Asked and Answered

Asked and Answered: Feb. 20

Let's get to it:

MICHAEL FILAK FROM PLANO, TX: One of the writers for The Atlantic wrote that Paxton Lynch won't have a chance to be a viable starting quarterback in the NFL unless he overhauls his work and study habits. Is that the book on Lynch and why he flamed out so quickly? If so, are you seeing anything that shows he is seriously working on overhauling his work and study habits?
ANSWER: If you spend five minutes on the practice field watching Paxton Lynch with the football in his hands, it's not difficult to recognize the physical skills that led to him being a first-round draft pick. Evaluating that is the easy part for a team, but the intangibles can be what sabotages an individual's quest for an NFL career. The quarterback position at the NFL level is as much about the neck-up abilities of the individual as it is about his physical skill-set, and maybe the most glaring example of how the former can overwhelm the latter is Ryan Leaf. In the run-up to the 1998 NFL Draft, some teams saw Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf as being in a dead heat to be the first overall pick, and there actually were some teams that believed Leaf would end up being the better professional quarterback. We all know how that story ended, and so it's not exactly ground-breaking that study habits and putting in the work on your craft is essential in the development of an NFL quarterback. I don't have any specific first-hand evidence about Lynch being lacking in those areas, nor do I have any exposure to the manner in which he has been conducting his business since signing with the Steelers back in September 2019. But I have seen him throw a football, and I admittedly am no scout, but it doesn't really take a Bill Nunn to see that Lynch has everything it takes from the neck down to be an NFL quarterback.

MATTHEW SEIFERT FROM SOMERSET, PA: What do you see as a bigger need as far as tight ends go: blocking or receiving? There are very few Heath Millers in the game, so a team usually has to make a compromise. With Zach Banner possibly returning to the extra lineman role, should Pittsburgh focus on tight ends who are more of a receiving threat then a blocking specialist?
ANSWER: This is my opinion: for a tight end to be a real weapon for an offense, he has to be able to do both. Maybe not be able to do both to the level of a Heath Miller, but he at least has to be competent at both parts of the job. Because if the offense has to use an extra offensive lineman when it wants to run the football because the tight end cannot block, then it might as well use an extra wide receiver when it wants to throw the ball. The thing a talented tight end brings to the table is that a defense doesn't necessarily know what's coming simply as a result of his presence on the field.

JASON PRASTER FROM SAN ANTONIO, TX: In your Steelers-By-Position article on the offensive line that appeared on, you mention the Steelers may use some draft capital to add young depth to their offensive line. Even if they do spend a pick on an offensive lineman, would the Steelers be opposed to adding a free agent who's still in his 20s but has veteran experience?
ANSWER: The issue there is that too many teams are looking for offensive linemen, and one team's backup might be viewed by another team as a starter once the guy hits the open market. That's why I contend that a team needs to draft and/or develop its own offensive linemen, because they're too expensive to buy on the open market. The Steelers wouldn't be opposed to adding an offensive lineman via free agency, but the task becomes whether they can find one who's good enough at a price they can afford.

LESTER FYSHE FROM DALLAS, TX: Before cutting someone for salary cap reasons, would the Steelers first try to trade them? Or give them a chance to take a salary cut? Are the players made aware of the situation well in advance of the cut? If a player has been with the team for several years, wouldn't they deserve the courtesy?
ANSWER: Usually when those types of moves are made, it's because of the combination of salary and performance. If a player is a quality starter at a particular position, say cornerback, and a team is seeking salary cap relief, it's more likely that a different arrangement can be made to create cap space short of cutting the guy. Usually, the teams with competent front offices find ways to keep their good players. And if a player still sees himself as a quality starter, he often will prefer being cut because it then allows him to shop his services to the rest of the teams in the league, with the possibility of bettering himself either with a better contract or with a similar contract with a better team/organization. Like Joe Haden, as an example.

PAUL PATTERSON FROM BADEN, PA: These are the players I think won't be offered contracts, or will be released for cap or other reasons: Artie Burns, L.T. Walton, Dan McCullers, Ramon Foster, Mark Barron, Anthony Chickillo, Vince Williams, Javon Hargrave, Devlin Hodges, Trey Edmonds, Sean Davis, Nick Vannett, Ryan Switzer, and Mike Hilton. Am I on the right track for saving cap space?
ANSWER: For the most part, no, you're not on the right track. Of the players you list, Artie Burns, Sean Davis, Javon Hargrave, Nick Vannett, L.T. Walton, and Mike Hilton are on track to become free agents on March 18 – either unrestricted or restricted – and so cutting ties with them saves the Steelers nothing on their 2020 salary cap. And the way you're doing this, you're gutting certain positions such as interior defensive line (Hargrave and Dan McCullers) and inside linebacker (Mark Barron and Vince Williams). And the final issue with cutting players to save money on the salary cap is that they have to make enough money to give the team a net savings, because their spot will have to be filled with another player who at least will have to earn the NFL minimum salary. That would come into play with players such as Devlin Hodges and Trey Edmunds, because cutting them and then replacing them would net virtually nothing on the cap because the replacements would be earning almost the exact salary while knowing nothing about the Steelers offensive system, as an example.

KEVIN GARNER FROM SALEM, VA: Do you think there is a reasonable chance the Steelers would go after Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota to back up Ben Roethlisberger? Maybe a change of scenery might be good for him.
ANSWER: Not a reasonable chance. Not even an unreasonable chance. No chance. None.

NICK MITCHELL FROM GLEN-LYON, PA: Is there any chance that the team might be in the market for a free agent quarterback, or maybe even try to get Teddy Bridgewater?
ANSWER: No chance. None.

DANIEL LEE FROM CAMAS, WA: Do you think the Steelers should use one of their draft picks on a quarterback? If so, who?

JODY MCMULLEN FROM HASTINGS, PA: If the Steelers release Ramon Foster, would they consider playing B.J. Finny at center and moving Maurkice Pouncey to left guard? Pouncey is more athletic, but he struggled with snaps and it would allow Finny to play between two All-Pros?
ANSWER: That's not going to happen. Maurkice Pouncey is the Steelers center, and I believe you won't see a repeat of the issues you describe once Ben Roethlisberger is back at quarterback.

CARLOS ARVIZU FROM MEXICO CITY, MEXICO: What is the status of wide receivers coach Ray Sherman? Is he going back to retirement? Also, would it be safe to say there won't be any more coaching staff changes now that wide receivers and quarterback coaches have been hired?
ANSWER: There might be something of a transition period where Ray Sherman helps Ike Hilliard get settled into his new job, but his days as a full-time assistant coach have come to an end and the Steelers are grateful for the help he provided in a difficult situation. And with the hiring of Hilliard, I would imagine Coach Mike Tomlin's staff now is set for the 2020 season.

JOHN FARR FROM BOWIE, MD: The Steelers hired Ike Hillard as the wide receivers coach. He was with the Redskins for six years. Have you seen the Redskins record? This move doesn't exactly inspire confidence.
ANSWER: So, you're trying to tell me that an assistant coach, the wide receivers coach in this instance, is the man responsible for what has ailed the Washington Redskins over the past six seasons? It wasn't Daniel Snyder, or Bruce Allen, or Jay Gruden. It was the wide receivers coach. This question doesn't exactly inspire confidence. In fact it reminds me of a now-retired columnist who worked for the now-defunct Pittsburgh Press who ripped the Steelers for the free agent signing of Kimo von Oelhoffen, because he came from the Bengals and the Bengals were a bad team. Blaming a nose tackle for a team's fortunes makes about as much sense as blaming a wide receivers coach for a team's fortunes. In other words, neither makes any sense.