Asked and Answered

Asked and Answered: Feb. 10

Let's get to it:

RAY GIBSON FROM CAMERON, NC: How long of a contract did Tyson Alualu sign last year with the Steelers? Have you heard any of his post-surgery progress? Do you know if he plans to continue playing?
ANSWER: Tyson Alualu signed a two-year contract with the Steelers last year. For the 2022 season, Alualu is to be paid $2.5 million, and he will count $3.46 million on the team's salary cap. While there have been no updates given on the progress of Alualu's rehabilitation from the ankle injury that required surgery and ended his 2021 season, at no point during that process was the injury feared to be career-ending. As for his plans in 2022, Alualu posted the following on Instagram: "I definitely don't plan to go out this way. So, I'm working harder and smarter for a great comeback … I understand that God's plan is always best, so I know without a doubt that I'm coming back better & stronger. Truly appreciative of my family, teammates, coaches, the fans, and this city for the love and support they show on and off the field. Blessed to be a part of this brotherhood and do what I love for a living. God is good, God is great … Looking forward to the grind back #timetowork."

JOSHUA CAMPBELL FROM CINCINNATI, OH: The Steelers announced Frisman Jackson is the new receivers coach. What happened to Ike Hillard?
ANSWER: About the only thing I can tell you for certain is that Ike Hilliard's contract was not renewed, and the Steelers announced the hiring of Frisman Jackson to take his place a few days ago. After the Wild Card Round loss to the Chiefs in Kansas City, Coach Mike Tomlin didn't try to hide his displeasure regarding the play of the Steelers wide receivers in that game. During the postgame media session, Tomlin was asked, "Do you feel there were plays that your receivers could have made?" Tomlin answered, "You think? Yes."

IAN HAMILTON FROM ELYRIA, OH: Do the Steelers have something against Hines Ward? I feel like he is definitely worthy of being the team's wide receivers coach, since he has coaching experience and was one of the best receivers the team ever had. I wish they wouldn't have passed up on him as a receiver coach again.
ANSWER: Based on what exactly is leading you to believe Hines Ward "is definitely worthy of being the team's wide receivers coach?" I will grant you that Ward is one of the best receivers in franchise history, and a player who in my opinion is worthy of being elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But that isn't a qualification for being a quality position coach in the NFL. You also mention Ward's "coaching experience," which boils down to spending 2019-20 as an offensive assistant with the New York Jets, and then spending the 2021 season as a position coach with Florida Atlantic University. And allow me to clarify for you that someone carrying the title of "offensive assistant" in the NFL is a couple of rungs below a position coach in the pecking order. Just as a comparison, Ike Hilliard had 11 years of experience with five different NFL teams before coming to the Steelers, and he was the guy they were looking to replace. You're evaluating candidates with a Terrible Towel covering your eyes.

JULIAN HARRIS FROM LOS ANGELES, CA: How does the players' Pro Bowl count work with players who play the game, players who don't play in the game, and/or replacement players? Are Najee Harris and Diontae Johnson considered first-year Pro Bowl players?
ANSWER: All players who are voted to the Pro Bowl, even if they don't play in the game, plus all replacement players, plus the players in the Super Bowl who cannot participate all are recognized as Pro Bowl players. That's why I always make a distinction between Pro Bowl and All-Pro, because there could be upwards of 60-plus players who might be recognized as Pro Bowl players for a particular season, while the All-Pro team consists of 28 players – 11 on offense, 11 on defense, and six specialists and punt/kickoff returners.

SCOTT COLLINS FROM GAMBRILLS, MD: I hope the Steelers get a shot to land quarterback Derek Carr of the Raiders. I really like his poise and skill set. Do you think he has the potential to be a franchise quarterback who would interest the Steelers long-term?
ANSWER: Time to inject a dose of reality: Derek Carr is under contract to the Raiders through the 2022 season, which means any "getting a shot to land" him will involve making a trade with the Raiders; he is due $20 million for the 2022 season before he can become an unrestricted free agent and hit the open market; and before the end of March 2022, Carr will celebrate his 31st birthday, which kind of destroys the notion of him being a long-term answer.

CRAIG DUMNICH FROM AVONDALE, PA: With Teryl Austin on the way to being hired as the Steelers new defensive coordinator, there have been many comments regarding Coach Mike Tomlin pulling the strings for the play-calling. This was something I was unaware of. So, who then is to blame for poor defensive play such as stopping the run, which was dismal?
ANSWER: Your question assumes the fault or credit for a team's play on defense is based only on the play-call, instead of things such as execution on the field, winning one-on-one matchups on the field, making tackles instead of missing tackles, etc. If you are correct, that would mean if the correct defensive play-call is made, then you and 10 of your buddies could play good defense in the NFL. Also, based on your assumption, Dick LeBeau almost cost the Steelers Super Bowl XLIII with that awful defensive call on Larry Fitzgerald's 64-yard touchdown through the middle of the defense that gave the Cardinals a 23-20 lead late in the fourth quarter; and in fact it was LeBeau's fault the Steelers lost that Wild Card Round Game against Denver at the end of the 2011 season when Tim Tebow threw an 80-yard touchdown pass on the first play of overtime. Is that what you mean? I didn't think so. If it's so important to you to have someone to blame, then blame me. Feel better now?

DANNY EARLYWINE FROM OMAHA, NE: When Coach Mike Tomlin and Steelers President Art Rooney II say they are looking for a mobile quarterback, are they referring to someone like Malik Willis or someone who can scramble and run, if need be, like Derek Carr?
ANSWER: During a Jan. 28 session with the media, Steelers President Art Rooney II was asked about what the team would be looking for in its next quarterback, and here is some of what he said on the subject: "Well, in terms of what does the quarterback look like, I think that you have to take advantage of whatever opportunity you have to get the best quarterback you can find. You don't always have the luxury of saying I want A, B and C, (then) go to the grocery store and order a quarterback. We'll evaluate all the options we have. Certainly mobile quarterbacks are the wave of the future, so to speak, and having mobility at that position is something that would be desirable, let's put it that way. But the other thing just as desirable is somebody who can read a defense and complete a pass downfield … Well, I mean, certainly you start with somebody who can buy some time is very desirable. I would say in terms of having a quarterback who's actually consistently a threat to be part of your rushing attack, I'm not sure that's something I want to rely on, or that you can rely on game in, game out, season in, season out. Having some mobility is important, but I think the days of having quarterbacks whose biggest threat is running is not exactly what we're looking for."

JOHN SAUERS FROM NORTHLAKE, TX: Who are the Steelers' potential 2022 free agents on offense, defense and special teams? How would you prioritize the top three-to-five on both offense and defense to be re-signed, assuming the money is "right?"
ANSWER: The list of free agents (see below) is separated by category – exclusive rights, restricted, unrestricted, and if I had to pick from among the UNRESTRICTED free agents to be re-signed, I would choose Ahkello Witherspoon, Terrell Edmunds, Montravius Adams, and Joe Haden on defense; JuJu Smith-Schuster and Chuks Okorafor on offense; and Miles Killebrew on special teams. Not that re-signing any of them would guarantee a starting job, but my opinion is that all of them could be contributors in some way in 2022.

Exclusive rights free agents (3):
CB DeMarkus Acy
DL DeMarcus Christmas
C J.C. Hassenauer

Restricted free agents (3):
ILB Marcus Allen
QB Dewayne Haskins
ILB Robert Spillane

Unrestricted free agents (17):
DL Montravius Adams
RB Kalen Ballage
OLB Taco Charlton
QB Joshua Dobbs
TE Eric Ebron
SS Terrell Edmunds
C-G B.J. Finney
CB Joe Haden
SS Miles Killebrew
CB Arthur Mallet
WR Ray-Ray McCloud
LT Chuks Okorafor
QB Ben Roethlisberger
WR JuJu Smith-Schuster
G Trai Turner
WR James Washington
CB Ahkello Witherspoon

PAUL KAMMERMEIER FROM BLOOMFIELD, NY: Social media is overflowing with speculation about what will happen with many aspects of the Steelers roster and coaching staff this offseason, but one thing I haven't seen much of is any discussion about whether the Steelers might consider using the franchise tag in 2022?
ANSWER: As you can see from the list of potential unrestricted free agents (above), there isn't anyone worthy of the franchise tag and the guaranteed salary that comes along with that. designation.

BRANDON JOHNSON FROM FAIRMONT, WV: After Najee Harris, the Steelers' corps of running backs is pretty thin. Do you think they might snag a running back in the draft at some point to help lighten the load on Najee?
ANSWER: Adding to the depth chart at running back is something that needs to happen this offseason, and depending upon the 2022 class of unrestricted free agents this is something that could be addressed by adding a veteran. The Steelers don't have enough draft choices in 2022 to depend on that to address all of their needs this offseason.

BILL BRIGGS FROM GROVE CITY, PA: Why are the Steelers so high on Malik Willis? His career stats are not noteworthy. Coach Mike Tomlin said he wanted a mobile quarterback. That's fine if he's the caliber of Patrick Mahomes or Josh Allen, but just to draft one because other teams have one is stupid.
ANSWER: You wanna know what else is stupid? Falling for "the Steelers are high on Malik Willis" narrative simply because of some video from the Senior Bowl that the media in attendance during the week in Mobile, Alabama, turned into a story. You're probably also one of the people who puts way too much credence in "reports" from the NFL Combine that the Steelers interviewed "so-and-so" in Indianapolis, without realizing every team can interview up to 45 players at the NFL Combine. I cannot say whether the Steelers will end up picking Malik Willis at some point during the three-day 2022 NFL Draft because coming down on either side of the issue at this stage of the process would be nothing except a blind guess. But what I am confident in is that the team has made no such definitive judgment on any player this early in the process.

JOE ASHER FROM TAMPA, FL: To be eligible for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, an NFL player must be retired for at least five years. Just like the Hall of Fame, Ben Roethlisberger is a lock for the Steelers Hall of Honor. Is there a mandatory wait time for the Steelers Hall of Honor?
ANSWER: Three years.

JOHN HARTZEL FROM DISTANT, PA: My wife says you'll never answer this, and I hope you'll prove her wrong. Rob Gronkowski still wants to play with Tom Brady. Brady says he'll reconsider retirement in six months. The Steelers have plenty of cap space and an offense that hasn't been very exciting for years, and while the games sell out, we have thousands of no shows each home game. Do you think it's possible that we bring both here?
ANSWER: Even though I am using your "question," your wife is going to end up being correct, because instead of answering you, I am going to offer you a piece of advice. Please make sure to look both ways before crossing the street. It's dangerous out there in the real world, which is not where you're currently living based on that submission.

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