Let's get to it:
KC COOK FROM DALLAS, TX: Is there any point of the season, if the losses continue and we were out of playoff contention, where the Steelers would bench Ben Roethlisberger to take a real look at Dewayne Haskins? I think we have all seen enough of Mason Rudolph. And before you blast me, take a shot at me or dismiss me, I am not advocating for it but simply asking a question. This is Asked and Answered right?
ANSWER: It indeed is Asked and Answered. What it is not is Asked (while taking a cheap shot at Mason Rudolph) and Guess, but since it's early in the holiday season and my heart is filled with goodwill, I'll accommodate you this one time. Benching the starting quarterback during the regular season "to take a real look" at a player who is No. 3 on the depth chart at the position and has been No. 3 on the depth chart at the position for many months is something that's done during training camp and in the preseason. Since this is neither training camp nor the preseason, my guess to your question would be no. If something would arise where Ben Roethlisberger couldn't play, I believe the quarterback to take his place would be the guy who's currently No. 2 on the depth chart, whether you think you've "seen enough" of him or not.
ERIN KEELAN FROM HONOLULU, HI: Who do you think should be the Steelers' next quarterback? Should the Steelers trade for a current quarterback or draft one? We have Mason Rudolph and Dwayne Haskins, but I don't think they are championship-caliber quarterbacks.
ANSWER: I have no idea who the next quarterback will be, and while you seem to be certain about Mason Rudolph and Dwayne Haskins, I have no idea whether Mason Rudolph and/or Dwayne Haskins has what it takes to be a quality starter in the NFL.
DANIEL MAZENKO FROM LITITZ, PA: While looking up Stephon Tuitt's contract recently, I saw that he has three voidable years after 2022 that lowered his cap hit for this year. I also recall that Ben Roethlisberger has four voidable years on his contract. The upshot being that if Roethlisberger and Tuitt never play another down for the Steelers after this year, the team would still have about a $20 million cap hit for the two players in the 2022 season. I never recall hearing of voidable years on contracts prior to this year. Is it something new that the latest CBA allowed, or has it always been around but just not in the public eye?
ANSWER: From what I can gather, the concept of "voidable years" is relatively new, and it has been described to me as being similar to those tapes at the start of "Mission: Impossible" that self-destruct after 10 seconds. If a player signs a four-year contract with three voidable years, essentially it's a one-year contract that disintegrates after one year, doesn't eat up all of the salary cap space in that first year but does require the team to carry dead money on a future year's salary cap. And it is a legal way to circumvent the salary cap for the one year the player is on the team. But to bring things back to the Steelers and the contracts of Stephon Tuitt and Ben Roethlisberger, the voidable years in Roethlisberger's contract kick in following the 2021 season, while the voidable years in Tuitt's contract kick in following the 2022 season. If Tuitt is released or retires following the 2021 season, the Steelers would carry $9.7 million in dead money on their cap for the final year of his contract (before the voidable years kick in). For Roethlisberger, the voidable years kick in following this season, and if 2021 is his final season with the Steelers, there would be a $10.3 million dead money charge on the 2022 cap. To make a long, complicated explanation shorter, you are correct in that if Roethlisberger and Tuitt never play another down for the Steelers following the 2021 season, the team would carry $20 million in dead money on its 2022 salary cap as a result.
ZACH RAVES FROM SCOTTSDALE, AZ: In the Dec. 2 installment of Asked and Answered you mentioned about the drafts in the 1970s that "a team had unlimited rights to every player it drafted." Can you explain this please and how it differs from current drafts?
ANSWER: In the era before the NFL adopted free agency tied to a salary cap – pre-1993 – once a player was drafted by an NFL team and then signed to his rookie contract, that player was the property of that team largely for the entirety of his career, unless he was cut or traded by the team that drafted him. So, when the Steelers used the first overall pick of the 1970 Draft on Terry Bradshaw, they could have allowed him to sit on the bench for three years before putting him on the field without concerning themselves with exercising a fifth-year option or potentially losing him via free agency. Knowing that a player had no freedom of movement during his career was a huge advantage for teams during the era before unrestricted free agency. None of those Hall of Fame players from the 1970s – Joe Greene, Mel Blount, Bradshaw, Franco Harris, Jack Ham, Jack Lambert, Lynn Swann, John Stallworth, Mike Webster – had any opportunity to shop their services on the open market. Think about that for a minute.
VINCE AZZARELLO FROM WEIRTON, WV: All this talk about music in the locker room reminded me of the story about Joe Greene settling a debate years ago over of music being played in the locker room. I forget where I read it, but I was hoping you may know and could share with your readers how he handled the issue.
ANSWER: You read it on Steelers.com, contained in a column I wrote to commemorate Joe Greene's 75th birthday, which was celebrated on Sept. 24, 2021. Here is the relevant section of that column:
"As to why Greene deserves to be recognized as the most influential player in Steelers history has to do with the way he commanded respect in the team's locker room where he served as the de facto sergeant-at-arms. Greene was the player extension of Coach Chuck Noll, and he made certain everyone in there stayed on point when it came to Noll's message.
"To illustrate this, I turn to Myron Cope, who related the following anecdote in his memoir, titled, "Double Yoi!" It begins with an introduction/portrait by Cope of Ernie "Fats" Holmes, and then what follows is Holmes' interaction with the Steelers' unquestioned team leader.
"Fats weighed about 300 pounds in an era when 300-pound football players remained rare. He favored Courvoisier, a French cognac, and was known to swill it down like beer. Also, players throughout the NFL knew him as, well, temperamental and no man to trifle with … From his right tackle position in the Steel Curtain, Fats half-defeated his opponents before they threw their first block. He lined up and straightaway announced to the man opposite him, 'I'm gonna kick your ass' …
"Greene, who had come from college football nicknamed Mean Joe Greene, was the only Steeler Fats feared. On the morning of home games, a stereo blared music through the locker room, but Jack Hart, who carried the title of field manager, routinely turned off the stereo a half-hour before the squad took the field for warmups. On one Sunday morning when Hart switched off the stereo, Fats lumbered across the room and switched it back on. Hart said, 'Ernie, you know it's orders the stereo is turned off' – and once more turned it off. Fats again turned it on. At this point, Joe Greene arose from his stool. He tore the stereo's wiring out of the wall. That was that."
CHARLES GOLLMAR FROM KENNESAW, GA: One of the theories at the beginning of the season was that it would take time for the offensive line to gel and improve, and for fans to be patient. From my admittedly uneducated perspective, it feels like it has been a bit of a roller coaster ride, with good stretches interspersed with bad ones. With two-thirds of the season over, do you think the offensive line has shown the expected improvement as the season progressed, or is it a longer-term process than one season?
ANSWER: I don't know what the "expected improvement" was supposed to look like, but speaking for myself, what I believed was that the offensive line would look better by Halloween than it did when the season opened. I think to some degree that came true, but as you mentioned in your question, it hasn't been a consistent improvement. I also believe that anyone who expected five new offensive linemen – either new players or players at different positions than 2020 (and with the rookie center having been a guard in college) – would only need one season to become a solid NFL group was looking at things overly optimistically. Such a wholesale rebuild should be expected to take more than one season.
JARRETT RICKERDS FROM KNOXVILLE, MD: How important do you think it will be for the 2021 rookies to get an offseason with a legit nutrition plan and NFL caliber strength and conditioning program? I know Dan Moore Jr. and Kendrick Green have been subjected to a lot of criticism, but they have a lot of upside, and it is never an overnight fix. Could there also be a potential to add/draft another lineman to help accelerate the youth movement on the line in 2022?
ANSWER: Obviously, an offseason under an NFL program of nutrition and strength training can be a big help to the development of these young offensive linemen, and I think it's just as obvious the Steelers will add some new pieces to the group during the offseason, whether it be veteran free agents or draft picks.
DEREK LUCAS FROM CLAYTON, GA: I misheard the announcers last week during the Browns-Ravens game and thought one of them said the teams played each other again this week. That got me wondering, have any teams been scheduled to play back-to-back, except for the last week of the regular season and then during the first round of playoffs?
ANSWER: Not in the modern era.
JIM HUMPHREY FROM CANTON, OH: In your recent article "Labriola on a history of ugly losses," how is it that you could not include the Tim Worley debut and the 51-0 home embarrassment at the hands of the original Cleveland Browns in the 1989 season opener at Three Rivers Stadium? And then of course the follow-up a week later, a 41-10, loss to the Bengals at Riverfront Stadium)? I do agree however, as bad as it was in Cincinnati this year, it was indeed far from the worst ever.
ANSWER: The first two games of that 1989 season have been referenced so, so many times that I thought I would dig a little deeper and provide some other examples – and please understand that I presented examples not some definitive list. I do have a story about those first two games of the 1989 season that you might find amusing: After the second of those losses – the one in Cincinnati, which meant the Steelers had just lost the first two games of the regular season to two teams within their division by a combined, 92-10 – Director of Football Operations Tom Donahoe came out of the Riverfront Stadium elevator at the end of the game and bumped into Chuck Noll, and they fell in step together walking toward the Steelers locker room. Noll turned to Donahoe and said, "We either just played the two best teams in the AFC, or this is going to be a long year." As everyone knows, the Steelers won nine of their next 14, got into the playoffs as a Wild Card, defeated the Oilers in the Astrodome in overtime in the Wild Card Round and came within a dropped pass in the Divisional Round of upsetting the Broncos in Denver the next week, 24-23.