Let's get to it:
RYAN SHARRER FROM EXPORT, PA: With the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2021 being announced, it reminds me of a question regarding the selection process. Why is there voting? To me, either you have the stats to be in the Hall of Fame or you don't.
ANSWER: I couldn't disagree with you more, and if things were done your way I can almost guarantee you Lynn Swann would not be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. In 116 career games, Swann caught 336 passes (2.9 receptions per game) for 5,462 yards (16.3 average) and 51 touchdowns. In 16 playoff games, Swann caught another 48 passes (3.0 per game) for 907 yards and nine touchdowns. Those are not Hall of Fame statistics, but it was more about the impact of those statistics and the significance of the games in which they were accumulated that ultimately separated Swann from the pack and convinced the Board of Selectors that he belonged in Canton.
KEITH MILLER FROM WAYNESVILLE, NC: All this talk about being over the salary cap makes it seem as if our GM is doing a bad job. If it were not for the pandemic, how would the Steelers look vs. the cap?
ANSWER: If it were not for the pandemic, the salary cap league-wide would have increased from the 2020 per team total of $198 million, but by how much is a guess. According to overthecap.com, the Steelers are listed as being $30 million over if the cap comes in at $180 million, but if the 2021 cap increased by $15 million (assuming no pandemic, combined with labor peace, extra playoff games, and maybe a 17th regular season game), the Steelers would be in better shape but still couldn't live with a $42 million cap hit from Ben Roethlisberger. There wouldn't be an abundance of money to spend on other team's free agents, but there wouldn't be a need to cut players to get into compliance, either.
RUSSELL CLAYTON FROM NEW ALBANY, MS: With the Steelers being over the cap, would there be any focus on shedding some draft picks for cash value. It seems to me we will be strapped to sign the picks we have coming in this year's draft and even adding additional compensation picks would cost even more.
ANSWER: In fact, the opposite is true. In the salary cap era, draft picks are the most economical way to build a roster, because besides a signing bonus – that is strictly slotted based on where the player is picked – draft choices largely earn the league minimum for the duration of their first four years in the league. This means that with the exception of a team's No. 1 and No. 2 picks, the impact on the salary cap of rookie contracts is not significant at all.
DENNIS SLEEGER FROM YORK, PA: With all the talk about salary cap issues that teams have, do teams need to be so far under the cap to sign their 2021 draft picks?
ANSWER: Teams just need to be a penny under the salary cap at all times. If a team is a penny under the salary cap on the first day of the draft, that's enough to be in compliance and said team only would need to create cap space to sign its draft picks, not to make its draft picks. Since the signing of draft picks often doesn't happen until closer to the start of training camps – usually late July – there is time for a team to create the space needed to make that happen.
KLEMM JARWORSKI FROM BOUNTIFUL, UT: With the retirement of Maurkice Pouncey and the glaring need at left tackle, do you think we should draft both positions?
ANSWER: It would not surprise me at all if the Steelers used multiple draft picks on offensive linemen this April.
GEORG HACKMACK FROM KARLSRUHE, DEUTSCHLAND: I've heard repeatedly that teams have to be cap compliant by the start of the new league year, which is March 17. I conclude that they don't have to be compliant right now. But when does that time period of not having to be compliant start?
ANSWER: Teams must be compliant with the 2021 salary cap at the start of the new league year, which is March 17. Previous to that, they have to be compliant with the 2020 salary cap. There is no period of non-compliance.
BARRY CARPENTER FROM OKEECHOBEE, FL: Do you think the Steelers would consider signing Le'Veon Bell and have him be our starter in 2021?
ANSWER: Ah, no.
RUSS PALLONE FROM TRINIDAD, CO: Do you think that there are any players on the current roster who have trade value? I realize that they would need to be under contract and have a lower paid potential backup with similar skills waiting to fill the spot. Any players come to mind?
ANSWER: There are players on the Steelers roster with trade value, which to me means players another team or teams would want to acquire in exchange for compensation of some kind. But those are the very guys the Steelers would want to keep, and possibly keep beyond the end of their current contracts. The Steelers are not in a situation where they have a surplus anywhere on their depth chart, and so trading a productive player who is under contract would be foolish. And then, trade him for what? For a draft pick that then would have to be used to replace the guy who was just traded? That's just making a move for the sake of making a move. It wouldn't make the roster or the team any better.
DAVID AGOSTA FROM LITTLETON, CO: I know a combination of "best available" and "need" play into early round draft picks. However, does money also play into this? If torn between a skill player and an offensive lineman with decent choices available in later rounds, might teams go the route of the offensive lineman because the first-round salary of the lineman would provide a more gentle cap hit?
ANSWER: It doesn't work that way. With very, very few exceptions, first-round draft picks are paid a signing bonus, the amount of which is determined by where the individual is picked and not by what position he plays, and then the base salaries in the contract pretty much adhere to the league minimums based on years of experience. There could be some minor variations if the player is a quarterback, but largely the amount of a contract signed by a draft choice has much more to do with where the individual is picked as opposed to the position he plays.
JASON LITTRELL FROM PORTLAND, OR: What are the likely chances of bringing in J.J. Watt now that he has been released?
ANSWER: All along, this has been more of a feel-good story than something that would significantly improve the Steelers in 2021 and possibly beyond. I will concede that since J.J. Watt was released and he therefore can be signed by any team without compensation to the Texans, and any interested team is not bound by the terms of his existing contract, it's not an impossibility. Still, the Steelers – given their cap situation – won't be able to offer J.J. Watt much in the way of a contract, and he simply isn't worth a lot of money based on his age (32 on March 22) and the reality of his recent injury history – he has missed 32 regular season games since the end of the 2015 season – and in 2020 when he did start all 16 regular season games, he finished with five sacks, his lowest full-season total of his career. Another factor is this: Even if the Steelers were convinced that adding J.J. Watt would improve the team, it's doubtful they would be able to get their cap in order in time to make him a representative offer when free agency begins on March 17. And it doesn't seem as though Watt is going to find himself without suitors when the free agency madness begins, and there also is the real possibility that one or more of those suitors with enough cap space to interest him also would be able to present themselves as a team on the cusp of winning a Super Bowl. For J.J. Watt to be wearing a Steelers uniform for the 2021 NFL season, I believe he would have to be willing to sign a contract for less money than he could be offered elsewhere and be willing to wait into the free agency process to get it. Now, back to you: How likely is that?
MARK HETZLEIN FROM ENDWELL, NY: Just curious in light of the J.J. Watt news, have there ever been three brothers playing for the same team at the same time in the NFL?
ANSWER: No. That would be a first.
CHARLES DEMUMBRUM FROM HUNTSVILLE, AL: Just wondering if you have braced yourself for all the J.J. Watt questions?
ANSWER: Maybe you haven't been following Asked and Answered, but there were a bunch of J.J. Watt questions while he was still under contract to the Houston Texans.
GERARD DORAN FROM DUBLIN, IRELAND: What would Steelers need to give up in order to sign T.J. Watt, and with talk of a 17th regular season game, how does the NFL decide the opponent for that extra game?
ANSWER: The Steelers won't need to give up anything except a lot of cash to sign T.J. Watt, and the NFL officially has yet to decide whether there will be a 17th regular season game in 2021.
ROBERT KLEIN FROM MIDDLETOWN, NJ: Now that J.J. Watt was released, what are the odds he ends up with his brothers?
ANSWER: Odds? That's a question for Las Vegas. I don't do odds here.
RAYMOND GATTER FROM TOLEDO, OH: What are your thoughts on expanding the draft to 10 rounds, expanding total roster limit to 100 even. Change the 53-man roster to an even 60.
ANSWER: My thoughts on this do not matter, because those are collectively bargained issues. Some of your suggestions would be opposed by the players – a 10-round draft, for example – and others would be opposed by management – expanding the roster limit, for example. So, forget all of that. It's never going to happen.
TERRENCE CARTER JR. FROM DETROIT, MI: James Harrison came out of retirement back in 2014. Could you see the same happening for Maurkice Pouncey in 2021?
ANSWER: Never say never, but I doubt it. Playing a season of NFL football in the interior of the line of scrimmage demands a lot of work preparing one's body for those demands. Unless Maurkice Pouncey decides to spend a good bit of this offseason working to keep his body in shape for football, I don't believe it could happen.
WILLIAM HEISE FROM SUMTER, SC: As far as I can remember the Steelers have had good luck with centers. How many have been elected to the Hall of Fame?
ANSWER: Two. Mike Webster and Dermontti Dawson.