updated version Towel with an untapped Mojo reserve. It's time. Deep down in your superstitious former athlete bones, you know I'm right. It's OK. Not even a Terrible Towel can defeat Father Time.

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