INDIANAPOLIS – Let's get to it:
RICHARD FABER FROM JACKSON, MI: What is the status of Brian Allen? Do you think he has a chance of playing for the Steelers this year? If so, what position is he best suited?
ANSWER: The 2019 NFL Scouting Combine begins tomorrow, and it was here in 2017 that Brian Allen measured 6-foot-3, 215 pounds, ran a 4.48 in the 40-yard dash, a 4.34 in the shuttle, a 6.64 in the three-cone drill, and posted a 34.5-inch vertical jump. Decent enough numbers for a cornerback, even though he hadn't played the position full-time until he already was in college at Utah, and so the Steelers spent a fifth-round pick on him. An intriguing prospect because of his measurables, Allen has yet to break through enough to earn significant playing time for a team still trying to upgrade itself at his position. Because of his height/length, Allen first was seen as an outside cornerback, but even after Artie Burns lost his starting job, Allen couldn't crack the lineup on defense. As a result, maybe he gets tried some at safety this offseason. In fact, he played a total of 98 snaps in the six 2018 regular season games for which he was active, but all of those snaps came on special teams. Allen is signed through the 2019 season, which means this summer – both in Latrobe and during the preseason – will be critical to him, because if he still is unable to get onto the field on defense it's unlikely he would get a second contract from the Steelers.
NATHANIEL KRAMER FROM ORWIGSBURG, PA: Are there any question marks as to Marcus Gilbert? With his continuous injuries and time not on the field is there a thought of moving on from him? Especially with the productiveness of Matt Feiler last year.
ANSWER: When he is healthy, there aren't many right tackles in the NFL who are better than Marcus Gilbert. He is under contract to the Steelers for a reasonable salary in 2019, and it would make no sense to "move on" from him, because all due respect to Matt Feiler, he isn't as good as Gilbert. If Gilbert isn't healthy enough to earn a spot on the roster that's one thing, but I never can understand why fans are so quick to want the team to "move on." It's not as though he is preventing a better player from earning a roster spot, because Feiler will make the team in 2019.
DAVID QUINN FROM COVINGTON, TN: This is probably a dumb question, but I just had to ask: Is their any scenario where the Steelers could trade Antonio Brown, Le'Veon Bell, and their first-round pick to the Raiders for all three of their first-round picks?
ANSWER: A player without a contract cannot be traded, and Le'Veon Bell is without a contract.
TOM VOJTKO FROM SAN DIEGO, CA: After another Twitter tirade a couple of weekends ago, do you think Antonio Brown is taking this scorched earth approach with the hope that the Steelers will just cut him?
ANSWER: I have absolutely no idea what Antonio Brown is thinking or why he has been doing the things he has been doing, but I am confident that the Steelers will not release him. General Manager Kevin Colbert explicitly said that wouldn't happen during a media session on Feb. 20.
DENNIS NEVINSKY FROM ERIE, PA: If the Steelers can't find a trade partner for Antonio Brown by March 17, and decide not to pay his $2.5 million roster bonus, would he be considered an unrestricted free agent? And would the Steelers be entitled to compensation in 2020, when another team signs him?
ANSWER: No. And no. If the Steelers don't want to pay Antonio Brown that roster bonus, they only can accomplish that by him not being on the roster. That would entail releasing Brown, which Kevin Colbert has said isn't going to happen. That aside, players who become free agents because they are released from their current team are not subject to the compensatory draft pick formula once they are signed by another team. So according to the rules of the NFL, Brown, under your scenario, would be categorized as a street free agent – meaning he was cut from his team – and not an unrestricted free agent, which is the category of player covered by the compensatory draft pick formula.
DENNIS LYNN FROM WILLIAMSPORT, PA: In regards to possible compensation for Antonio Brown in a trade, it seems like all the speculation is about what round draft pick would facilitate the trade. My question: Is it realistic that he is traded for an established cornerback?
ANSWER: Highly unlikely, because when teams make a player-for-player trade, the sides usually are exchanging players who are extra pieces on their roster. There is no such thing as an NFL team that has an "extra" established cornerback. Granted, the Steelers aren't trading Antonio Brown because they view him as an "extra" wide receiver, but there also aren't any teams with an established cornerback who has behaved as Brown has recently.
RON GUZIAK FROM ROCKVILLE, MD: Assuming the Steelers want to draft LSU inside linebacker Devin White really badly, can the Steelers offer "a player to be named later" in a potential trade – that being Antonio Brown after June 1 to save some dead cap money, for the pick?
ANSWER: No. NFL trades cannot include cash, or "players to be named later" as is the case in Major League Baseball.
MICHAEL CAMPBELL FROM DANVILLE, PA: Do NFL teams take stock in Mel Kiper's opinion on draft prospects?
ANSWER: I would highly doubt it.
GRANT SPELLERBERG FROM CUTLER BAY, FL: With Antonio Brown presumably out of the line-up will JuJu Smith-Schuster be as productive as he has been?
ANSWER: He better be.
KEN MAULDIN FROM CLYDE, TX: I watched an AAF football game recently, and the level of play was better than I expected. Former Steelers linebacker Terence Garvin has been shining. I'm sure a handful of these players will get another shot in the NFL. Can a player play in both leagues from a contract standpoint?
ANSWER: If a player had an NFL contract, why would he play in the AAF?
ERIK THOMPSON FROM EDMONTON, ALBERTA, CANADA: Have the Steelers issued No. 36 and No. 43 to any players to be worn since Jerome Bettis and Troy Polamalu retired?
ANSWER: They have not.
DICK PHILLIPPI FROM HARRISONBURG, VA: If an outstanding college player is sure to be the first overall pick in the draft, but the team that has that pick and will be sure to draft him isn't a team he wants to play for, can he withhold himself from the draft and sign with the other team as a free agent?
MICHAEL WOLOZYN FROM OIL CITY, PA: Could you please explain what this $21.2 million of "dead money" is in regards to Antonio Brown's contract? If he's traded to another team, aren't they, not the Steelers, obligated to pay whatever salary is remaining on that contract, unless of course the new team negotiates something new with him? And if he is traded, why is there "cap money" that the Steelers will have to apparently absorb as a result?
ANSWER: First of all, my suggestion to you and the hundreds of other fans asking this type of question: instead of trying to understand the whys of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, just accept the rules as they are. That's what I do. In a simple form, "dead money" applies to money Brown already has been paid in bonuses that are designed to reflect his value to the team over the course of the entire contract, such as a signing bonus, roster bonuses, and payments of that type, which are different from salary, which is what the new team would assume in trading for the player. If he does not fulfill the entire contract with the team that signed him to it, there is a financial penalty to that team as a result. I don't know that I've made this any clearer for you, and I apologize if I've just muddled the issue even more. But you can believe that if/when the Steelers trade Brown, they will absorb $21.2 million on their salary cap, and the team acquiring him will be bound to pay him the money dictated by his current contact.
BERNARD ERBY FROM HEMET, CA: Do you think Nick Foles would be a good fit at quarterback?
ANSWER: Please remember to look both ways before crossing the street.
MICHAEL GODLESKI FROM LAKE CITY, FL: Do you think the Steelers may package Mason Rudolph and/or Josh Dobbs in the Antonio Brown trade to get more value for a better kicker and or punter?
ANSWER: The Steelers are not going to throw a young quarterback into a potential trade involving an All-Pro receiver in order to put themselves in position to pick a punter or a placekicker. If you really think that would be a good idea, please apply for a job in the Baltimore Ravens personnel department.