Let’s get to it:
BRENDON JONES FROM HARRISBURG, AR: If you could bring back one player from the Steelers’ past to play for the team today, who would it be?
ANSWER: Joe Greene. Not. Even. Close. As a player. As a leader. As an example. As a player who was feared by the opposition. As an individual who was the personification of Chuck Noll’s motto: Whatever It Takes. And I offer the following situation where Greene stepped up for the team, impacted a game, and possibly changed the course of franchise history, and it’s a situation that could be unknown even to many who consider themselves die-hard Steelers fans:
It was December 1972, and the 9-3 Steelers were on their way to Houston for a game against the 1-11 Houston Oilers. Sounds like a simple afternoon, but here are some other circumstances:
Defensive end L.C. Greenwood and guard Sam Davis were out. Offensive tackle Jon Kolb and guard Gerry Mullins had the flu, and while Kolb played, Mullins only made it into the third quarter. Guard Bruce Van Dyke pulled a calf muscle in the first quarter and was done for the day; Center Jim Clack injured an ankle and was done for the day. All six of those aforementioned players were starters. Craig Hanneman, Greenwood’s backup at defensive tackle, aggravated a knee injury and was done for the day; defensive end Dwight White injured a knee; defensive tackle Steve Furness injured an ankle. Wide receiver Ron Shanklin was injured in the first quarter and was done for the day; quarterback Terry Bradshaw dislocated a finger in the second quarter and was done for the day; and tight end Larry Brown, who would grow into an offensive tackle, was that day playing flanker.
The Steelers needed a hero, and Joe Greene stepped up. He had five sacks and blocked a short field goal attempt by the Oilers; he recovered one fumble and forced another, and those takeaways led to two Roy Gerela field goals. The Steelers won, 9-3, and Greene was responsible for nine of the 12 total points himself – six the Steelers scored and the three the Oilers did not.
If the Steelers had lost that game to the Oilers – and in every previous year of their existence, the Steelers always lost those kinds of games, because in December 1972 the team had yet to win the first division title in franchise history – they would have finished the season at 10-4, tied with Cleveland for the best record in the AFC Central Division. But based on a better division record, the Browns would have finished first and the Steelers second in the division, which then would have sent Oakland to Cleveland, and Pittsburgh to Miami for the first round of the 1972 AFC Playoffs. The Steelers would have gone to Miami to play the undefeated Dolphins, which means there would have been no Immaculate Reception. Then who knows what would have happened in the ensuing seasons?
CHRIS WILLIAMS FROM CASPER, WY: I know Joe Greene spent many years as an assistant coach in the NFL. Did he ever have any head coaching aspirations?
ANSWER: In the book titled, “Dan Rooney: My 75 Years with the Pittsburgh Steelers and the NFL,” Dan Rooney wrote this about the aftermath of Chuck Noll’s retirement in 1991: “One thing I’ve learned over the years is when you hire a head coach you have to have a process. It’s not something to be rushed. We came up with a list of potential candidates. High on the list was Joe Greene, who we had hired as a defensive line coach in 1987 … He was a terrific coach, and I felt strongly we should give him a genuine shot at the top job.”
As it turned out, Greene would end up being one of four finalists for the job in 1992, along with Bill Cowher, Dave Wannstedt, and Kevin Gilbride.
TIM DOWNEY FROM DERRY, PA: If Steelers put the transition tag on Le’Veon Bell and then match the offer he receives from another team, does he have to sign with the Steelers in order to play in 2019?
ANSWER: In the situation you describe, and I will reiterate it here as part of the answer: If the Steelers place the transition tag on Le’Veon Bell, and then he goes and gets an offer from another team, signs that offer sheet and presents it to the Steelers, and then if the Steelers match that offer, then Bell would be considered by the rules of the Collective Bargaining Agreement to have been signed by the Steelers. Bell would be paid whatever the terms dictated by the offer sheet he signed, and the Steelers would be bound by the terms of that offer sheet because they chose to match it, and then Bell would be considered immediately as a player with a valid contract who would be required to attend all team activities, such as minicamp, training camp, etc.
CARLOS ARVIZU FROM MEXICO CITY, MEXICO: Which Steelers' players will become unrestricted free agents this year?
ANSWER: The players eligible to become unrestricted free agents once the new league year begins on March 13 are (listed alphabetically): DL Tyson Alualu, RB Le’Veon Bell, S Nat Berhe, P Jordan Berry, OLB Anthony Chickillo, ILB L.J. Fort, G Ramon Foster, WR Darrius Heyward-Bey, WR Justin Hunter, TE Jesse James, NT Dan McCullers, RB Stevan Ridley, and CB Coty Sensabaugh.
TIM SIVERD FROM SOUTH HILL, VA: Do you expect much of a change in 2019 in regards to our tight ends on the roster?
ANSWER: Whether there is any change at the top of the depth chart will depend upon what happens with Jesse James, who can become an unrestricted free agent, during the free agency period. Is he interested in staying? Do the Steelers want him? Can the sides agree on a contract? If James returns – and with Vance McDonald having emerged as the starter – I don’t believe the Steelers would spend a draft pick on this position this year.
SHAWN ELOSHWAY FROM PIQUA, OH: Is attempting a trade with Jacksonville – Jalen Ramsey for Antonio Brown – a plausible idea?
ANSWER: Maybe for Steelers fans, but I don’t believe the Jaguars have any interest in trading Jalen Ramsey.
TIM GAYDOSH FROM MOUNT AIRY, MD: I thought a trade was up to the Steelers. What's this talk about whether or not the Steelers gave Antonio Brown and his agent permission to talk to teams about a trade? Wouldn't the Steelers be the ones doing that work?
ANSWER: Sometimes teams will grant permission to a player and his agent to do some of the legwork involved in finding a trading partner and getting some idea what that potential partner might be willing to offer in a trade. But the team that has the player under contract is in total control of whether the trade gets made, who the trading partner ultimately is, and what compensation is received in return for trading the player. Based on reports that the Steelers have not granted this permission, it’s logical to assume they have decided to do their own work with respect to this matter.