Let's get to it:
CRYSTAL JAMES FROM FISHKILL, NY: What is the likelihood of the Steelers having some compensatory picks in the upcoming draft? What rounds are most likely? How does the formula work? For instance, the Steelers lost Artie Burns, a former No. 1 pick to free agency in 2020, and so will that benefit them some way in the draft?
ANSWER: OK, once more on the formula for determining compensatory picks. I refer you to a story written by NFL Media Draft Analyst Lance Zierlein that appeared on NFL.com: "Teams are awarded compensatory draft picks between Rounds 3 and 7 based upon a league formula that takes into account the following criteria for players who left the team to sign elsewhere as free agents: average salary per year (APY), snap count, and postseason awards. While there is an expected level of compensation for a player based on the amount he has signed for, his playing time (or lack thereof) in the upcoming season could alter the expectation. To qualify for compensatory picks, teams must end up with more qualifying free agents lost than gained in a particular year.
"The number of compensatory picks allotted each year is limited to the number of teams in the league (32), per the collective bargaining agreement. However, compensatory picks are not divided up equally among the teams, and no team can receive more than four compensatory picks in a single year.
"Keep in mind: Players need to have been signed as unrestricted free agents before April 27 and rank high enough among their peers to qualify for the compensatory-pick formula. They also cannot have been released by their previous team."
As for the Steelers and compensatory picks in the 2021 NFL Draft, it's believed the team could end up with two – one in the fourth round and one in the sixth round. And even though the Steelers did lose a former No. 1 pick in free agency in Artie Burns, based on the formula used to determine compensatory picks, the guy who will get them their highest pick would be Javon Hargrave, based primarily on the three-year, $39 million contract he signed with the Philadelphia Eagles.
ROBERT CARR FROM CHESAPEAKE, VA: Since 1994, what was our best season running the football? Who was the leading running back, and who was the offensive line coach?
ANSWER: Since the 1994 NFL season, the Steelers have led the NFL in rushing twice – in 1997 and in 2001. And what amuses me about this question, and based on the wording of your question what amuses me about your perception of what goes into a successful running game at the NFL level is that the key components are the running back and the offensive line coach. What about the running backs coach and the offensive linemen?
RONALD WALL FROM SHADY VALLEY, TN: I keep hearing about converting salary into a signing bonus. Does it count against the salary cap? If not is there a limit to how much a team can convert?
ANSWER: Everything counts against the salary cap in some way, but when a team converts salary into a signing bonus, what it does is spread the salary cap hit over the length of the rest of the existing contract. And when salary is converted into a bonus, the player still must be paid the veteran minimum amount based on his years of service as a base salary.
DAMIEN PRESTON FROM PORT ARTHUR, TX: Would you agree if there was a Steelers player who should be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame but will never be elected it's Casey Hampton?
ANSWER: Sorry, but I don't agree. Casey Hampton was a valuable part of some Steelers teams that won a lot of games and a couple of Super Bowls, but he also was a defensive lineman who came off the field in passing situations. A defensive lineman who's removed from the field on passing downs shouldn't be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
LARRY HALL FROM AUSTIN, TX: If it was guaranteed he would re-sign in the 2022 offseason, would you trade our first-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft for Orlando Brown Jr.? He has been a stud in two of his three seasons so far, will turn 25 on May 2, and would slide into the left tackle spot with Alejandro Villanueva presumably leaving in free agency.
ANSWER: I'm not making that trade for a few reasons: First, and maybe most significantly, I'm not going to help the Ravens out of a jam. Orlando Brown has given the Ravens an ultimatum of either moving him to left tackle or trading him, and the Ravens already had signed left tackle Ronnie Stanley to a five-year contract extension worth a reported $98.8 million. According to reports, Stanley's deal has a maximum value of $100 million, and when his 2020 salary was included the total value came to $112.87 million in max value, with $65.57 million in total guarantees. I believe Brown is going to be looking for something similar in 2022, which means even with your hypothetical guarantee keeping him beyond 2021 would be very, very expensive, and the Steelers have re-signing T.J. Watt and Minkah Fitzpatrick to think about. One of the benefits of the draft is that first-round picks are tied to their teams for up to five years at very reasonable salary cap numbers, and by trading for Brown the Steelers would lose four of those five economical years with him. Also, I don't know that I would want to be tied to using the first-round pick on a left tackle, even though I will acknowledge the need for a young talent there. I would rather keep my options open because if Alabama running back Najee Harris is available at No. 24 overall, I would be leaning toward picking him.
GRAHAM ANDERSON FROM PLYMOUTH, UK: Given how Lamar Jackson fell into the Ravens' lap towards the end of Round 1 three years ago, could you see the Steelers taking a quarterback in Round 1 this year if one of the top four or five prospects slides that far?
ANSWER: First, I disagree with your basic premise, that one of the top quarterback prospects is going to fall to the Steelers at the 24th overall pick of the first round. Besides that, my general opinion is that you don't start with the addition of a quarterback when a team is going through a rebuilding/retooling period; a more effective way is to try to put some of the other, more basic pieces in place and then add a quarterback to that. Using these Steelers as an example: what's the point of picking a quarterback and then putting him behind an offensive line that has to be rebuilt and with a running game that might have to be constructed from scratch? A better way to approach it is to make some strides in improving the offensive line and the running game, and then add a quarterback to that. This way, you're not wasting those valuable seasons when the quarterback is on his rookie contract and only eats up a small amount of the salary cap.
ROB JAMES FROM WASHINGTON, D.C.: In the Feb 23 Asked and Answered, you seemed to prioritize re-signing Cam Sutton over Mike Hilton? Why Sutton over Hilton?
ANSWER: Because Cam Sutton can start at outside cornerback, and because even as a nickel cornerback, Sutton is better in coverage than Mike Hilton.
HARRY STURCKEN FROM ROCHESTER, NY: One of my sons asked me to name the greatest Steelers player of the Super Bowl era never to win one. I said Dermontti Dawson. Your opinion?
ANSWER: I do not disagree with your choice, but allow me add another name to the discussion: Greg Lloyd.
TEE DOWNS FROM NEW ROCHELLE, NY: With respect to the running back situation, what do you think the Steelers' plans are for Anthony McFarland? If not McFarland, will the Steelers possibly draft a future starter at the position?
ANSWER: Based on the amount of playing time Anthony McFarland got in 2020 as a rookie, it seemed to indicate the Steelers didn't believe he was ready for a significant role within the offense. Again, it needs to be understood that at the NFL level, the job description of a running back encompasses much more than simply carrying the football, and I would suspect that it was in those other areas – receiving, pass protection – that McFarland was lacking, and maybe that was because of his limited exposure to those kinds of assignments during his college career. I don't believe the Steelers are entering this offseason with the idea they have a feature-back-in-waiting in McFarland, but I also don't believe they have eliminated him from consideration for such a role, either. He is going to have to earn his way, and part of that likely will come in the form of competing with a draft choice.
JOHN PADDOCK FROM INDEPENDENCE, MO: Can you tell me what the general feeling is about Ben Roethlisberger in regards to what he might have left? Being in Kansas City, football for me consists of how Patrick Mahomes throws incompletions better than any other quarterback throws completions, and it's my understanding that he now has proved he can have toe surgery better than any quarterback ever has before.
ANSWER: There are a lot of opinions floating around about Ben Roethlisberger's situation/future, but those are opinions from people who don't matter. All I can offer you is what General Manager Kevin Colbert said last week about that: "Going back on Ben's 2020, he really did do some special things. In the beginning of the year, we talked about watching what he was doing because he was doing some incredible feats as we were building that 11-0 record. A lot of that was him performing at crucial times in games. Down the stretch, he didn't play as good around him. We didn't play as good of defense, obviously we talked about the running game failing us in a time of the year where the running game is critical. Can he still do some special things? Absolutely. Did he do that to his expectations? I think he would be the first to tell you, no. Ben cares about one thing. He cares about winning a Super Bowl. He is no different than us. When it doesn't happen, he is never going to be satisfied."