Let's get to it:
EDWARD SMITH FROM WILTSHIRE, ENGLAND: In my opinion, the two teams in this year's Super Bowl featured notable quarterback-tight end pairings (not sure if there's anything to that). Who would you say made up the best Steelers quarterback-tight end pairing and why?
ANSWER: That's an easy one. The best quarterback-tight end pairing in franchise history is Ben Roethlisberger and Heath Miller. For my money, Miller is the best tight end in franchise history, and during his 11 seasons with the Steelers, he played in 11 postseason games during which he caught 49 passes for 587 yards (12.0 average) and those catches accounted for 25 first downs and four touchdowns. Miller was a starter on Steelers teams that won two Super Bowls and played in a third.
LARRY BRYAN FROM BLACKLICK, OH: In the last two years the Steelers have had five people elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Every year I surf the net for the semifinalists and am always disappointed that Andy Russell is not included on the list. Is there any way the fans can do a mega nomination to help his candidacy? Is it possible to get him nominated?
ANSWER: Ed Bouchette is the Pittsburgh representative on the Hall of Fame's Board of Selectors, and he recently wrote a story for The Athletic in which he dealt with the issue of which Steelers might be next in line for the Hall of Fame. Here is what he wrote about Andy Russell: "The linebacker's candidacy returned to prominence a few years ago when a friend devoted much time and effort to pushing him for election. However, the Centennial Class (of 2020) may have been his last best chance. He never was a modern-day finalist and has been in the senior category for years. Russell was one player who bridged the pre-Chuck Noll years and the first two Super Bowl teams. He and Hall of Famers Jack Ham and Jack Lambert were their three starting linebackers before Russell retired after the 1976 season. He made seven Pro Bowls over his 12-season career. His HOF Monitor of 55.80 ranks 30th among outside linebackers all time." With Russell's path to election now via the Seniors category, there isn't much fans can do. Like Bouchette, I believe the Hall of Fame isn't going to happen for Andy Russell.
JASON BUHRMAN FROM WILLIAMSPORT, MD: With all of the questions regarding the Steelers being up against the wall with salary cap space, are other teams in the same predicament also?
ANSWER: According to overthecap.com, there are 13 teams that will have to shed salary to get into compliance with the salary cap by the first day of the new league year, which now is set for March 17. Of those 13, nine were playoff teams in 2020, and the team in the worst shape is New Orleans, projected at $74.6 million over the cap. Pittsburgh is at $30.6 million over, and Buffalo is in the best shape of the 13 at $1.8 million over.
BRYAN BLOODWORTH FROM WAKE FOREST, NC: Has the NFL ever entertained the idea of having an official in the booth who can see the entire playing field and television replays who can radio down to an on-field official?
ANSWER: What you describe is also known as the "eye in the sky" proposal, and thankfully it has been rejected by NFL owners. I write "thankfully" because such a proposal adds nothing but another layer of bureaucracy to the process. Is the eye in the sky going to be an ex-NFL official or a current one? As such, how much benefit of the doubt will he extend to his on-field comrades? How many delays in the game will he cause? How long will those delays be? Then who monitors the eye in the sky to make sure those decisions are correct? What is needed are better officials, not more of the same kind.
BARRY JONES FROM BREA, CA: I realize that this is your column and you can post whatever questions you want, but why so many on contracts, the salary cap, and all of the hypothetical trades and draft picks? I submitted a question about kickoffs and the receiver fielding the ball in the end zone, but it did not get published.
ANSWER: Being that it's the offseason, this is the time of the football calendar where questions about the salary cap and unrestricted free agents and contracts and hypotheticals on trades and draft picks are most relevant. You say you submitted a question about kickoffs. Might the subject of that question have been along the lines of: "The Steelers kick off against the Bengals. The ball hits a Bengals player in the knee at about the 5-yard line and bounces into the end zone where a Bengals player recovers the ball. The ruling on the field was a touchback for the Bengals. How was that not a safety?" I ask that because I received about seven questions on that very situation from different people, and just because your questions was the one selected doesn't mean I ignored the issue. I have been answering questions about kickoffs throughout the regular season, a time during which Asked and Answered appears three times every week. I would be willing to bet that at one point I answered a question about the same subject regarding kickoffs that you submitted.
BILL SHINER FROM JACKSON, TN: When a defensive player is chasing a quarterback and the quarterback runs out of bounds behind the line of scrimmage, does the defensive player get credit for a sack or a tackle for loss?
ANSWER: It could be a sack or a tackle for loss, depending upon whether it was a pass play or a designed quarterback run, and that typically is judged in real time by the on-site stats crew. Of course, whatever ruling is made in real time by the in-stadium stats crew can be reviewed and changed by the Elias Sports Bureau. In essence, the answer to your questions is: maybe.
EDDIE NESTER FROM HOLCOMB, MS: If our Steelers cut these players: Vince Williams, Joe Haden, Steven Nelson, plus we lost Vance McDonald to retirement, how much cap space does that cover?
ANSWER: If the Steelers cut the three players you listed, it would save them $19 million on their 2021 salary cap, but it also would leave them with no proven starting NFL cornerbacks.
MICHAEL COX FROM IRVING, TX: I saw on one of the NFL's salary cap websites that the Steelers are projected to have the most cap space in the league in 2022. Is this information correct?
ANSWER: A synonym for "projected" is "predict." A synonym for "predict" is "speculate." And speculate is just a fancier word for "guess." Is the information accurate that some website "projected" the Steelers to have the most salary cap space in the league in 2022? I'll take your word for it. Is that "guess" going to turn out to be accurate? Your guess is as good as mine, or the website's.
GEORGE SLATER FROM FORT MYERS, FL: How much money does a team get for winning the Super Bowl? I don't mean money to be divided amongst the players, but money to the team itself.
ANSWER: Teams don't earn money for winning the Super Bowl, or advancing through any of the levels of the playoffs for that matter, not in the same way that players earn playoff money. There is some stipend if a team hosts a playoff game to help with costs, and there is some money reimbursed to teams for travel expenses, but in many cases a Super Bowl winning team actually loses money when it wins the Super Bowl because what the league reimburses a team for travel and expenses doesn't come close to covering the cost of extra charter flights for family and staff to attend the game plus lodging and the other incidentals that go along with throwing a four-day party for a large traveling group.
CHARLES ALSTON FROM REYNOLDSBURG, OH: Do you think Dwayne Haskins is the future for the Steelers, and are they going to get rid of Mason Rudolph?
ANSWER: If Ben Roethlisberger returns for the 2021 season, Mason Rudolph will be the backup quarterback. If Roethlisberger doesn't return for the 2021 season, Rudolph will be the starting quarterback. Dwayne Haskins is going to have his hands full trying to make the team.
ROBERT TUCKER FROM BLOSSVALE, NY: As it stands today, are the Steelers likely to get a compensatory pick? When is that determination made?
ANSWER: There is some belief the Steelers will end up with two compensatory draft picks – one in the fourth round and one in the sixth round of the 2021 NFL Draft. Of course that won't become official until the picks are announced, which usually happens in the first two weeks of March.
ROBERT SENDEK FROM EL PASO, TX: With a large number of high profile Steelers players expected to hit the free agency market, can you explain how compensatory picks are awarded, and do you foresee the Steelers being awarded several lower round picks for the 2022 draft?
ANSWER: In terms of explaining how compensatory draft picks are awarded, I refer you to a story written by NFL Media Draft Analyst Lance Zierlein that appeared on NFL.com: "Teams are awarded compensatory draft picks between Rounds 3 and 7 based upon a league formula that takes into account the following criteria for players who left the team to sign elsewhere as free agents: average salary per year (APY), snap count, and postseason awards. While there is an expected level of compensation for a player based on the amount he has signed for, his playing time (or lack thereof) in the upcoming season could alter the expectation. To qualify for compensatory picks, teams must end up with more qualifying free agents lost than gained in a particular year.
"The number of compensatory picks allotted each year is limited to the number of teams in the league (32), per the collective bargaining agreement. However, compensatory picks are not divided up equally among the teams, and no team can receive more than four compensatory picks in a single year.
"Keep in mind: Players need to have been signed as unrestricted free agents before April 27 and rank high enough among their peers to qualify for the compensatory-pick formula. They also cannot have been released by their previous team. Only those notable players who are projected to be eligible for the compensatory-pick formula are included among the key additions and losses listed below."
As for a forecast on how many compensatory picks the Steelers might receive in 2022, there are too many undetermined factors in play, and besides my Magic 8-ball doesn't see that far into the future.