Let's get to it:
SEAN DELANEY FROM UPTON, MA: Over the past decade or so, few positions have changed more than inside linebacker. The days of run-thumpers like Levon Kirkland might be long gone, but Mark Robinson got a lot of snaps at the end of the season against teams that feature running quarterbacks. With more teams utilizing quarterbacks in this way (and with Deshaun Watson and Lamar Jackson in our division), do you think the run-and-tackle linebacker could make a comeback of sorts?
ANSWER: I like what I saw from Mark Robinson toward the end of the 2022 regular season, and while he certainly has potential and should provide an interesting storyline once OTAs begin toward the end of May, it's worth remembering he appeared in just four games and played 44 defensive snaps and 16 more on special teams. NFL offenses are far too diverse for defenses to expect to be effective by putting one-dimensional players on the field because the really special dual-threat quarterbacks are able to throw it as well as run it. Defensive linemen have to be able to contribute to the pass rush as well as play the run; inside linebackers cannot be liabilities in coverage; and defensive backs have to be physical enough to get running backs, tight ends, and A.J. Brown-type receivers on the ground as well as being able to run and cover. Inside linebackers have to be able to play close to the line of scrimmage, take on blocks, sift through the trash, and fill a running lane, but they also have to be able to contribute in coverage, because opposing offenses will use formations, personnel groupings, and maybe even motion to isolate them and burn the defense through the air.
KLINT SIMMEL FROM HOLT, MI: Since Franco Harris' No. 32 and Joe Greene's No. 75 have officially been retired, do you believe the Steelers will retire more numbers? If so, who would you think would be next?
ANSWER: Steelers President Art Rooney II has said, and more than once, that the retiring of jersey numbers is something that will happen infrequently, and since Franco Harris' No. 32 happened just last December, I wouldn't expect something along that front to happen again for years, if ever, which tends to make speculating on the next number to be retired pointless at this point.
NICK MOSES FROM SIMI VALLEY, CA: I can't imagine that Devin Bush would be highly sought after in the free agent market given his ho-hum career with the Steelers thus far. Would he be inexpensive for us to retain and if affordable, do you think the Steelers ought to retain him?
ANSWER: You begin with the belief that Devin Bush has had a "ho-hum career" and therefore will provoke little outside interest once free agency begins on March 15. Then you shift gears and seem to make the case that he should be retained at the right price. Make up your mind.
LEWIS DAVIS FROM JACKSON, MI: With the draft and free agency both coming up quick, if you had a guess, how do you see the Diontae Johnson situation working out? What could the Steelers get if he is moved?
ANSWER: How do I see "the Diontae Johnson situation working out?" I see it working out this way: Barring injury, Diontae Johnson will be a starting wide receiver for the Steelers in 2023.
JAMES FIELDS FROM VIRGINIA BEACH, VA: I'm under the impression that we will receive a draft chose when Mason Rudolph signs with another team. If that's true what determines what round and year. Devin Bush was a first-round draft choice, so would we also get a draft choice for him when he leaves?
ANSWER: That's not the way the compensatory draft pick formula works. Teams are awarded compensatory draft picks based on a formula that takes into consideration unrestricted free agents lost vs. unrestricted free agents signed, while also factoring in such issues as size of contracts and playing time for the new or lost players. There is no one-for-one draft pick compensation for unrestricted free agents lost.
DENNIS SLEEGER FROM YORK, PA: I just want to see if I understand this right. The Steelers will sign their draft picks and a bunch of undrafted free agents. They will practice for maybe three months and play in the preseason games. But if they don't make the final roster, they don't make any money for the time they put in. Is that the way it works?
ANSWER: Every rookie who signs an NFL contract – both drafted and undrafted – is paid a signing bonus, with the amounts decreasing based on draft position. Using the Steelers 2022 rookie class as an example, first-round pick Kenny Pickett received a $7.4 million signing bonus, seventh-round pick Mark Robinson received a $112,000 signing bonus, and undrafted rookie Jaylen Warren received a $12,000 signing bonus. Then according to the provisions outlined in the Collective Bargaining Agreement, players receive a per diem for each day they are in training camp, and that sum is $1,700 per day for first-year players and $2,900 per day for returning players. But when it comes to the annual salary outlined in a player's contract, that sum is not paid until the player makes the 53-man roster coming out of the preseason.
BILL NEIL FROM MARSHALL, VA: Recent mock drafts have teams passing on Jordan Addison in the first round and the Steelers taking cornerback Joey Porter Jr. at pick No. 17. If available in the second round, do you think Pittsburgh might draft Addison at pick No. 32 or pick No. 49? Could he fall that far? Is he a better value selection there for Kenny Pickett and the corps of wide receivers?
ANSWER: I really cannot speak to what the league-wide impression of wide receiver Jordan Addison will be come April 27, but the Steelers' depth chart there already contains Diontae Johnson, George Pickens, and Calvin Austin III. There are other areas of the team more in need of what the premium picks of the upcoming draft could provide than the wide receivers. And I would quality the Steelers' "premium picks" this year to be Nos. 17, 32, and 49.
JASON NORTON FROM JOHNSTOWN, PA: Who is responsible for transitioning a quarterback from college to the NFL? I can't help but think how many first-round picks teams have used on quarterbacks who are no longer in the league. I'm guessing that was due to bad development and not bad luck.
ANSWER: The entire franchise is responsible for transitioning a quarterback from college to the NFL, because that overall process involves taking a guy in his early-20s and making him an instant millionaire to be the face of one of 32 franchises in a multi-billion-dollar global enterprise. In other words, it involves a whole lot more than recognizing the differences between Cover-3 and Quarters and knowing where to go with the football vs. either. There has to be an organizational support system in place. There's coaching, consideration in assembling the roster, tailoring the offense to maximize his strengths and minimize his weaknesses, helping him deal with the PR responsibilities of being an NFL starting quarterback, trying to present him to the community in a positive light without infringing on the time he needs to spend on his day job. And there's probably even more that I'm omitting.
STEVE MEDEL FROM TINLEY PARK, IL: What is the future look like for Miles Boykin in Pittsburgh?
ANSWER: Miles Boykin can become an unrestricted free agent on March 15, and he finished with 2 catches for 11 yards in 132 snaps over 16 games on offense, but on special teams he played 207 snaps, was third on the team with 10 special teams tackles, and his general play as a gunner on the punt team was a factor in the Steelers' 5.7-yard average per punt return allowed finishing second to the Chargers' NFL-best 3.1 average. I hope the Steelers find a way to keep him.
OWEN O'CEALLAIGH FROM CORK, IRELAND: I read a book a while back titled "The Emerald Diamond: How the Irish Transformed America's Greatest Pastime." Very tough to put down. Could you recommend a good football book, and can you tell me if there ever was an Irishman who played with the Steelers?
ANSWER: There are many quality books written about the NFL, such as "When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi" by David Maraniss, or about the Steelers, such as "Chuck Noll: His Life's Work" by Michael MacCambridge, or Dan Rooney's memoir, "Dan Rooney: My 75 Years with the Pittsburgh Steelers and the NFL." Speaking of Dan Rooney, he and his father Art Sr. qualify as a couple of Irishmen who made more significant contributions to the Steelers than playing.
GREG SMITH FROM GAINESVILLE, FL: Can you talk a bit about John Clay, the undrafted free agent from Wisconsin? In his 10 touches with the Steelers, he averaged 4.1 yards a carry and scored a touchdown on his first NFL carry. What happened to him after that season?
ANSWER: If there is an overall theme to this story, it's one of bad luck with injuries. During John Clay's redshirt freshman season at Wisconsin in 2008, he rushed for 884 yards with a 5.7 average and scored 9 touchdowns. The following season, he had 277 carries for 1.517 yards, a 5.5 average and 18 touchdowns. In 2010, Clay entered the season as one of the top returning running backs in college football, but after carrying 187 times for 1,012 yards (5.4 average) and 14 touchdowns, he injured his MCL and missed the final three games of the season. Clay made himself available for the 2011 NFL Draft, and after not being selected he signed as an undrafted rookie with the Steelers. Clay was waived during the final cutes prior to the start of the regular season, but he then was signed to the practice squad. Activated for the Dec. 24 game vs. St. Louis, Clay scored on a 10-yard run on his first professional carry. The following summer, groin and quad injuries landed him on injured reserve on Aug. 16. He subsequently received an injury settlement and was released later that month.
GIO CALABRO FROM EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP, NJ: Considering Terrell Edmunds had a very solid season, and his play could be described as "above the line" but garnered no interest in free agency last offseason, do you think he now will be valued highly this offseason and maybe be offered a big contract and a path out of Pittsburgh?
ANSWER: There's no way to know how the free agent market is going to view Terrell Edmunds, and whether that will lead to the kind of big-money offers the Steelers might be disinclined to match. I also view Edmunds' play throughout 2022 as being "above the line" and would like to see him re-signed. But until the offers either come in or don't, it's just a guess.