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Asked and Answered

Asked and Answered: Feb. 29

Let's get to it:

WAYNE PHILLIPS FROM SPRING HILL, FL: In the 1970s, did the Steelers cut, trade, or otherwise release any players during the Super Bowl years who went on to have a significant career in football?
ANSWER: The one player I cite as fitting that description is Frank Lewis, a wide receiver who was the team's No. 1 pick (8th overall) in the 1971 NFL Draft from Grambling State. Lewis played eight seasons with the Steelers, and in August 1978 he was traded to Buffalo for tight end Paul Seymour, who failed his physical and was returned to the Bills. But Buffalo kept Lewis, and so the Steelers got nothing in return for trading Lewis. In seven seasons with the Bills, Lewis played in 80 games, with 78 starts, in which he accumulated 269 catches for 4,638 yards (17.2 average) and 24 touchdowns. All of those numbers in 7 seasons with the Bills were better than what Lewis had in those same categories during his eight seasons with the Steelers. Also, Lewis was voted to his only Pro Bowl, in 1981, after the trade. The crowning achievement of Lewis' athletic career came in 2019 when he was inducted into the Black College Football Hall of Fame.

MICHAEL SIMMONS FROM VIRGINIA BEACH, VA: Recently I was listening to The Drive with Dale Lolley and Matt Williamson on Steelers Nation Radio, and they mentioned the Steelers are cap compliant now that the NFL has raised the salary cap to roughly $255 million. With that being said, who are the highest 2024 cap hits for the Steelers, and now that we have the additional cap space do you think we'll target a higher-end free agent center/safety/quarterback?
ANSWER: For the 2024 season, the Steelers players currently on the roster with the highest salary cap numbers are: T.J. Watt at $30.42 million; Cam Heyward at $22.4 million; Minkah Fitzpatrick at $21.36 million; Diontae Johnson at $15.8 million; Alex Highsmith at $13.9 million; Larry Ogunjobi at $13.3 million; Allen Robinson at $11.9 million; James Daniels at $11.2 million; Isaac Seumalo at $10.2 million; and Patrick Peterson at $9.8 million. As far as a shopping spree, let me caution you that there's a difference between being cap compliant and having a lot of money to spend, and also the Steelers don't get into bidding wars for the most popular unrestricted free agents

GARY BERWAGER FROM DILLSBURG, PA: During my 60-plus years of being a sports fan, the teams that I follow have made some very "curious" personnel moves. The Steelers recently made one of the more curious moves that I've seen. Why would they get rid of Mason Cole, a player who has started every game over the last 2 years, played relatively consistently, stayed healthy, and not caused any problems in the locker room?
ANSWER: I don't believe your assessment of Mason Cole's play lines up with what actually was on video. Cole was the weak link on the offensive line throughout the 2023 season. His shotgun snaps were erratic, to be kind, and he wasn't nearly good enough when the opponent put a defensive lineman on his nose. I believe the Steelers came to the conclusion that center was a position where they had to upgrade in 2024 by committing a first-or-second day draft pick, and maybe because Cole was a dependable player and a solid teammate they cut him loose early in the offseason to help him find a landing spot. Also, since Cole was due a roster bonus in early March, it made no sense to keep him around and pay him that bonus once the team decided it needed to upgrade the position.

DAVID BRUBAKER FROM MERRITT ISLAND, FL: With the release of Center Mason Cole, who stands to replace him?
ANSWER: Today is Feb. 29, which means free agency doesn't begin for another two weeks, the NFL Draft is two months away, and training camp doesn't open for about 5 months. Having an answer to that question won't be necessary for a long time.

RICHARD KOVAL FROM BRUCETON MILLS, WV: With the salary cap going up by $30 million, how do the Steelers look? I think they were over the limit.
ANSWER: According to, the Steelers now are $8.9 million under the 2024 salary cap.

KLINT SIMMEL FROM HOLT, MI: Regarding a question in a previous Asked and Answered about Mike Vrabel: Hypothetically, if a fired coach were to sign with another team as a head coach or as an assistant, does he void his previous guaranteed contract or does his previous team and current team both have to pay him?
ANSWER: These kinds of situations are spelled out in the language of that individual's previous contract. To use Mike Vrabel as an example, his contract as the head coach of the Tennessee Titans undoubtedly had language covering how he would be compensated or what compensation he would forfeit if he accepted a job with another NFL team while still under contract to his previous team.

TOM McGETTIGAN FROM OLNEY, MD: Is Oregon quarterback Bo Nix related to former Steelers quarterback Kent Nix?
ANSWER: He is not.

ANDREW CYBAK FROM VIRGINIA BEACH, VA: It's hard to talk about Antonio Brown without bringing up his recent off-the-field issues. Strictly on-the-field, when did he go from being "just a sixth-round pick wide receiver" to being a guy who put the league on notice with his play?
ANSWER: Different people might have different answers for this question, but for me the "turning point" came during the 2010 playoffs when Antonio Brown was a rookie. On Jan. 15 in the AFC Divisional Round, the Steelers hosted the Ravens in a game where their starting wide receivers were veterans Hines Ward and Mike Wallace. The teams were locked in a 24-24 tie, and with 2:07 remaining in the fourth quarter the Steelers faced a third-and-19 from their 38-yard line. Brown beat his man off the line of scrimmage and took off down the right sideline, and Ben Roethlisberger lofted a rainbow in his direction. Brown caught the ball by securing it against his helmet with one hand to complete a 58-yard gain to the Baltimore 4-yard line. Rashard Mendenhall's 2-yard touchdown with 1:33 remaining was the difference in the Steelers' 31-24 victory. The next weekend, the Steelers were hosting the AFC Championship Game vs. the New York Jets. After taking a 24-3 halftime lead, the Steelers saw the Jets come back to 24-19 and faced a third-and-6 from the Jets 40-yard line. With everyone expecting the Steelers to keep the ball on the ground in an attempt to run out the clock, the Steelers instead went for the win. Roethlisberger found Brown open and got him the ball for a 14-yard gain and a first down that allowed the Steelers to end the game in victory formation and advance to Super Bowl XLV.

JOE WERNER FROM WEST HENRIETTA, NY: Steelers lore, and also Myron Cope's book, "Double Yoi" would have us believe that Myron was the reason the Steelers picked Carlton Haselrig in the 12th round of the 1989 NFL Draft. Is that really the way it went down, or did the scouting department already have Haselrig on their radar going into the draft?
ANSWER: Before the 1989 NFL Draft, Director of Football Operations Tom Donahoe had gone to Pitt-Johnstown where Carlton Haselrig attended college and was a six-time NCAA heavyweight wrestling champion and worked him out. Since UPJ didn't field a football team, the workout was conducted in a gymnasium where Haselrig's 40-yard dash was measured with him starting outside the doors leading to the basketball court, running across the court and through doors on the other side. While an interesting story, and well told by Cope, as usual, the Steelers weren't the kind of franchise that would allow the color analyst to cajole them into spending a draft pick on a guy who hadn't played any football since high school.

DON DYKE FROM RED LION, PA: Recently you answered a question regarding Joe Greene 's play in college. You mentioned his college coach was Rod Rust. Am I correct that Rod Rust went on to coach in the NFL as a defensive assistant?
ANSWER: During Joe Greene's time at North Texas State, his head coach was Rod Rust, who subsequently went on to a long career in the NFL. Rust's first job after North Texas State was as the defensive coordinator for the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League from 1973-75. Then Rust broke into the NFL as a linebackers coach for the Philadelphia Eagles in 1976-77. From 1978-89, Rust served as the defensive coordinator for Kansas City, New England, back to Kansas City, and then for the Steelers during the 1989 season. In 1990, Rust was hired by New England to be the Patriots head coach, but after that team went 1-15 he was fired and served as a defensive coordinator with the New York Giants and Atlanta Falcons.

ANDY BALDONADO FROM ANNA, OH: I just wanted to pass along a note of gratitude to the former Steelers players who were in attendance at the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday, Feb. 17. It was the only birthday gift I wanted from my wife, and it was my first visit to Canton. Having the opportunity to listen to some of the stories from the players who were part of the dynastic era of the 1970s Steelers teams was so amazing. It was also great to hear from Franco Harris' wife, Dana Harris. I felt my eyes welling up with tears when she talked about him. To see and hear those players interacting among themselves, you could tell it truly has been a life-long friendship. I hope they are regular readers of this column to let them know they made this 55-year-old guy's year. Thank you Rocky Bleier, Gerry Mullins, Jon Kolb, John Banaszak, and Dana Harris.
ANSWER: I have heard nothing but positive feedback from those who attended the Hall of Fame's tribute to the Steelers franchise that was titled, "A Legacy Forged in Black & Gold." Thanks for sharing.