INDIANAPOLIS – Let's get to it:
JOE MINNECI FROM JOHNS CREEK, GA: With the Steelers low on draft picks this year, is there a chance that they use the franchise tag on Bud Dupree and then trade him? I noticed that the Ravens were considering doing this with outside linebacker Matthew Judon.
ANSWER: There have been reports that the Ravens would put the franchise tag on Matthew Judon, who posted 9.5 sacks last season, and then consider a trade for him, but it's impossible to know whether that's their actual strategy or whether floating that notion is simply a tactic in trying to negotiate a long-term contract with him. Anyway, the first thing to remember is that a player who has been tagged cannot be traded until he signs the tender.
If the Steelers tried this with Bud Dupree, what might they get in return? Let's use recent history as a guide. One calendar year ago, the Kansas City Chiefs tagged Dee Ford, and then traded him to the San Francisco 49ers for a second-round pick. The Chiefs then sent a No. 1 pick and a No. 3 pick, plus a future No. 2 pick to Seattle for Frank Clark and a No. 3 pick. Shortly after, the Chiefs then signed Clark to a five-year, $105.5 million contract that included $63.5 million in guaranteed money.
Turning back to the Steelers, I don't believe a team would give up a first-round pick for a player they would control only for one season at a salary cap number estimated to be around $16 million. But for argument's sake, let's say they do get a No. 2 pick in the middle of the round. OK, then who plays right outside linebacker for the Steelers in 2020? Even with a pick gained in this hypothetical Dupree deal, are you confident the Steelers can turn that into an outside linebacker who can replace the guy you just traded? And looking at what the Chiefs paid Clark, the cap savings realized by trading Dupree wouldn't come close to putting the Steelers in a spot to shop for a starting-caliber, double-digit sack outside linebacker in free agency. Nah, keep Dupree to permit the defense to remain intact, because I don't see how there's a realistic way to better the team going through the machinations you propose.
JIM CARNES FROM ATWOOD LAKE, OH: James Conner is a very good back but not a superstar that defenses fear. Do you think our first pick in the draft should be a top running back? There is a very deep wide receiver group coming up this year, and so we could possibly get a great running back and a No. 1 receiver even though we don't have a great draft position. Do you think this is possible and that the team may go in this direction?
ANSWER: I expect the Steelers to look long and hard at the offensive skill players during this offseason, and that would include both the running back and wide receiver positions. Whether that means addressing those positions early in the draft is really a guess at this point, because the information-gathering process isn't even close to being completed. The NFL Combine just began, and there are still Pro Days off into the future along with hours and hours and hours worth of draft meetings mixed in. And while I could get on board easily with draft picks spent on a running back and a wide receiver, I also believe the Steelers need to get something done to inject some young, up-and-coming talent to their offensive line, maybe look for depth at outside linebacker, and possibly fortify themselves at tight end.
JOHN BROWNING FROM WHITEVILLE, NC: With an abundance of offseason movements involving players, coaching changes other than high profile positions are often overlooked. Are there any potential changes to the Steelers' coaching staff on the horizon?
ANSWER: No. The team has hired Matt Canada as the quarterbacks coach and Ike Hilliard as the wide receivers coach. I don't expect anything else to change with Mike Tomlin's staff at this point.
JIM BUCHANAN FROM ANTIOCH, CA: From your answers in previous installments of Asked and Answered, can we assume that the only backup quarterbacks are the three from last year? And why the aversion to going after Marcus Mariota?
ANSWER: To clarify, what I have written consistently is that the five quarterbacks the Steelers take to training camp will be the five currently under contract to the team – Ben Roethlisberger, Mason Rudolph, Devlin Hodges, Paxton Lynch, and J.T. Barrett – and the three quarterbacks on the initial 53-man roster, if they indeed keep three, will come from that group of five. I have no aversion to Marcus Mariota. I am just telling you, and the other fans submitting questions on this topic, what is going to happen. I have been consistent in expressing that the Steelers will not sign a veteran quarterback this offseason, and to this point Steelers President Art Rooney II, General Manager Kevin Colbert, and Coach Mike Tomlin all have said publicly that they are comfortable with Rudolph as the backup in 2020. Can we please be done with this now?
JEFF BEIN FROM OVERLAND PARK, KS: What do you foresee as a rational transition plan for the next Steelers starting quarterback? If the existing backups are not anticipated to have all the elements and skills required for a long term successful role as the starting quarterback, shouldn't the organization be positioning themselves to acquire an experienced successful backup quarterback through free agency as a justifiable expense for continuing future success in the AFC North?
ANSWER: What I find irrational are these continued, continued, continued questions about signing a veteran quarterback during free agency or using one of their few draft picks this April to add a rookie quarterback when the team president, general manager, and head coach all have said publicly they are comfortable with Mason Rudolph as the No. 2 quarterback, and when we already have seen clips on social media of Ben Roethlisberger throwing the football after having been cleared to do so (earlier than anticipated) by the surgeon who operated on his right elbow. Future success in the AFC North? As Jerry Glanville once said, "This is the N-F-L, and that stands for not-for-long." The future is now, and the Steelers are using this offseason to fortify their roster for a run at a Super Bowl championship in 2020. That is the only future with which they are concerning themselves. Exactly how many Steelers fans do you suppose would endorse a gutting of the roster to create salary cap space and a mortgaging of the future to acquire sufficient draft capital to get high enough in the first round to pick a "potential" franchise quarterback? And I'm not ready to say Mason Rudolph has no chance to develop into an NFL starter, because there has been absolutely no indication from the Steelers that they believe he cannot.
MICHAEL KERR FROM LA PORTE, IN: Do you feel as if the Steelers will use a pitch count for Ben Roethlisberger, maybe pull him at times to keep the wear and tear on his right elbow to a minimum?
ANSWER: Coach Mike Tomlin long has believed in doing this, but he does it during the offseason program, in training camp, during the preseason, and by giving Ben Roethlisberger Wednesday practices off during the regular season. But when it comes to games that count, the best that could be done is to develop the kind of running game that can move the ball and help protect leads later in games.
MATTHEW SPAIN FROM LOS ANGELES, CA: My question is about two of my favorite Steelers currently: B.J. Finney and Nick Vannett. To your knowledge, what is the latest news or thinking for retaining both players for the 2020 season? Also, because of perceived cap casualties at both offensive guard and tight end, what would be the odds of either player starting at their respective positions in the coming year?
ANSWER: I believe the Steelers would like to keep both B.J. Finney and Nick Vannett, but both players can become unrestricted free agents on March 18, and I imagine their agents want to explore what might be available for their clients on the open market. Should they both be re-signed, I could certainly see a situation where Finney could start at guard, but Vannett is not a No. 1 tight end on a contending team. He can be a valuable component on a contending team, but he's not accomplished enough as a receiver to be a No. 1 on a contending team.
JAMES MARTIN FROM PROVIDENCE, RI: After Javon Hargrave leaves as an unrestricted free agent, should the Steelers move Cameron Heyward over to nose tackle, since he's already listed at defensive tackle, and then move Tyson Alualu over to Heyward's spot so that the starters for next year would be Alualu, Heyward, and Stephon Tuitt?
ANSWER: The mere notion of moving a two-time first-team All-Pro defensive lineman to a position other than the one he played in earning that first-team All-Pro recognition is the definition of insanity.
JERRY LAURICH FROM PLEASANT HILL, MO: Draft-predictors, such as Mel Kiper and others, are heating up with their lists, and the lists are fun to see. But how close do they come in their choices? Have you seen a post-draft review chart to compare their predictions with what actually happens? When one of them states, "This team should take so and so," do they have more information than the team's coaches and general manager, who would seem to have a much more in-depth view of what their team needs?
ANSWER: In short, those mock drafts rarely come close to what actually happens, and because each prognosticator does so many versions, it becomes analogous to the blind squirrel who finds an acorn – they almost can't help but be correct occasionally. There is no official review of their predictions once the draft Is over, and the answer to your last question is an emphatic "NO!" What you stated at the beginning of your submission is how I would describe mock drafts, which is: for amusement purposes only.
WAYNE SNYDER FROM MIFFLINTOWN, PA: What is the possibility that the Steelers bring Antonio Brown back for the 2020 season?
ANSWER: No chance. N-O-N-E. And if you don't believe me, maybe you'll believe Coach Mike Tomlin. "I'll say this: 'Once a Steeler, always a Steeler,'" said Tomlin. "We had great success over the course of nine-plus years with Antonio. We're always going to be interested in his growth and development as a man and we'll be open to assisting him in that, but we have no current business interest at this time."