Let's get to it:
TA ERLENBUSCH FROM COLORADO SPRINGS, CO: Whose contract is key in keeping the high level of defense we are seeing this year?
ANSWER: I am going to assume you mean one player whose contract is set to expire in March 2020, and my answer to that question would be Bud Dupree.
MATTHEW RICHARDSON FROM MOODY, AL: With this being Bud Dupree's last year in his current contract, do the Steelers have rights to use him as trade capital for a higher draft pick potentially, or would he have to be under contract with the Steelers to be able to be used as part of a trade?
ANSWER: The trading deadline for the 2019 season is long past, and Bud Dupree is able to become an unrestricted free agent on March 18, 2020. For a team to be able to trade a player, that player must be under contract to the trading team. Even if the Steelers would decide to place the franchise tag on Dupree, which they would be able to do on Feb. 25, they wouldn't be able to trade him unless he signed the tender. The trading period for the 2020 season begins at 4 p.m. on March 18.
JEFF BANKOVICH FROM ELIZABETH TOWNSHIP, PA: If a player is selected to the Pro Bowl and does not elect to play, is he still considered a Pro Bowler and does he receive a game check?
ANSWER: Game checks only are distributed to those players in uniform on the day of the Pro Bowl. How the players are considered if selected but decline to appear, I would imagine is up to the individual doing the considering. Because so many guys decline to participate, which leads to so many replacements having to be named, is a reason why I have come to recognize All-Pro as the much more significant individual honor for an NFL player.
KEVIN BAILEY FROM ORANGEVILLE, ONTARIO, CANADA: What do the Steelers need to do in Week 17 to make the playoffs?
ANSWER: The following scenarios were researched by the Elias Sports Bureau and then distributed by the NFL, so you can trust these. In other words, they're not something I figured out on my own.
Pittsburgh clinches a playoff berth with:
PIT win plus a TEN loss or tie
PIT tie plus a TEN loss
TEN loss plus an IND win plus an OAK loss or tie
TEN loss plus an IND win, and PIT ties OAK in strength-of-victory tiebreaker, which will happen if ALL of the following teams win: MIN, GB, KC AND MIA
JOHN PADDOCK FROM INDEPENDENCE, MO: Do you think we're still playing come Wild Card weekend? I think we can beat the Ravens, but I just don't think the Texans will help us out. Merry Christmas and good luck to our Steelers. Hopefully, next week you're answering our knuckleheaded questions about No. 6 seeds winning the Super Bowl.
ANSWER: I truly have no idea what to expect during Week 17 of this NFL schedule, but my hope is that the Steelers close out their regular season with a victory in Baltimore to finish 9-7. If they do that, I can live with whatever else happens with regard to whether they get into the playoffs or not.
CT HODGSON FROM PLEASANT VIEW, TN: With Mason Rudolph on injured reserve, and with Devlin Hodges struggling with inaccuracy and turnovers, do the Steelers pick up a free agent quarterback to carry them if the they make it into the playoffs?
ANSWER: That's not realistic at all, and by that I mean bringing in a quarterback who's totally unfamiliar with a team's offensive scheme, its terminology, and its personnel and expecting him to be ready to play a regular season NFL game in less than a calendar week.
TOM LAUDICINA FROM NORTH BRUNSWICK, NJ: What is the status of James Connor's contract?
ANSWER: James Conner is signed through the 2020 season, and next year his salary is scheduled to be $758,000 and he will carry a cap charge of $935,000.
KEVIN REED FROM HONESDALE, PA: I've heard you and others defend Mason Rudolph, and it seems like I'm watching a completely different game. All season it has been the same issues: no pocket presence, not going through his progressions, and when it comes to passing he has been horrendous. Is someone slipping something into my game day beverage?
ANSWER: I cannot speak to whether someone is spiking your drink, but here are some statistics that you might find interesting: In their first eight starts – and both were second-year pros at the time – Tom Brady completed 65 percent of his passes to 62 percent for Mason Rudolph; Brady passed for 1,565 yards compared to 1,524 for Rudolph; Brady's yards per attempt was 6.5 compared to 6.2 for Rudolph; Brady's yards-per-completion was 10.2, the same as Rudolph's; Brady threw for 12 touchdowns as compared to 10 for Rudolph; Brady threw seven interceptions compared to eight for Rudolph; and Brady was sacked 21 times compared to 14 for Rudolph. Brady's record in his first eight starts was 5-3, the same as Rudolph's. Looks pretty much equal to me, except when it comes to sacks, which I would file under the category of, to use your words, "pocket presence." I'm not making a case for Rudolph as a budding Tom Brady, but what I would suggest to you is that you start comparing apples to apples, or in this case, inexperienced young quarterbacks to inexperienced young quarterbacks.
CHUCK MATTHEWS FROM IDAHO FALLS, ID: After graduating from college in 1969 I took a job in West Mifflin, Pa. I became a lifetime Steelers fan as I watched the amazing transition unfold. I vaguely recall a play sometime in 1969 or 1970 in which a Steelers receiver caught a pass for what appeared to be a certain touchdown until he celebrated by spiking the ball as he crossed the 5-yard line. Did that really happen and who was the receiver? I enjoy your column, your sense of humor, and your Steelers knowledge.
ANSWER: That game was played on Oct. 18, 1971, and it was a Monday night game against the Chiefs in Kansas City. The receiver, Dave Smith, caught a Terry Bradshaw pass and was in the clear and on the way to an apparent 50-yard touchdown. But as Smith got close to the goal line, he raised the ball over his head and began to pump his arm. Before Smith crossed the goal line, he lost control of the ball, and his fumble rolled out of the end zone for a touchback. Smith did not spike the ball prematurely, but he did celebrate prematurely and lost control of the ball, which turned into a fumble and a touchback instead of a touchdown. The Steelers lost, 38-16.