Let's get to it:
JOHN ROEBUCK FROM ALTOONA, PA: I'm tired of hearing how Ben Roethlisberger likes tall receivers. Can you name anyone over 6-foot who ever led the Steelers in catches and or touchdowns in one year with Roethlisberger at quarterback? My point is a tall receiver never gets used, even in the red zone.
ANSWER: It certainly didn't take too deep a dive into Ben Roethlisberger's career statistics to debunk your point. In Roethlisberger's rookie season of 2004, a 6-foot-5 receiver named Plaxico Burress led the Steelers in receiving touchdowns.
MEMET SRATT FROM NEW YORK, NY: A lot of commentators are saying the Steelers have one of the easiest schedules in the league in 2020. It's true they don't have a division winner's schedule. However, the intra-division games, some difficult road games and having three of the last four games on the road seem to be pretty tough to me. What do you think about their schedule?
ANSWER: The way the NFL determines strength of schedule is by adding the opponents' won-loss records from the previous season and then comparing those totals on a team-by-team basis. Based on that procedure, the Steelers' schedule is the second-easiest in the NFL with a combined opponents' 2019 winning percentage of .457; Baltimore has the easiest schedule with a combined opponents' winning percentage of .438; and New England has the most difficult schedule with a combined opponents' winning percentage of .537. I personally believe that is a ridiculous way of trying to calculate strength of schedule, because NFL teams change so much from one year to the next, but that's the way the NFL does it and therefore that's what is used in such discussions at this time of the year.
NICHOLAS PITNER FROM RUSSELL, PA: I saw in an article that Ben Roethlisberger's record as a starting quarterback with the Steelers over 17 seasons is 144-71-1, and that Mike Tomlin's record as the team's coach over 14 seasons is 133-74-1. How can Tomlin have more losses than Roethlisberger if he has been here three fewer years?
ANSWER: That's because during Mike Tomlin's tenure as the Steelers' coach, Ben Roethlisberger has missed 31 games for various reasons. Those 31 games don't count on his won-loss record, but they certainly count on Tomlin's.
LES POORE FROM LYMAN, PA: Are you confident that the Steelers have a strong enough receiver group for a deep playoff run?
ANSWER: I am confident that with Ben Roethlisberger as the starting quarterback, the receivers the Steelers currently have on their roster are good enough to accomplish any of the goals the team sets for itself in 2020. In the NFL, it's about the quarterback.
MIKE FOSTER FROM EWA BEACH, HI: Assuming the new NFL television contracts get done, when would they factor into the salary cap? Is 2021 too soon? I ask because I am hoping the Steelers can extend the contracts of JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Conner, T.J. Watt, and others more easily with a bump in the salary cap than without one.
ANSWER: There is a lot of assuming with this answer, but since that's all we really have right now … Based on the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, the league can extend the regular season to 17 games starting in 2021. If that happens, and assuming that is also a year that included the expanded playoff format (which it should), teams could see a considerable jump in the salary cap based on a corresponding jump in the television revenue. But possibly working as a counter-balance to that is if COVID-19 influences fans to stay away from stadiums or forces teams to implement policies that would decrease the number of people permitted in the stands. The NFL's deal with ESPN expires in 2021, and the league's deals with CBS, FOX, and NBC expire in 2022. When the deals are negotiated and when they take effect will determine when the jump in the salary cap occurs.
NATE HURDLESTON FROM CLEVELAND, OH: Now that the draft is completed, do you have any hopeful free agent signings?
ANSWER: I would classify this under the category of pipedream: Clay Matthews.
ERIC SMITH FROM WOODBRIDGE, CT: Can you explain why the Steelers terminated Rosie Nix's contract? He was in his prime and had a Pro Bowl under his belt. Was it injuries, money, the thought that Derek Watt is a better player?
ANSWER: I have been over this a couple of times already, and so this will be the final time. Rosie Nix sustained a knee injury early in the 2019 season that was expected to sideline him for a relatively short time. Since it never got better to the degree where he could return to play and then forced him to the injured reserve list, my belief is that it was more of a condition than an injury. The difference between those two things is that an injury can and usually will heal, while a condition continues to get worse. Also, Derek Watt is an improvement over Nix in all aspects of what a team looks to get from a fullback, and their special teams abilities are comparable. Based on his knee, Nix was not a player in his prime, as you describe.
BRIAN DUFF FROM SEATTLE, WA: The Steelers still have more than $5 million in cap space, which I'm not used to seeing from this organization so close to the start of the season. What are your thoughts about the best way to utilize this money? Should we save it in case of an emergency during the season or should we look to reinforce any particular position?
ANSWER: I have no direct knowledge of the Steelers' amount of space under their salary cap, although overthecap.com lists it at $5.7 million, and so we'll go with that for the purposes of this question. A couple of things to consider right off the bat: Right now, only the top 51 salaries count on a team's cap, and come the start of the regular season, all 53 players plus practice squad guys must fit under the cap. So if those two additional players are making the NFL minimum, that's an additional $1.2 million charge to the cap. Then the practice squad, which can be 12 players this season at $8,100 per week over 17 weeks. That's another $1.65 million, which could turn out to be more because during each week of the upcoming regular season, two players from the practice squad can be elevated to the active roster each week, and a team deciding to take advantage of that will have to pay those guys a regular game check, which would be $35,882.35 per guy instead of the normal practice squad rate of $8,100 per guy. And the Steelers also like to keep a $2-$3 million cushion on their cap for in-season injury replacements. Oh, and the signing of the draft picks also has to come out of that $5.7 million. I'm not going to do all of the arithmetic, because there are too many variables, but while you might look at the Steelers as having money to spend, I see them having to create more cap space just to do the normal things that will be cropping up on the horizon.
ERNEST GUTIERREZ FROM SAN JOSE, CA: I read a SteelCurtain article stating the Steelers should move Terrell Edmunds from strong safety to inside linebacker to replace Mark Barron and let rookie Antoine Brooks Jr. play strong safety.
ANSWER: Please don't ask me to verify what's written on other websites. I'm trying to cut back on being unkind.
KEVIN STAATS FROM FREDERICKSBURG, VA: The Steelers once had a tight end named Weegie Thompson that they could throw the ball up high to in the red zone and hope his mismatch would allow him to come down with the ball. Why don't the Steelers just sign a 7-foot-3 stiff who isn't good enough for the NBA and teach him to catch a football? He could also be used on special teams to block field goals.
ANSWER: First of all, Weegie Thompson was a 6-foot-6, 212 pound wide receiver, and of the 11 total touchdowns he scored in 92 career games with the Steelers, I am willing to bet that fewer than five of those were the jump-ball types you describe. Sign "a 7-foot-3 or taller stiff who isn't good enough for the NBA and teach him to catch a football?" What a great idea. Are you a long-lost relative of Bill Veeck?
TODD CRUM FROM BAHAMA, NC: NFL.com is at it again. Would the Steelers consider signing Cam Newton for one year to back up Ben Roethlisberger and then negotiate a long-term deal if Roethlisberger is not healthy? How would signing Newton affect the salary cap if the contract is for the league minimum but with heavy incentives?
ANSWER: THIS IS NOT GOING TO HAPPEN. THIS IS NOT GOING TO HAPPEN. THIS IS NOT GOING TO HAPPEN. Maybe repeating it three times in a row will help it stick. And please, stay away from NFL.com, and if you must torture yourself, and me by extension, do not believe anything that isn't said or written by Judy Battista. Over and out.
BOB ZEWE FROM ERIE, PA: Do you think the Steelers would consider signing Mark Barron to the league minimum for a year since he is still an available free agent? He had his ups and downs but could potentially help rookie Antoine Brooks Jr., who could likely be playing the hybrid linebacker role.
ANSWER: At one time during the offseason, I thought there could be a possibility the Steelers might be interested in bringing Mark Barron back if he were willing to accept a lesser salary, but I believe that ship has sailed at this point. One factor working against Barron was the condition of his body, which prevented him from practicing more than once a week towards the end of the regular season. And then what clinched it for me is that the Steelers gave Barron's No. 26, which he wore last year, to rookie Anthony McFarland. The way it usually works is that if the team is still interested in doing business with a guy, they hold onto his jersey number until a final determination has been made. Now, I'm confident a final decision has been made.
FRANK DAVIS FROM PONTE VEDRA, FL: What is Martavis Bryant's status? Is he out there for the taking? Now that marijuana is no longer an issue as a result of the new CBA it seems as though he is destined to return to the Steelers if there is no other roadblock to bringing him back to the team.
ANSWER: Martavis Bryant, who has been out of football since the middle of the 2018 season, may resurface in the NFL, but if he does it won't be with the Steelers. The team drafting Chase Claypool indicated to me it was interested in replacing what Bryant once brought to the offense – a big, physical receiver with plenty of speed to threaten opposing defenses down the field – without the reliability issues Bryant always had hanging over his head. Here is what General Manager Kevin Colbert said recently about Claypool when he was a guest on the #PFTPM podcast:
"We've been watching Chase for two seasons because as a junior there was a chance that maybe he'd come out a year early and there was some talk about that. He decided to stay (at Notre Dame). We had, I believe, three reports on him as a junior. We had more reports this year. Same thing, he had improved. We had good grades going into the Senior Bowl. When we got down to the Senior Bowl and Coach Tomlin and I got up close on the practice field and watched his physicality in blocking drills, his physicality in special-teams drills, it really stood out. Plus he's a 6-foot-4, 230-pound receiver who can get deep, and quite honestly we didn't have that threat last year. We didn't have that tall receiver who can just outrun coverage. We've always had that in the past with Nate Washington, Mike Wallace, or Martavis Bryant. That was very attractive to us in the long term."
MEMET SRATT FROM NEW YORK, NY: Would you have taken Chase Claypool at the spot the Steelers did with players like J.K. Dobbins available and then selected a wide receiver where they took Anthony McFarland?
ANSWER: I am of the opinion that it's not necessary to spend the 49th overall pick in a draft on a running back when you already have one on the roster who showed the ability to post good-enough statistics to get voted to a Pro Bowl. With their second-round pick, the Steelers needed to add a difference-maker for their offense. A big, fast wide receiver has the potential to do that, and you're not going to get a big, fast wide receiver in the fourth round. Yes, the Steelers got Martavis Bryant in the fourth round, but if he hadn't had that substance abuse history, he wouldn't have been available in the fourth round. I realize the Steelers are gambling on James Conner being healthy in 2020, but I see it as a risk worth taking, because they're not going to have Ben Roethlisberger around for too many more seasons.
NICHOLAS PITNER FROM RUSSELL, PA: Back in 2008, we drafted quarterback Dennis Dixon in the fifth round. I happened to be watching a replay of his start against the Ravens in Week 12 of the 2009 season. Whatever happened to him? Also, do you know how many starts he had with the team during his career?
ANSWER: Dennis Dixon had a couple of opportunities to establish himself as an NFL quarterback, but for various reasons he wasn't able to do that. In 2010 with Ben Roethlisberger suspended for the first four games on the regular season, Dixon was the opening week starter because Byron Leftwich was injured late in the preseason. But Dixon wasn't very good in the opener, which the Steelers won, and then he was injured the following week and was replaced by Charlie Batch. For his Steelers career, Dixon started three games and appeared in four, and he completed 59.3 percent for 402 yards, with one touchdown, two interceptions, and a rating of 71.4. Dixon spent a good bit of the 2012 season on the Ravens' practice squad, but it was in 2013 when it seemed as though the stars had aligned perfectly for him. Signed by the Philadelphia Eagles, Dixon was reunited with his college coach at Oregon, Chip Kelly. But when it came time to pick the three quarterbacks for the 53-man roster, Kelly kept Mike Vick, Nick Foles, and Matt Barkley, and he cut Dixon.
JACKSON LATTA FROM PRESTONSBURG, KY: I love to see the University of Kentucky guys get picked up by the Steelers, and I'm an old-school Dermontti Dawson fan. That got me thinking – which college program has the most players represented in the Steelers Hall of Honor?
ANSWER: There's a tie between Notre Dame (Jerome Bettis, Rocky Bleier, Johnny "Blood" McNally) and Penn State (Jack Ham, Franco Harris, Dick Hoak) with three apiece.
MIKE PAGOTTO FROM LONG POND, PA: Do you think the Steelers rely too much on "chunk plays" to get themselves into scoring position? It often seems they have a large number of three-and-outs because they are trying low percentage, long vertical passes rather than trying to average 3.5 yards per rush.
ANSWER: I believe the only way for an offense to score consistently in the NFL is with chunk plays. Expecting an offense to be able to execute 12-play, 75-yard drives without any penalties, or sacks, or other negative plays on a consistent basis is just not reasonable. That was one of the things that really crippled the offense last year and made the Steelers the only team in the NFL to fail to score 30 points in any one game – the lack of chunk plays. Teams have to make the opposing defense defend the whole field, both vertically and horizontally.
KURT MCDONALD FROM BURBANK, CA: Is there anything that leads you to believe that Anthony McFarland won't turn out to be the next Dri Archer? I know it is silly at this point to put any type of expectation on any player. But it seems like the hype is similar for McFarland as it was for Archer.
ANSWER: Is there anything that leads you to believe Anthony McFarland Jr. will turn out to be the next Dri Archer? It is extremely silly at this point to label a player or place an expectation on him, positively or negatively, based on something as random and superficial as "hype." I am guessing at this point your comparison of McFarland to Archer has to do with his size, or more accurately his height. Because while both of them are listed as 5-foot-8, Archer weighed 173 pounds while McFarland carries 208 pounds and consistently was timed in the low 4.4s in the 40-yard dash. Maybe McFarland makes it, or maybe he turns out to be a bad draft pick, but slapping a label on him so soon is unfair.
MARK DIXON FROM LEWISBERRY, PA: Has a Mr. Irrelevant ever succeeded in the NFL?
ANSWER: I don't know what you would consider succeeding, and I cannot speak for the entire NFL, but after winning Super Bowl XIV the Steelers made the final pick of the 1980 NFL Draft. They used that to select Tyrone McGriff, a guard from Florida A&M. Over three seasons with the Steelers, McGriff played in 36 of a possible 41 games with the team, and he had 10 starts. For a guy who was the 333rd overall pick, that qualifies as succeeding to me.
ELLIOT MEYER FROM PHOENIX, AZ: Does hitting the 90-man roster limit mean that the Steelers won't go out and sign any more free agents?
ANSWER: All it means is that for any future addition, there must be a corresponding subtraction.