Asked and Answered

Asked and Answered: Jan. 10

Let's get to it:

RALPH JAMESON FROM MORGANTOWN, WV: I saw an article with quotes from Cam Heyward after the Browns game where he said he would like to come back next year and was not holding anyone hostage. I didn't realize there was any question about Cam's return. I thought he was under contract for a couple more years. Did I miss something? Are there rumors that the Steelers don't want to pay whatever his cap hit is on the last years of the contract?
ANSWER: For the record, Cam Heyward will be 34 in May, and he is under contract through the 2024 season with salary cap hits in the $22 million range for each of those two seasons remaining on that contract. My personal opinion is that I cannot imagine a realistic scenario in which the Steelers are not interested in honoring the rest of that contact, and maybe even consider extending their relationship a little bit beyond that if both sides are interested. And based on how he has been playing and producing, it's clear he remains an integral part of the defense, and maybe THE critical component of the locker room dynamic. As for not "holding anyone hostage," I see that as Heyward's way of letting everyone know, including himself, that he needs to and plans to work hard during the offseason to prepare his body for next season and that the work will begin soon. Heyward posted double-digit sacks in 2022, and with 78.5 sacks he's just two behind James Harrison's 80.5 for the all-time franchise record. When his career is over – and I fully expect it to end as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers – I would identify Cam Heyward as one of the significant players in franchise history, both for his contributions on the field as well as his tireless work in the community.

DANIEL MAZENKO FROM LITITZ, PA: With the completion of the 2022 regular season the AFC North teams all ended up with 3-3 records vs. the other teams in the division. I didn't pay enough attention to the Browns and Bengals to know if each team actually split with every other team in the division. Did each AFC North team split it series with each of the other AFC North teams?
ANSWER: Yes. Cincinnati was 1-1 vs. both Cleveland and Baltimore, and Cleveland was 1-1 vs. Baltimore.

CHRISTOPHER GIBSON FROM MANALAPAN, NJ: If not for a late defensive score, this year's playoffs might have featured two teams with losing records as division winners. Isn't it just a bit odd to reward subpar performance (including a home playoff game) and leave four-to-five teams with better records from better divisions out, including cases like Green Bay, which beat Tampa Bay earlier in the season? Would it not make more sense to let those claim the division, but allow the team with the best record above them to go to the playoffs? Or at a minimum seed the playoff teams by record so that teams like Tampa Bay don't get a home game as a reward for playing in a weak division? I believe that was the practice some years ago.
ANSWER: I'm going to try to be kind, but you're so full of it that it makes my hair throb. There NEVER was a system in place in the NFL where division winners were denied a spot in the playoffs or a home game because a non-division winner had a better record. Dan Rooney was a staunch believer in the idea that winning one's division was an accomplishment to be recognized and rewarded and deserved priority over a team that didn't/couldn't win its division. The comparative strength of NFL divisions goes in cycles. On Sunday, the Packers had a home game against a .500 Lions team for a spot in the playoffs, and they were minus-2 in turnover ratio, out-rushed, and scored one offensive touchdown in a 20-16 loss. What exactly makes them worthy of a playoff spot? The Packers weren't robbed of a playoff spot. They weren't good enough.

STEFAN PISOCKI FROM WILMINGTON, DE: I think Gunner Olszewski may be the best blocking wide receiver since Hines Ward. What is his contract situation, and do you think the Steelers will retain his services for the foreseeable future?
ANSWER: Gunner Olszewski is signed through the 2023 season, and he'll carry a $2.6 million cap hit for next season. Slow down on that assessment of Olszewski's place in franchise history among blocking wide receivers, because he's the kind of player who will have to compete for a spot on an NFL roster every summer. To his credit, he seems to understand that.

ROB JAMES FROM STOCKTON, CA: In your last installment of Asked and Answered, you noted that the Steelers traded Mike Merriweather to the Vikings for a first-round pick. He was one of my favorite players as a kid. Why did they trade him? (I have a hunch. A wise man once said when the question in the NFL is "why" - the answer is "money.")
ANSWER: Mike Merriweather's agent decided to butt heads with Dan Rooney by making his client a holdout instead of participating in team activities during the negotiation that took place during his player's option year of 1988. Huge tactical blunder, because a holdout during a player's option year halted contract negotiations, and it was a losing proposition in that era to believe you were going to win a war of wills with Dan Rooney when it came to the way the Steelers handled their football business. The holdout ran through training camp, and into the regular season, and it never ended until that trade with the Minnesota Vikings.

RON KIRIK FROM NORTH EAST, PA: Growing up my dad always talked about the Steel Curtain going through a stretch where they didn't let the opponent cross the 50-yard line. Could you give more details about that stretch please?
ANSWER: I don't mean to contradict your dad, but I'm going to suggest that's a bit of hyperbole regarding the 1976 Steelers defense, a unit that during a nine-game winning streak to end the regular season posted five shutouts and allowed a total of 28 points. Eight of the 11 full-time starters made the Pro Bowl: Mel Blount, Glen Edwards, Joe Greene, L.C. Greenwood, Jack Ham, Jack Lambert, Andy Russell, and Mike Wagner.

JEFF DULIK FROM LADERA RANCH, CA: I was only able to follow the Steelers-Browns game online, and I didn't see Devin Bush's name in the box score or on the inactive list. Did he play at all?
ANSWER: Devin Bush played 5 defensive snaps (8 percent of the 64 total) in the game vs. the Browns. Coach Mike Tomlin explained that this way: "Not health related, really game specific related. As we were talking about earlier, the nature of play of those two teams (Baltimore and Cleveland) that we played down the stretch specifically, it warranted us to do some things in terms of division of labor that minimized some of his opportunities to contribute. But we make those decisions week in and week out in a lot of areas. It's just football. It's trying to engineer victory."

NEIL GLASSER FROM MANALAPAN, NJ: Could the Steelers have lent the Jets a quarterback Sunday? They have three guys better than anyone on that roster.
ANSWER: I was hoping maybe the Bills could email them one of those two kickoff returns for touchdowns by Nyheim Hines from the win over the Patriots.

GALEN MEEK FROM TYRONE, PA: I don't have a question, but your sarcasm makes my day. Thank you.
ANSWER: I try to play to my strengths.