Let's get to it:
SABINE KAPPEL FROM WINZELN, GERMANY: Could you please refresh our memories on which players are set to become restricted or unrestricted free agents?
ANSWER: The restricted free agents-to-be (listed alphabetically) are center J.C. Hassenauer, running back Jeremy McNichols, cornerback James Pierre, and wide receiver Steven Sims. The unrestricted free agents (listed alphabetically) are inside linebacker Marcus Allen, nose tackle Tyson Alualu, wide receiver Miles Boykin, inside linebacker Devin Bush, tackle Jesse Davis, safety Terrell Edmunds, tight end Zach Gentry, safety Karl Joseph, safety Damontae Kazee, wide receiver Anthony Miller, defensive lineman Larry Ogunjobi, outside linebacker Malik Reed, quarterback Mason Rudolph, tackle Trent Scott, running back Benny Snell Jr., inside linebacker Robert Spillane, cornerback Cam Sutton, fullback Derek Watt, and defensive lineman Chris Wormley.
CHARLES GOLLMAR FROM ATLANTA, GA: Now that the Steelers season is officially over, I was looking at what the offseason/free agency may look like and was surprised/alarmed at the number of big contributors on defense whose contracts are coming to an end. Cam Sutton, Devin Bush, Robert Spillane, Larry Ogunjobi, Tyson Alualu, Chris Wormley, and Terrell Edmunds will all be unrestricted free agents. Among those, whom do you think is most likely to still be with the team come August?
ANSWER: There's no way of predicting the NFL free agent market, and I believe a lot of how this offseason unfolds depends on whether there are going to be buyers throwing money around at guys who likely will end up proving they weren't that good to be paid that way. But just to add another name to your list of potential unrestricted free agents who would be nice to be able to keep is Damontae Kazee.
BRAD SMITH FROM SILVER SPRING, MD: With this being Omar Khan's first offseason as the general manager, do you see him being more active than Kevin Colbert in making moves during the draft and free agency? I thought at the time that his trade of Chase Claypool was too aggressive, but that seems to be turning out to be a brilliant move.
ANSWER: I want to caution you and all Steelers fans that the franchise's business model will not change just because there is a new person with the title of general manager. The franchise's business model didn't change when Bill Cowher replaced Chuck Noll, nor when Kevin Colbert replaced Tom Donahoe, nor when Mike Tomlin replaced Cowher, and it's not going to change with Omar Khan having replaced Colbert. And one of the foundational planks in the Steelers business model is that neither the general manager nor the head coach operates totally independent of the other, and nobody operates totally independently of Steelers President Art Rooney II.
TODD WALKER FROM PORT ST LUCIE, FL: Do you think a red challenge flag will soon be able to be thrown on unnecessary roughness calls in the NFL? Referees are human and there are huge game-changing missed calls.
ANSWER: I am in agreement that in-game officiating in the NFL is arbitrary and inconsistent, but I am opposed to any expansion of the use instant replay as an officiating tool. Too many delays already.
HENRY LACAYO FROM MIAMI, FL: The roughing the passer call on Cameron Heyward and then not making a facemask call on Larry Ogunjobi when he sacked Deshaun Watson are obvious mistakes that could impact the outcome of a game. Do you think the NFL could implement a rule to have an official looking at the game on live TV to make corrections on horrible calls?
ANSWER: I am in favor of better NFL officiating, but it should be attained by increasing the quality and competence of the on-field crews, not by adding more layers to instant replay.
BRETT BILLEC FROM CAMPBELL, OH: What is the difference between the "common" draft that started in 1967 and the draft prior to 1967?
ANSWER: There was a time when there were two drafts of college football players, and that was during the early-1960s when the National Football League and the American Football League held separate drafts and then competed to sign the players. In 1966 there was a merger agreement between the two leagues, and so starting in 1967 there was what came to be known as the "common draft," where all the teams would combine for one draft and there would be no more financial competition among teams to sign players. As the league became more homogenous the word "common" became unnecessary.
MITCH SMYTH FROM LITITZ, PA: You realize that your answer to Ralph from Morgantown, WV, in the Jan. 10 Asked and Answered is erroneous. T.J. Watt, not Cam Heyward is the second all-time sack leader for the Steelers. Your error is making my hair throb and I'm trying to restrain myself.
ANSWER: As of the end of the 2022 NFL season, James Harrison had 80.5 sacks during his time with the Steelers, Cam Heyward has 78.5 sacks, and T.J. Watt has 77.5 sacks.
H.C. PETLEY FROM CORTEZ, CO: What was the reasoning and where-in lies the value in trading away Chase Claypool? It's old news, but what was gained? Anything?
ANSWER: Just looking at the draft capital involved, the Steelers used the 49th overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft to acquire Chase Claypool, and they will be getting the 32nd overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft as compensation from the Bears in the trade that sent him to Chicago. That's a significant gain right there. And since I believe George Pickens already has shown himself to be a better player than Claypool, there was no substantial on-field loss as a result of the trade, either.
DOUG PART FROM GRAYSLAKE, IL: Which is more true: Don't start a land war with Russia, or never trade for a wide receiver the Steelers are willing to trade?
ANSWER: I get the basis of your sentiment there, but the Steelers were willing to trade Frank Lewis after the 1977 season, and he went to Buffalo and in fewer seasons pretty much doubled his production and was voted to his only Pro Bowl. Lewis was a good player and a good teammate.
PATRICK CHEANEY FROM HARTLAND, MI: Do you think that if the Steelers can play like they did the last half of the season they will have a chance at making a run in the playoffs next year?
ANSWER: The Steelers are going to have to be better just to make the playoffs next year because their level of play wasn't good enough to get them into the playoffs this year.
SEAN VOYLES FROM TURNERS STATION, KY: I love the way the Steelers fought to the very last game, and it seems like they have some good pieces in place for the future with Kenny Pickett leading the offense. What's your opinion of the positions the Steelers need to target in the first two rounds of the draft?
ANSWER: In terms of the Gregorian calendar, it's only three-plus months until the NFL Draft, but in terms of the NFL calendar it's too far into the future even for them to have any remote idea which players might interest them on April 27. Truly, your guess is worth as much as mine, and I'm old enough to know I don't do well with guessing games.
DANIEL MAZENKO FROM LITITZ, PA: There seemed to be an awful lot of very low scoring games throughout the NFL this season, not just the Steelers games. Was this the lowest scoring Steelers team since the advent of the 16-game season? If not, what was the record of the Steelers team that scored fewer?
ANSWER: The 2022 Steelers finished with 280 points in 17 games, and the NFL's first 16-game regular season was in 1978. Since 1978, there have been two Steelers teams that scored fewer than 280 points in non-strike seasons. The 1989 team scored 265 points in finishing 9-7 and squeezing into the playoffs where it defeated the Oilers in overtime in the Astrodome and then lost in Denver in the Divisional Round. The 1998 team scored 263 points in finishing 7-9.
JAMES FIELDS FROM VIRGINIA BEACH, VA: During free agency last year we signed several offense linemen that I feel had a pretty good year. Could you give us a list of the offense linemen and their contract status.
ANSWER: All of the starters are signed through the 2023 season, at least. Dan Moore Jr. is signed through the 2024 season, Kevin Dotson is signed through the 2023 season, Mason Cole is signed through the 2024 season, James Daniels is signed through the 2024 season, and Chuks Okorafor is signed through the 2024 season.
MARC RESNICK FROM HENDERSON, NV: I just saw where the Steelers signed 10 players to Reserve/Future contracts. Can you please explain what these are and who they apply to?
ANSWER: Reserve/futures contracts allows teams to sign players now and not have those contracts count until the new league year begins on March 15. Usually the players signed to futures contracts were on a practice squad at the end of the regular season or were out of football at the end of the previous regular season. These are not big-money contracts, and futures contracts are not signed by high-profile players.
STEVEN PULLAM FROM GALAX, VA: I have seen many complaints about offensive coordinator Matt Canada, and how Coach Mike Tomlin should have fired him already. I don't recall the Steelers firing coaches midseason. Are there any Steelers coordinators or head coaches who have been fired/replaced midseason in the Super Bowl era?