Asked and Answered

Asked and Answered: Aug. 4

Let's get to it:

DENNIS NEVINSKY FROM ERIE, PA: How would you rank the need to sign the following players: Cam Heyward, Matt Feiler, Mike Hilton, Cam Sutton, Alejandro Villanueva?
ANSWER: First, allow me to clarify that I'm only answering your question and therefore using the list you presented. OK, starting with most important, it would be: Cam Heyward, Matt Feiler, Alejandro Villanueva, Mike Hilton, and Cam Sutton. Listing Heyward No. 1 is a no-brainer to me, and I offer this single fact as my argument: In all of Steelers history, there have been only two interior defensive linemen to be voted first-team Associated Press All-Pro more than once – Joe Greene and Heyward – and Heyward's recognition has come in two of the previous three seasons so it's clear his skills are not eroding. Feiler is No. 2 because he is a legitimate NFL starter at both guard and tackle. Villanueva is No. 3, because even though he's the team's starting left tackle, he'll be 32 years old in September. Hilton is No. 4 as the starting nickel cornerback; and Sutton is No. 5 because right now his career still is more about potential than production. Sutton could move up based on how 2020 unfolds, but right now he is at No. 5.

JIM FOX FROM BATON ROUGE, LA: There have been many fantastic catches in Steelers history. Some of my favorites include Franco Harris and the "Immaculate Reception," Lynn Swann's catch against Dallas in Super Bowl X, and Santonio Holmes' catch against Arizona in Super Bowl XLIII. Do you have a favorite catch, and if so, what was it?
ANSWER: I long have believed that the Immaculate Reception was the most significant play in franchise history, because it dramatically and definitively reversed the decades of losing as well the losers' mentality that plagued the Steelers from 1933 until that day in 1972. As for my favorite, I would list Santonio Holmes' catch in Super Bowl XLIII for two reasons: I saw it in person, and it won a Super Bowl.

NEIL GLASSER FROM MANALAPAN, NJ: With J.T. Barrett released, who do you like in the competition for the No. 3 quarterback job: Paxton Lynch or Devlin Hodges? How much do you think the lack of preseason games will play into the decision?
ANSWER: All I can give you is a guess at this point, because pads don't go on until the middle of August. My assessment at this early stage is that Paxton Lynch has the physical characteristics and qualities of an NFL quarterback, but I don't know that he has the head for the job. Devlin Hodges has neither the size nor the arm-strength NFL scouts look for in a quarterback, but the Steelers won games with him in 2019. As for the absence of any preseason games, that certainly isn't going to make the decision any easier.

AARON BREEZE FROM FRESNO, CA: I always look forward to hearing who you guys pick for Camp Phenom. Any names being tossed out there yet?
ANSWER: As mentioned in the previous answer, pads don't go on until the middle of August, and in fact this week's "camp activities" will follow the same guidelines as Phase 1 of a typical offseason program, with on-field activity strictly limited to strength and conditioning and walk-through periods. No conditioning tests are permitted. Only the team's strength and conditioning coaches are to be on the field, and no wearing of helmets is permitted.

KEN WILSON FROM MILTON, PA: With all the talk of the cap shrinking next year, can the team increase corporate sponsorships that can and do use the Steelers logo and players in advertising, and then distribute some or all of that money to the players involved and designate that money as "Sponsorship" money not part of "Cap Money?" This would encourage free agents as well as current players to accept lower "Cap Salaries" and augment this with "Sponsorship Salary" to give them a larger take-home salary.
ANSWER: That is not allowed by the terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Not even a little bit.

DENNIS LONGAZEL FROM BOCA RATON, FL: Whatever happened to Steelers running back Barry Foster?
ANSWER: Barry Foster came to the Steelers as a fifth-round pick in the 1990 NFL Draft, but he didn't break into the starting lineup until 1992, which was Bill Cowher's inaugural year as the Steelers' coach. That season, Foster set a franchise record with 1,690 yards rushing, but his career flamed out after that as a result of injuries coupled with his loss of enthusiasm for football. Foster's last NFL game was the 1994 AFC Championship Game against San Diego at Three Rivers Stadium when he was the intended receiver on a fourth-and-goal pass from Neil O'Donnell that fell incomplete and sealed the Steelers' defeat. After his football career was over, Foster, who will be 52 in December, became the running backs coach at DeLay Middle School and is currently an Assistant Principal at Grand Prairie High School in Grand Prairie, Texas. Foster did return once for an alumni reunion.

JESPER JACOBSEN FROM RINGSTED, DENMARK: Do you think teams will/should keep a punter/placekicker on their practice squad this year?
ANSWER: That might not be a bad idea, especially since practice squads are being expanded to 16 players for the 2020 season. Losing a placekicker or a punter to a positive test for coronavirus could create a significant problem and result in a loss or two.

JOE CARUSONE FROM CAVE CREEK, AZ: Will players show up daily or are they physically staying at Heinz Field?
ANSWER: Players are not sleeping at Heinz Field. They are provided three meals a day there, but sleeping arrangements are not provided on site.

JAMES COWAN FROM ATLANTA, GA: Will players who opt out of the 2020 NFL regular season have their salaries still count toward their team's salary cap?
ANSWER: This is a complicated issue, and I'm going to try to simplify it as much as possible. If a player voluntarily opts-out, he will receive a $150,000 advance against his 2020 base salary, and his contract will toll. As for the impact on the salary cap, any roster bonuses paid before the opt-out would count on his team's 2020 cap, but the $150,000 advance would not.

ZEKE ZUCCO FROM GARDEN GROVE, CA: Can any player who opts-out because of COVID-19, opt back in at any point during the season?
ANSWER: No. Once a player opts-out, he's out until 2021.

RICHARD FABER FROM JACKSON, MI: Will the 16 players on the practice squad be protected with contracts, and do their salaries count towards the team cap?
ANSWER: Players on the practice squad count on their team's salary cap, and their contract status allows them to be signed away by a different team and added to that team's active roster. Players on the practice squad are not required to go to another team, but it really wouldn't make any sense for them to decline such an offer.

JULIAN HARRIS FROM LOS ANGELES, CA: With Antonio Brown contemplating retirement, do you think he accomplished enough to make it into the Pro Football Hall of Fame?
ANSWER: If Antonio Brown never plays another snap in the NFL, I do not believe he deserves to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

PAUL PEACHEY FROM LITITZ, PA: The Steelers have now listed a few players on the Reserve/Covid-19 list. Do they release any information about whether a player tested positive, or if they sustained an injury, and if so, the nature of the injury?
ANSWER: A player listed on the reserve/COVID-19 list did not sustain an injury. The reserve/COVID-19 list was created for a player who either tests positive for COVID-19 or who has been quarantined after having been in close contact with an infected person(s). If a player falls into either of these categories, his team is required immediately to place the player on the reserve/COVID-19 list. Per agreed upon NFL-NFLPA policy, clubs are not permitted to comment on that player's medical status other than referring to roster status. Clubs may not disclose whether player is in quarantine or is positive for COVID-19.

CHRIS TROMBETTA FROM PLUM, PA: Never in my wildest dreams, or nightmares, even as cynical as I am, did I ever think you would get a question from someone trying to transition what happens in a football video game to the real thing … yet there it was.
ANSWER: How about making judgments on a player based on how he looks in a photo? Read on.

TERENCE ROGERS FROM ROCHESTER, NY: From the pictures I've seen of Alex Highsmith he looks too short and small to be an edge rusher. What's your opinion after seeing him in camp?
ANSWER: I thought people making judgments based on a video game was as low as it could get, but now we're going to use a photo to decide a player is too short and small to be an edge rusher. James Harrison was listed as 6-foot, and that may have been generous. I'll allow you to tell him that he was too short and small to be an NFL edge rusher, and when you do please make sure to explain you're making that assessment based on seeing a picture of him. Thanks, and let me know how that works out for you. For the record, Alex Highsmith was measured at the NFL Combine at 6-4, which is the same height as T.J. Watt.