Let's get to it:
MARK DIXON FROM LEWISBERRY, PA: Over the last 20 years, who are the Steelers' top five first-round picks in your opinion, and why?
ANSWER: From 2000-20, here is a list of the Steelers' No. 1 picks in chronological order: Plaxico Burress, Casey Hampton, Kendall Simmons, Troy Polamalu, Ben Roethlisberger, Heath Miller, Santonio Holmes, Lawrence Timmons, Rashard Mendenhall, Ziggy Hood, Maurkice Pouncey, Cam Heyward, David DeCastro, Jarvis Jones, Ryan Shazier, Bud Dupree, Artie Burns, T.J. Watt, Terrell Edmunds, Devin Bush, and in 2020 the pick was used in the 2019 trade for Minkah Fitzpatrick.
In my opinion, the five best from that group, also in chronological order, are Polamalu, Roethlisberger, Pouncey, Heyward, and Watt.
Forced to rank those five, I would go with Roethlisberger first because he has won two Super Bowls. There are only 12 quarterbacks in NFL history with multiple Super Bowl wins, and only four of them with more than Roethlisberger's two. Also, quarterback is the most important position on a football team.
Next is Polamalu, because he has been elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The next three can be ranked in different orders based on personal preference, and all three of them have been voted first-team All-Pro twice. Today, I would rank them: Heyward, Watt, Pouncey, but five years from now, Watt could be No. 3 because he is the youngest of the three and would seem to have more first-team All-Pro recognition in his future, followed by Heyward and Pouncey. But as of right now, I put Heyward third because there are only two interior defensive linemen in Steelers history to be voted first-team All-Pro more than once: Heyward and Joe Greene. Any Steelers player who can share a category with Greene gets the benefit of the doubt from me.
RODOLFO RAMIREZ FROM GUADALAJARA, MÉXICO: Do you think Alex Highsmith has similarities in his game with Chad Brown?
ANSWER: It would be good for the Steelers if he did. In 64 career games with the Steelers, Chad Brown had 31 sacks. That's almost one sack every other game.
ANDRE BUNCH FROM POWELLSVILLE, NC: What happens to Bill Cowher, Troy Polamalu, and Donnie Shell getting inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame?
ANSWER: Bill Cowher, Troy Polamalu, and Donnie Shell were elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2020, but that ceremony was postponed by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Hall of Fame has announced that the Class of 2020 will be honored in Canton on Aug. 5-8, 2021, and the Class of 2021 will be honored in Canton on Aug. 6-9, 2021.
CHRISTIAN BARAJAS FROM LUCERNE VALLEY, CA: If Ben Roethlisberger decided to come back at the veteran minimum for his contract, is that possible? And how much money would that leave us to spend on other players?
ANSWER: It's not a violation of the salary cap rules, if that's what you're asking, but I really don't see Ben Roethlisberger agreeing to return for the 2021 season to play for the veteran minimum, which is $1.08 million, and I don't believe the Steelers would ask for that to happen either. Roethlisberger's original contract extension, which expires at the end of the 2021 season, called for him to earn $4 million in base salary plus another $15 million in a roster bonus to be paid on the third day of the 2021 league year. The reason his cap number for 2021 is $41.25 million is the result of the restructuring done to his original contract extension by the Steelers to create more cap room for the team to have some maneuverability in previous offseasons to sign free agents – their own and unrestricted free agents from other teams. To be clear, Roethlisberger didn't forfeit any money by agreeing to those restructures, but it's also not accurate to portray him as a player who is going to earn $41.25 million in 2021. This is going to have to be a negotiation, and I don't expect it to be one that happens quickly and/or easily. There is a number the Steelers can live with, and there is a number Roethlisberger can live with. Time will tell if their numbers are in the same neighborhood. And let's say an accommodation is reached, but that doesn't mean the Steelers are going to have money to spend in free agency because of it. Overthecap.com projects the Steelers to be over the 2021 salary camp by some $30 million, and I doubt Roethlisberger's restructure will eat that whole deficit and give them money to spend. The best thing for Steelers fans to start realizing now: there will be no money to spend during free agency.
JIM CARNES FROM ATWOOD LAKE, OH: Do the Steelers have the cap space to pick up a quality running back in free agency?
BOB SUTTON FROM CRESSON, PA: I'm not dumb enough to question the elite status and talent of Aaron Donald, and I'm trying not to think as a Steelers fan first. But I was genuinely surprised that T.J. Watt did not win Defensive Player of the Year. What do you think the deciding factor was in Donald's favor for this year's DPOY award, given that Watt was statistically superior in sacks, quarterback hits, tackles for loss, and passes defensed?
ANSWER: With this and all other awards that are bestowed based on votes, it is by definition a popularity contest. Any time a group of people vote for a particular outcome, or vote for one individual over another, the outcome is decided because one person or one outcome is more popular with the voters than the other individual or the other outcome. Too often, I believe, people look for a definitive conclusion from an election that goes beyond the only conclusion that an election can provide, which is the people voting preferred one person or one side of an issue more than the other person or other side of an issue. The vote for Defensive Player of the Year doesn't mean Aaron Donald is a better player than T.J. Watt, or had a better, more productive season than Watt. It just means that the voters preferred Donald over Watt. Why? That's a question only the voters can answer.
JASON PRASTER FROM SAN ANTONIO, TX: With all the talk about the possibility of Maurkice Pouncey retiring, when is he required to inform the team of his decision? Before or after the draft? Don't you think his decision would be key in who the Steelers draft to add young depth to their aging offensive line?
ANSWER: There is no deadline for an NFL player to announce his retirement. And I also believe that regardless of Maurkice Pouncey's decision on retirement, the Steelers will be looking to reinforce their offensive line with some young, upcoming talent at all positions, center included.
BOB JACKSON FROM DOHA, QATAR: You mentioned recently the cap hit that the Steelers would receive if Maurkice Pouncey retired. Would the Steelers receive any relief on the hit were he to postpone his retirement announcement until after June 1?
ANSWER: Teams must be compliant with the 2021 salary cap on the first day of the new league year, which is set for March 17, 2021. Having a player delay a retirement announcement until after June 1 would not help them be compliant on March 17.
ROGER PETERSEN FROM LONDON, UK: Can you please tell me why the Super Bowl has never been held in Pittsburgh?
ANSWER: There are many reasons why a Super Bowl never has been played in Pittsburgh. We can start with the weather, which is also why so few cities in the northern half of the United States have been awarded Super Bowls. The economic impact to a city of having a Super Bowl is tied directly to fans' interest in spending up to a week at the site, and people with the money to get away for that amount of time in late January and early February typically aren't interested in having to wear boots and winter coats while doing it. Also, the seating capacity of Heinz Field is something of an issue, even though I believe that if that were the only obstacle to bringing a Super Bowl to Pittsburgh, Steelers President Art Rooney II would take the initiative and address the issue to the NFL's satisfaction. Another issue is whether Pittsburgh has sufficient hotel space in the immediate area to accommodate the media, the fans, the corporate sponsors, the participating teams, and the NFL personnel that inhabit the site of each Super Bowl for the better part of a fortnight. I believe you may be looking at the Super Bowl as a sporting event and wondering why it never has been staged in one of America's great football cities. But in truth, the Super Bowl is no more a mere sporting event than the Olympics, and it's in a lot of those other areas where the city of Pittsburgh comes up short.
MIKE DREES FROM MANTUA, NJ: Nearly every game, my son notices a play where the opposing offense seems to get the snap off late with no delay of game call. Are those reviewable?
ANSWER: The only penalty currently reviewable is for too many men on the field. And NFL Senior Vice President Michael Signora explained the officiating dynamics of delay of game as follows: "The back judge is responsible for keeping track of the play clock. Officiating mechanics dictate that once the back judge sees the play clock expire, he then looks immediately to the ball. If it is being snapped, then there is no foul for delay of game." So even with delay of game, whether it's flagged as a penalty or not comes down to the judgment of the back judge as to whether when the play clock hits zero and he looks up, is the ball in the process of being snapped.
KEN COFFEY FROM HOT SPRINGS, AR: With the Steelers being so much over the salary cap who do you think will be a salary cap casualty? Are the Steelers still carrying Ryan Shazier's salary as it pertains to their cap situation?
ANSWER: Ryan Shazier is on the reserve/retired list, and so since he's not currently being paid by the team, he has no impact on the salary cap. As to which players might become cap casualties, there are a number of guys who are candidates and it's really going to come down to how Coach Mike Tomlin and General Manager Kevin Colbert see the immediate future of the roster. And I also don't believe most of their decisions will be made in a vacuum, because players at positions where there is some decent, lower-cost depth already on the roster figure to be more likely to become a cap casualty. But this is an offseason where there will be some significant names on the cap casualty list.
KLINT SIMMEL FROM HOLT, MI: How does a bonus in a player's contract for winning the Super Bowl count vs. the salary cap? Does it go onto the 2021 season?
ANSWER: It depends on how long the player's contract is. For example, if in September 2020, a player signed a one-year contract that included a $1 million bonus if the team won the Super Bowl, that bonus would count toward that team's cap as soon as the Super Bowl was over. If the contract was a multi-year deal, and the $1 million bonus was written into each of the years on the contract, then the money would count on the cap as soon as the Super Bowl was won, and then it also would count on each succeeding year of that contract because after winning the Super Bowl once and collecting the bonus, the bonus for the subsequent years would be considered "likely to be earned" and would count on each's year's cap as a result. So say it's a three-year deal signed in September 2020 with a $1 million bonus each year if the team wins the Super Bowl. After the Super Bowl is won in the first year of the deal, the $1 million counts on the 2020 cap immediately, and then it also will count on the 2021 salary cap and the 2022 salary cap. If the bonus is not earned in 2021 and/or 2022, then the team is "refunded" the money on its cap for each season the team doesn't win the Super Bowl.