Let's get to it:
EDWARD KING FROM MUSKOGEE, OK: I have read reports that state Javon Hargrave is one of the players who could be allowed to enter the free agency market due to a lack of cap space. A suggested replacement was Tyson Alualu. If Stephon Tuitt stays healthy, it could work, but I feel it is an area that needs to be addressed somehow. Hypothetically in what ways could we fill the potential need at this position?
ANSWER: Not that Javon Hargrave is easily replaced, but the reality is that in the Steelers defense, a nose tackle plays about one-third of the snaps per game because of all of the sub-package football. Hargrave's snap-count increased when Stephon Tuitt tore a pectoral, but Cam Heyward returned from a torn pectoral and put together a couple of his best seasons as a pro, and there aren't expected to be any long-term negative effects of Tuitt's injury. There always is free agency for the Steelers to explore, but it's a guess at this point if they could find anyone good enough and cheap enough to replace Hargrave. I would expect the Steelers to add a defensive lineman during the three days of the draft, but based on what round that's likely to happen I don't know whether a rookie should be counted upon to play significant meaningful snaps in 2020. The most likely scenario in my mind is trying to fill from within. You mentioned Tyson Alualu, and a player who intrigues me is second-year pro Isaiah Buggs, a sixth-round pick in 2019. Buggs will have to add some strength to survive on an NFL defensive line, but I see a group including Heyward, Tuitt, Alualu, and an up-and-coming Buggs as a nice nucleus for defensive line coach Karl Dunbar to take into training camp.
RAYMOND CHASON FROM CONNEAUTVILLE, PA: When we signed wide receiver Deon Cain from the Indianapolis practice squad, was it for a one-year or two-plus-year contract?
ANSWER: Deon Cain is under contract to the Steelers for the 2020 season at a salary/cap charge of $585,000. In 2021, he will be an exclusive rights free agent, which means he still would be under the Steelers control.
KEVIN RICE FROM EUGENE, OR: I have read some articles about Rams running back Todd Gurley not being utilized correctly within the Rams offense and him not being happy with the team. Do you see any trade possibilities with the Rams around the draft to improve the Steelers running game?
ANSWER: I cannot imagine any realistic scenario in which the Rams would trade Todd Gurley for less than a first-round draft pick. The Steelers don't have a first-round draft pick in 2020, and I cannot imagine a realistic scenario in which the Steelers would trade a first-round pick from farther in the future. Also, in a trade the team acquiring the player assumes that player's contract. Gurley is due $9.2 million in salary and bonuses in 2020; $8.42 million in salary and bonuses in 2021; $9.2 million in salary and bonuses in 2022; and $7.45 million in salary in 2023. The cost, in both dollars and draft capital, is too prohibitive for a running back with a history of knee issues.
SEAN DELANEY FROM UPTON, MA: You seem eager for the team to sign Bud Dupree, even knowing the high salary he'll likely command. Dupree was great in 2019, but a player who has delivered one strong season out of five makes him a high risk investment. I'd love to have him back too, but doesn't his track record make it unwise to pay him top dollar?
ANSWER: First, I'm eager for the Steelers to retain Bud Dupree, and that could come either with a long-term contract, which would be easier on the salary cap in 2020, or via the franchise tag, which would be tantamount to a one-year deal at a high salary cap charge in 2020. Dupree just celebrated his 27th birthday, and he has flourished since being moved from the left side to the right side of the defense. You're assuming that Dupree somehow was not putting forth maximum effort during the first four years of his NFL career and only did so in 2019 in order to cash out in free agency. My view is that Dupree had to adjust from being a de facto defensive end at the University of Kentucky to the way the Steelers play their 3-4 outside linebackers, and he also had to deal with some injuries that further slowed his development. What are the Steelers' options if they don't retain Dupree? Even if they had a first-round pick and drafted a potential replacement with that selection, they'd be at the same place with their new rookie that they were in with Dupree five years ago. And finally, my eagerness to retain Dupree really is meaningless, especially in light of Steelers President Art Rooney II, General Manager Kevin Colbert, and Coach Mike Tomlin all publicly voicing the opinion that keeping Dupree is a "top priority."
ROBERT ZEWE FROM ERIE, PA: What do you think of the Steelers trading down multiple times to acquire more picks in this year's draft and possibly next year's draft? And what do you think of the Steelers' chances of possibly picking up Curtis Weaver from Boise State or Julian Okwara from Notre Dame in the second round?
ANSWER: Since the Steelers have no first-round pick this year, and if you are correct that edge rushers Curtis Weaver and/or Julian Okwara are candidates for the second round, exactly what do you think the team will be able to trade to acquire more picks "in this year's draft and possibly next year's draft?" Dan Rooney always said that the idea is to try to win the Super Bowl, not to try to win the draft. Making a bunch of trades down to acquire more picks is trying to win the draft.
LEE SAKOLSKY FROM SHERRILLS FORD, NC: Thomas Davis said on NFL Network that he thought Ben Roethlisberger could have played last year but chose not to because of a weak offense. What do you say to that?
ANSWER: One comment and one question. Stop watching NFL Network. Where exactly did Thomas Davis attend medical school?
LOU GORDON FROM HAMILTON, OH: Any chance that the Steelers might look at Tyler Eifert? I realize that he has had injury problems, but he also can be a huge weapon in the passing game when he is out there. Is the risk/reward here worth it?
ANSWER: Tyler Eifert sounds a lot like Vance McDonald, does he not? It would be fair to describe McDonald as a player who "has had injury problems, but he also can be a huge weapon in the passing game when he is out there." As to the risk/reward, I will point out that McDonald has missed nine games over the three seasons he has played for the Steelers, while over the same span Eifert has missed 26 games. Without a medical degree, even an imaginary one like Thomas Davis', my off-the-cuff assessment would be that if the Steelers are going to sign Eifert they might as well stick with McDonald.
JOEY FAIRCLOTH FROM GRAYSVILLE, TN: Since nobody can know for certain if Ben Roethlisberger will return from elbow surgery capable of performing at an acceptable level, if he has to retire under contract before the end of the 2021 season, what would be the financial impact to the franchise?
ANSWER: In 2020, Ben Roethlisberger will count a reported $33.5 million on the salary cap if he is on the roster, and $25 million in dead money if he is not. In 2021, those numbers are $31.5 million if he is on the roster, and $12.5 million in dead money if he is not.
WILLIAM MENTZER FROM COLUMBIA, SC: Why isn't Rocky Bleier in the discussion for the Pro Football Hall of Fame? Haven't seen any discussion or consideration of his credentials.
ANSWER: Rocky Bleier was a key part of four Super Bowl teams in the 1970s, he's a patriot, a good man. But he isn't a Hall of Fame player, and simply perusing his statistics explains why. In 11 NFL seasons, Bleier rushed for 3,865 yards on a 4.2 average, and he scored 23 touchdowns. To put that yardage total in perspective, Bleier averaged 351.4 yards rushing per season. Per season. Yes, he blocked well and enthusiastically for Franco Harris, but Dan Kreider blocked well and enthusiastically for Jerome Bettis, too. Bleier is in the Steelers' Hall of Honor, and he deserves to be there. He deserves to be remembered fondly by Steelers fans for his contributions to their favorite team, and by Americans for his service to their country in a time of war, a Vietnam War that many of his generation ducked with bogus ailments such as bone spurs, as one example. But Bleier doesn't belong in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.