Asked and Answered

Asked and Answered: Feb. 2

Let's get to it:

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KEITH WARREN FROM CANDLER, NC:
What do you think the chances are that Antonio Brown or Le'Veon Bell are traded this offseason?

ANSWER: Zero, as in none. No chance. Put it out of your head.

FEDERICO JIMENEZ FROM PUERTO VALLARTA, MEXICO:
If there is a touchdown catch and a pass interference flag on the same play, and if the offense declines the penalty but then the touchdown is reviewed and is overturned on replay and ruled incomplete, can the offense go back and accept the penalty?

ANSWER: Yes. Assuming the pass interference penalty occurred in the end zone, the offense would get the ball, first-and-goal, at the 1-yard line.

JEFF TAYLOR FROM CORVALLIS, OR:
As a long time Steeler fan (lived in Pittsburgh in the early 1970s) and having worked in the Oregon State Athletic Department for the last 20 years, I am curious what Markus Wheaton's future with the Steelers looks like going forward. I believe 2017 was the last year of his initial contract.

ANSWER: Yes, Markus Wheaton's rookie contract is set to expire and he can become an unrestricted free agent on March 9. This is an interesting situation, in my view, because Wheaton is a player who had the misfortune of being on injured reserve for the bulk of his contract year, and therefore wasn't able to accumulate any statistics to entice an outside suitor. In his four seasons here so far, Wheaton made 107 receptions, with a respectable 14.1-yard average and eight touchdowns. I like Wheaton as a player and think it would be nice to keep him to be a part of a corps of receivers that wasn't what it needed to be down the stretch in 2016. But what kind of contract would the Steelers be willing to do for him based on his four-year production? And would Wheaton be willing to accept that kind of a deal? Those are questions to which I have no answers, but my preference would be for the sides to work something out.

SCOTT SISAK FROM NEW TRIPOLI, PA:
What is the status of Karlos Williams? Is he eligible to play next season or are there still ramifications from his 10-game suspension? All leading to my final question, after a statistically good showing in Buffalo, (although short) do you see him as a viable backup to Le'Veon Bell?

ANSWER: Karlos Williams signed a futures contract with the Steelers on Jan. 24 for the 2017 season, and he will be able to participate in the upcoming offseason program, and then OTAs and minicamp and training camp at Saint Vincent College. Williams does have one game remaining on his suspension, and so if he makes it all the way through the final roster cut with the Steelers, he would have to miss the first game of the 2017 regular season to complete the suspension. At this stage, I believe it's premature to see Karlos Williams as anything but a guy trying to make the team. If he is in fact a viable backup running back, that will be revealed over time. It's impossible to know that now.

LUKE LYNES FROM DILLSBURG, PA:
With the roster the way it looks, it appears as if there are no outstanding needs. Could this be the year that the Steelers draft a quarterback higher in the draft since most of the other positions on the current roster are filled with more than adequate players?

ANSWER: There are thousands and thousands of Steelers fans out there who disagree vehemently with your assertion that there are no outstanding needs based on the current configuration of the team's roster. I'll allow them to explain the error of your ways to you directly on that, but I'll take a stab at the quarterback issue.

This whole concept of a starting-caliber quarterback falling to the Steelers, who pick No. 30 overall in the first round, isn't real, or at least it hasn't been a reality in the NFL for a while. Too many teams are without a franchise quarterback, and too many teams usually are willing to gamble on one to sell their fans optimism for the future, and that attitude/approach makes it even more unlikely some super talent slips through the cracks. Sure, you can cite Tom Brady as an example, but that's like winning the Powerball. Long, long, long odds. There is still a long time before the draft, and when it comes to the draft teams still are in the information-gathering phase, so there's no way of knowing for sure right now who are the top five players at the position, let alone who the Steelers might like, and who might be available when their turn comes to make a pick.

Roethlisberger will be back. Re-sign Landry Jones. Keep William Gay as a No. 3 with starting NFL experience. Use the draft as a tool in the quest to compete for a spot in Super Bowl LII.

KIM OWENS FROM FREDERICK, MD:
When someone selected to the Pro Bowl opts out for whatever reason, who makes the replacement selection? Do they just go down the line from the original picks, or just arbitrarily pick someone.

ANSWER: It's not a selection, but a vote, and as I continue to answer your question, you'll come to see the significance of the distinction. After all of the Pro Bowl votes are tabulated – every player on every team is eligible to vote, and fans also are able to take part in the process through NFL.com – the league announces the two rosters, one from the AFC and one from the NFC. What often isn't announced are the names of the players who received votes but finished below the original cut-off line for each position on each squad. If/when players originally named to the squads opt out, then replacements are named based on the voting. In other words, next man up, but based on voting.

DEAN MANNING FROM CORBIN, KY:
What is William Gay's contract status for 2017? Many in Steelers nation want to see Harrison back again for what hopefully will be a repeat of 2005 when Jerome Bettis went out with a Lombardi Trophy.

ANSWER: James Harrison can become an unrestricted free agent on March 9. He has indicated an interest in coming back for 2017 and possibly beyond, and when asked about it on Jan. 31, Steelers President Art Rooney II said, "I mean, we're certainly open to it. I haven't had a conversation with James, so I think there's some discussions we need to have with him. Obviously, we need to have a contract. But I think we're definitely open to it. And from what I understand, at least he's open to it."

KEITH PIROLOZZI FROM FROSTBURG, MD:
With the Steelers defense improving in the second half of the season, but still struggling to get off the field on third down, what positions do you feel they will address in the upcoming draft?

ANSWER: The Steelers defense in fact was No. 23 in the NFL in third-down conversion percentage allowed, which certainly fits the word "struggling" that you used. Getting off the field on third downs for a defense requires it to do well against the pass. Based on that, I believe the Steelers need more playmakers on defense – guys who can rush the passer and/or make plays on the ball when it's in the air. As for the specific positions of those kinds of playmakers, I don't really care.

SCOTT SWEENEY FROM HICKORY, PA:
What are your thoughts on Zach Mettenberger as the ultimate replacement for Ben Roethlisberger in a couple of years? Have you seen him work at practices and what is your general impression of him?

ANSWER: I haven't seen Zach Mettenberger at practices because he wasn't claimed off waivers until Aug. 31, and regular season practices are not structured to see what down-in-the-depth-chart guys can do. Especially at quarterback, where the snaps are allotted to the starter, with the few left going to the backup. My thought on Mettenberger as the ultimate replacement for Ben Roethlisberger is that the Steelers need to do better than that.

ALEX GAILEY FROM CRESSON, PA:
How far can Ben Roethlisberger throw a football?

ANSWER: Farther than me.

ALLAN HAMILTON FROM CROSS LANES, WV:
Who is the largest player you have ever met?

ANSWER: He wasn't a football player, but without question the largest human being I've ever met is Shaquille O'Neal. Several years ago, during the dog days of the offseason, O'Neal was in Pittsburgh filming an episode of that reality show he was doing and he stopped by the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. When he stopped at my office to say hello as he was making his rounds through the building, he literally filled the doorway. Horizontally and vertically. Filled the doorway.

SHANE LUCAS FROM BUFFALO, OH:
In my opinion the Steelers should trade for Cardale Jones. He is a little raw but I think he could be a franchise quarterback. His skill set is very similar to Ben Roethlisberger's. A big guy with a strong arm who can scramble. Do you agree or disagree with that, and do you think the team would possibly make such a move?

ANSWER: Getting this from Buffalo, Ohio, I can almost hear the strains of the Ohio State fight song playing in the background. I'm guessing you're a Buckeyes fan. Cardale Jones wasn't even a full-time starter in college, and you see him as the next Ben Roethlisberger?

He got a lot of publicity for his role in Ohio State's national championship run when he filled in for a couple of injured quarterbacks who were above him on the depth chart, but he attempted only 269 passes during his college career, and if Jones was the best player at that position, Urban Meyer would've been playing him instead of Braxton Miller and/or J.T. Barrett. After that national title run, Jones was made the starter for the following season, but he couldn't hold onto the job. I have no interest in making a trade for Jones, and I believe if he had "franchise quarterback" traits, those would've been revealed to some degree by now, surely more than "a big guy with a strong arm who can scramble."


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