Asked and Answered

Asked and Answered: Feb. 17

Let's get to it:

With names like Lance Moore and Cam Thomas being mentioned as cap casualties, do you see any big-name cuts coming in the near future?

I think that if Lance Moore and Cam Thomas are released this offseason, it would have more to do with performance than salary cap issues, even though those two elements often are tied together in making such decisions. Moore reportedly has asked for his release, and being that he was a healthy inactive for the Wild Card Game vs. the Ravens, his role come the end of 2014 obviously had evolved into a non-essential one. Moore just never seemed to mesh with Ben Roethlisberger, and a receiver without the quarterback's confidence is doomed. Thomas was a guy the Steelers signed last offseason to bolster what at the time was a thin group along the defensive line, and he never really played up to the team's hopes. As for big names, Ike Taylor took a pay cut last March to come back for one season, and the way it ended I don't foresee him being re-signed. And maybe this is the offseason when Troy Polamalu retires. I'm not predicting his retirement, but after the Ravens game when he was asked whether it was fair to ask whether he had played his last game, Polamalu said, "Yes, it is. Time will tell."

With Heath Miller not getting any younger do you see the Steelers hunting for a tight end in the first three rounds of the draft this year? Or will they just make resigning Matt Spaeth a priority and hope the other tight ends on the roster develop into reliable contributors?

If the Steelers are presented with a situation where it's clear and definitive that the best player on their board is a tight end when their turns come in the first three rounds they would have to consider him simply because it's stupid to pass on a great prospect in any draft. However, I don't believe there is a need at tight end, because even though Heath Miller will be 33 next October, he was extremely durable and quite productive throughout 2014. His age alone is a sign Miller is closer to the end than the beginning, but he's not done yet, and I would argue that any drop-off in his receiving numbers can be attributed to Le'Veon Bell's abilities in that phase of the offense. I would try to re-sign Matt Spaeth, because he's a big part of the running attack, and maybe Rob Blanchflower, who spent a season on the practice squad, can serve as the No. 3. There are more pressing matters to address over the first three rounds than tight end.

Is there anything in recent Steelers history that would make the team gun shy about drafting a cornerback in the first round? Rod Woodson leaving for more money? Chad Scott not panning out? Something about second-round picks Ricardo Colclough or Scott Shields or Bryant McFadden? It seems like cornerback has been a need for a long time, yet the team hasn't spent a first or second-round pick on one since McFadden in 2006. Certainly the team needs a future starting cornerback this year, so is there an unknown factor standing in the way of that happening?

Rod Woodson in fact didn't leave for more money in 1997, because he signed with the 49ers for less than the Steelers were offering. And Scott Shields was a safety. But back to your premise: You ask if there is some hidden reason why the Steelers don't pick cornerbacks early in a draft, but the real issue is that the cornerbacks they've been drafting haven't panned out. Besides Colclough, who was a bust, and McFadden, who was OK but only for a short span, the 2011 drafted included using a third-round pick on Curtis Brown and a No. 4 on Cortez Allen. Shaquille Richardson, Terry Hawthorne, and Crezdon Butler all were fifth-round picks in the five drafts from 2010-14. The jury is still out on Allen, but the Steelers have been picking cornerbacks consistently, and remember, Richard Sherman was a No. 5 and Byron Maxwell was a No. 6, so it doesn't have to be a first-round pick that brings a difference-making cornerback. And I agree that this draft must produce a cornerback good enough to become a starter.

I've been a Steelers fan since I was born in Aliquippa Hospital. I have always wondered about the great Steelers players of the 1970s and their salaries. I know they weren't paid like today's players.

Indeed, they were not, but the Steelers did have the NFL's highest payroll by the end of the decade. In general, those Hall of Fame players earned salaries in the six-figures, but the very low six-figures, and that was by the end of the decade. That's why those early Super Bowls were so significant to those guys because it meant extra money. Terry Bradshaw, as the quarterback, came to have the biggest contract, and if he was over $300,000, then he wasn't much over $300,000.

Take a look at some of the best photos from the career of Steelers linebacker James Harrison.

Why do you think the 2008 Steelers defense doesn't earn as much recognition as other all-time great defenses? It has better statistics than many all-time great defenses, and I believe it was much better than Seattle's defense from the last two years.

I agree that the 2008 Steelers defense was a historically great one, and the schedule it faced was formidable in terms of opposing quarterbacks. Donovan McNabb, Eli Manning, Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers, Tony Romo all were on the schedule, and the Steelers also made Joe Flacco look like a rookie three times that season. Those Steelers had 51 sacks, 29 takeaways, and allowed only 12 touchdown passes combined by all of those quarterbacks. That defense held the opponent to under 300 yards of offense in each of the first 14 games of the season. The defense ranked first or second in the league in all of these categories: total yards per game, total yards passing, rushing yards per game, rushing average, passing yards per game, passing average, sacks, third-down efficiency, and points allowed. I believe two things prevent the 2008 Steelers defense from getting the credit it deserves: when Steelers defenses are considered, it's the one from the 1970s recognized as an all-time great group; and the perception of the way Super Bowl XLIII unfolded. In that game, Kurt Warner completed 31-of-43 (72.1 percent) for 377 yards, three touchdowns, one interception, and a rating of 112.3. Warner was accurate throughout that game, he got rid of the ball quickly, and spread the ball among eight receivers. But I believe Super Bowl XLIII is what cements the 2008 Steelers defense as an all-time great single-season unit, because it found a way to author a big play of its own – James Harrison's 100-yard interception return for a touchdown – to put the team in position where Ben Roethlisberger's touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes won the trophy.

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