Let's get to it:
DIMITRIOS MANTZIARAS FROM CROFTON, MD:
Can you clarify the way the "All-Pro" designation works? I read that 40-plus players declined to go to the Pro Bowl either due to injury or because they just didn't want to go. Do they still get called an "All-Pro" or "All-Star" if they decline to go to the game? Similarly does the alternate who actually attended the game get the "All-Pro" designation instead? Seems to me if they lose this designation by not attending the game, could it hurt their chances of getting into the Hall of Fame some day?
In some publications/media outlets, it's acceptable to identify everyone who is voted to a Pro Bowl or plays in a Pro Bowl as an "All-Pro." I disagree with that policy vehemently. There are some outlets that choose an All-Pro team, such as the Associated Press, and there are only 12 players selected on offense – 1 quarterback, 2 running backs, 1 fullback, 1 tight end, 2 wide receivers, 2 tackles, 2 guards, and 1 center – which gives the Associated Press All-Pro designation some teeth. So when I refer to Antonio Brown as a first-team All-Pro wide receiver, that means he was one of two players selected from the entire NFL at the position; when Maurkice Pouncey was voted first-team All-Pro, it meant he was the ONLY center in the NFL so recognized. To me, there is a very significant difference between being one of over 100 players voted to the Pro Bowl or named as replacements, and that shouldn't be confused with the 28 – 12 on offense, 13 on defense, 3 special teams – who are recognized as All-Pros.**
RUSSELL WALKER FROM BALTIMORE, MD:
Do you think we'll re-sign Anthony Chickillo? I really liked his play in the little time he was in the game. What do you think the chances of him staying with the Steelers are after we just extended Stephon Tuitt's contract?
In this situation, which of the sides – the Steelers or Brandon Boykin – is more interested in maintaining the status quo? I don't know the answer, either, but the Steelers had drafted Senquez Golson to be their slot cornerback, and during his seasons in Philadelphia Boykin had a stated desire to be a starting cornerback. Boykin coming back or not isn't really related to the re-signing of Ross Cockrell, because Boykin plays inside and Cockrell is an outside cornerback who didn't command much more than the NFL minimum as an exclusive rights free agent. I don't believe the Steelers and Boykin want to go through another season together as much as you would like to see it happen.
JOHN BURGETT FROM OGDEN, UT:
I like the idea of kicking extra points from the 23-yard line, which makes it a 33-yard attempt. Should they be even longer attempts, or do you believe things are OK as they are?
What I believe is this: if the attempt for one point was any longer than 33 yards, I would want my coach to go for two at least 75 percent of the time.
ROGER HALECKY FROM LOS ANGELES, CA:
We know that the Steelers plan to keep their assistant coaches for 2016, but how do coaches' contracts work? Is there a salary cap? Are there signing bonuses or extra incentives that aren't talked about? Can the Rooneys pay as much as they'd like for a coach?
There is no salary cap for coaches' contracts – and that includes the head coach. Coaches' contracts typically are guaranteed, which means if a coach gets fired with time remaining on his contract he gets paid until the contract expires, with a possible exception coming if a fired coach with years left on a contract with one NFL team gets a job with another NFL team. In that case, the coach's former NFL team would be required only to make up whatever difference in salary between what the coach was making before getting fired and what he's making after getting fired. Also, there can be incentives included in coaches' contracts.
JIM ZAWATSKI FROM PITTSBURGH, PA:
Most offseasons loosely follow a plan of restructuring contracts to shed salary, resigning in-house free agents, adding lower profile/cost outside free agents, and building the core of the team through the draft. Does an offseason of re-signing Steve McLendon, Will Gay, and either Kelvin Beachum or Ramon Foster, plus adding a fourth rotational defensive lineman (call it a Cam Thomas do-over), plus adding a productive rotational outside linebacker to be William Gay's replacement during free agency so that the team would be set up to infuse young talent in the secondary and at tight end through the draft seem like a reasonable expectation?
All that as a reasonable expectation? No. Absolutely not. That's barely possible, let alone reasonable. You're talking about re-signing three, maybe four starters, identifying a productive defensive lineman and outside linebacker in free agency and then being able to come to contract agreements with both of them in addition to re-signing those starters, and then getting lucky enough to draft defensive backs and a tight end who are going to develop into starting-caliber players, and you want to call all of that a reasonable expectation? Glad I don't work for you. Because even if you found all of those guys, even if all of those guys actually exist, negotiating contracts with the free agents where they are satisfied financially and it all works under the Steelers' salary cap, and then being able to be lucky enough for the draft to unfold in a way where it allows for the selection of more than one cornerback or safety plus a tight end cannot be called a reasonable expectation. I put the odds at all of that happening as somewhere close to the odds of hitting that recent $1.5 billion Powerball.
JACK G. FOSTER FROM HELENA, MT:
You make me laugh at replies to some of the craziest questions. I've been looking for articles about how Antonio Brown's concussion protocol has been going. I either missed it or it hasn't been reported?
During his typical round of end-of-season sessions with the media, which took place on Thursday, Jan. 28, Steelers President Art Rooney II said Antonio Brown had been cleared through the concussion protocol and that he is expected to be fine.
Steelers G David DeCastro played in his first Pro Bowl in Hawaii.
WAKI OOKINDA from CARSON CITY, NV:
I have a question/bet that I hope someone with your expertise can answer: Ben Roethlisberger drops back to pass in the red zone and throws the ball to Antonio Brown. The ball hits the crossbar and bounces backward toward the goal line, where Brown catches it in the end zone. Is it a touchdown or an incomplete pass?
Incomplete pass. As soon as the ball hit any part of the goalpost, it was dead.
JOHN CLOWES FROM BOSTON, MA:
Considering Le'Veon Bell ended the past two seasons on injured reserve, do you think the Steelers will attempt to sign him at a reasonable price or draft a running back?
Here is what Art Rooney II said about that: "Again, we still feel like he's going to be a great player and hopefully the injury will be something he recovers from completely. And in terms of his future, we hope his future is here. Whether we address the contract situation now or later, it's still something we have to evaluate … I don't think we're sitting here waiting to see something from Le'Veon. I think we've seen enough. So, it really is going to come down to kind of how his contract situation fits in with all the others. I always say it's kind of a jigsaw puzzle you have to put together every year. And so how will these pieces fit together this year vs. next? Unfortunately, you have to make choices. You can't always get everybody done at once, and so that's the process we'll go through over the next couple months."