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Asked and Answered

Asked and Answered: Dec. 28

Let's get to it:

WILLIAM PALAICH FROM CLERMONT, PA: When it comes to JuJu Smith-Schuster's future with the team, did his injury help the Steelers in possibly signing him to a multi-year contract?
ANSWER: I really have no idea how the upcoming offseason is going to shake out with respect to the movement of potential unrestricted free agents, the kinds of contracts those players might be offered, and which positions might be targeted by teams interested in spending big money. JuJu Smith-Schuster would appear to be the kind of player – young but still experienced, physical, a history of being productive at the NFL level – who would attract significant interest but predicting these kinds of things is an inexact science. What would Smith-Schuster be looking for in an offer to entice him to move to another team? What might the Steelers' level of interest be to keep him? Just way too many moving parts to have any chance to make an intelligent prediction at this point, and Smith-Schuster's injury is just another of the variables.

SCOTT DAVES FROM GASTONIA, NC: When you ponder all of the troubles the Steelers have had on both sides of the ball this year, how much of it is because of the team needing to sign T.J. Watt this offseason? Did the Steelers need to let free agents like Bud Dupree, Alejandro Villanueva, Mike Hilton, Matt Feiler, and others walk in order to afford Watt?
ANSWER: You don't let a player like T.J. Watt leave as an unrestricted free agent. The Steelers are a franchise that believes in using the draft to build its roster and then keeping the best of its own players, and Watt is somebody who checks all the boxes. Football means a lot to him; he's a professional in the way he goes about his business; he's very productive; he's an example to younger teammates in how to go about being successful in the NFL; he's works at it all the time; he's fanatical about his preparation. Again, he checks all the boxes. Some of the players you mentioned in your question are gone for no other reason than COVID's impact on the 2021 salary cap. Instead of a typical increase, the impact of COVID – empty stadiums and the lost revenue associated with that – the salary cap actually decreased for the first time since it was instituted in the early 1990s. Bottom line is I would rather have Watt on the roster and lose all of those other players you mentioned, instead of having all of those other players on the roster but not having Watt.

GINO CALDERONE FROM HOUSTON, TX: It's very easy for all of us fans to criticize, but how did the Steelers let the offensive line get into such disarray? Najee Harris has no one to run behind.
ANSWER: The National Football League's business model was created with the goal of fostering parity. The salary cap, letting the teams with the worst records draft first, letting the teams with the worst records have priority when it comes to claiming players off waivers, the way the schedule is put together so the teams with the best records the previous season face each other in the upcoming season. Maurkice Pouncey and David DeCastro were first-round picks; Marvel Smith and Marcus Gilbert were second-round picks; Max Starks was a third-round pick. The Steelers invested significant draft capital in those players, and then they turned to other areas of their roster to fortify with premium draft picks. Cam Heyward was a No. 1 pick, Stephon Tuitt was a No. 2 pick, Javon Hargrave was a No. 3 pick to use the defensive line as an example. T.J. Watt was a No. 1 pick, Bud Dupree was a No. 1 pick, Ryan Shazier was a No. 1 pick to use linebackers as an example. And with modern drafts being only seven rounds, teams only have so many selections each year. What happened on the offensive line was that guys got old and/or had their bodies break down within a short period of time of each other. The Steelers were able postpone the inevitable by getting lucky with some undrafted rookies – Ramon Foster and Alejandro Villanueva and Matt Feiler – and a seventh-round pick – Kelvin Beachum – but losing Pouncey and DeCastro to retirement in the same offseason where the salary cap took a big dip hurt. Stuff happens, and now it's time to go back to prioritizing the offensive line in the draft.

ADAM FELDERMAN FROM TUCSON, AZ: What must happen the last two weeks of the season in order for the Steelers to make the playoffs?
ANSWER: There are a lot of different scenarios involving a lot of AFC teams, but I believe just about every one of those scenarios requires the Steelers to win their final two games. Less than 24 hours after that 36-10 loss to Kansas City, I'm not feeling too confident about that element of the scenarios.

MICHAEL CHERNOFF FROM QUERETARO, QRO, MEXICO: When the quarterback spikes the ball to stop the clock, how is that recorded? Does it count as an offensive play? Does it count as an incomplete pass?
ANSWER: Spiking the ball to stop the clock counts as a play – so if it happens on first-and-10, the next play is a second-and-10 – and it counts as an incomplete pass by the quarterback doing the spiking.

SCOTT COLLINS FROM GAMBRILLS, MD: When was the last year that the College All-Stars played the reigning NFL champions in the next summer's preseason opener?
ANSWER: The final one of these games was played in the summer of 1976, and it marked the Steelers second straight appearance because the team had won Super Bowl IX and Super Bowl X. In the 42 editions of this game, the NFL held a 31-9-2 edge over the All-Stars.

BRIAN MORELLA FROM POLAND, OH: Do you recall a worse blocking and tackling Pittsburgh Steelers team than this year's version?
ANSWER: These kinds of questions amaze me, because they reflect a complete lack of understanding about the history of the franchise. The Steelers were founded in 1933, and they won a grand total of absolutely NOTHING for their first 40 years of existence, and in those first 40 seasons, they had only eight seasons where they won more games than they lost. During a four-season span from 1938-41, the Steelers won six games. Total. From 1965-69, they won 14 games total during those five seasons. From 1985-88, they were 11 games under .500, and Chuck Noll was the coach. Just imagine how much bad blocking and tackling there happened to be on those teams in all of those different eras. Today's Steelers fans whine and complain that "they haven't been to a Super Bowl since 2010." Imagine going 40 years with only eight Steelers teams that even finished with a winning record, let alone won a championship or qualified to play in a championship game.

RICHARD DURBIN FROM MASSILLON, OH: When the players get back to Pittsburgh after a long flight following a game on the road, do they go home from the airport? Bus to the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex first? How does that work?
ANSWER: Members of the Steelers traveling party are responsible for getting themselves to the airport for the charter flight to whichever NFL city is hosting the game, and the majority drive their own vehicles. When the flight returns to Pittsburgh, people typically get in their cars and go wherever, based on the time the plane lands. I have been on flights that landed back in Pittsburgh – after a night game on the West Coast, as an example – just in time to get stuck in rush hour traffic going into Downtown Pittsburgh for the start of the next workday.

PETE SINEWE FROM LANCASTER, OH: Who "owns" game jerseys; since they are sometimes autographed and given away or sold?
ANSWER: The team owns its game uniforms.