Let's get to it:
WILLIAM PALAICH FROM CLERMONT, PA: Since picking Casey Hampton in the first round of the 2001 NFL Draft, the team has not used a high pick for the nose tackle position. The snap counts for nose tackles have decreased with the changes in the game, but I wonder if you could see us taking a great nose tackle in the draft should one be available when the team picks?
ANSWER: You really answered your own question when you wrote, "The snap counts for nose tackles have decreased with the changes in the game," and another issue with this is that not only has the NFL game changed but that's also true of the brand of football played at the college level. Three of the programs that traditionally have employed run-heavy offenses – Alabama, Texas, and Oklahoma – now operate out of multiple-receiver formations with their quarterbacks exclusively in the shotgun and throw the ball all over the lot. Lincoln Riley is the polar opposite of Barry Switzer, as an example, and the reason I bring that up is that college defenses don't use nose tackles very much of at all, which means there are very few coming up through the pipeline. It's still necessary for NFL defenses to be able to stop the run, but interior defensive linemen now must bring some ability to add to the pass rush, or they simply will not be able to get onto the field, even if they somehow find a way to make an NFL roster. An example of this style of "nose tackle" is Javon Hargrave, a player the Steelers picked on the third round. But I just do not see a team ever spending a No. 1 draft pick on a player such as Casey Hampton, an immovable force against the run but someone who came off the field in passing situations.
JOSH RENKEN FROM OMAHA, NE: Knowing how Bud Dupree played all season until his injury, what is the probability the Steelers sign him to a contract this offseason?
ANSWER: I strongly believe a team is going to offer Bud Dupree more money as an unrestricted free agent than the Steelers will be able to pay.
TONY TURAY FROM SASKATOON, SASKATCHEWAN, CANADA: The question about Mason Rudolph's stats and passer rating in the Week 17 Browns game is interesting. I'm sure the formula is quite complex, but is it possible to calculate what his rating would have been without the interception?
ANSWER: As it was, Mason Rudolph's passer rating vs. the Browns in the regular season finale was 89.2. Had he not thrown the interception, it would have been 99.8.
DON MORRISON FROM PITTSBURGH, PA: Will the salary cap be known before Ben Roethlisberger's roster bonus comes due in March?
ANSWER: All NFL teams will know the exact amount of the 2021 salary cap by the first day of the new league year, which will be sometime in March. The Steelers will owe Ben Roethlisberger a $15 million roster bonus on the third day of the 2021 league year. So the answer to your questions is, yes.
MATTHEW POWNALL FROM LEHIGH ACRES, FL: When do the Steelers start negotiating contracts with the many free agents we are about to have, and when do they usually stop to focus on the draft?
ANSWER: Those two tasks are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Draft preparation begins shortly after training camp opens and is ongoing right up until the actual picking in late April. As for talking to their own players who can become unrestricted free agents, there might be some feelers extended before free agency actually begins but almost without exception players want to gauge what might be available to them on the open market before re-signing with their original teams.
MARC BOOKER FROM MIDDLEBORO, MA: I'm hearing Matthew Stafford to the Steelers rumors. Any truth behind that?
JAY AL FROM BOCA RATON, FL: The Steelers kick off against the Bengals. The ball hits a Bengals player in the knee at about the 5-yard line and bounces into the end zone where a Bengals player recovers the ball. The ruling on the field was a touchback for the Bengals. How was that not a safety?
ANSWER: Unless the returner possesses the ball in the end zone, crosses over the goal line into the field of play, and then retreats into the end zone where he is tackled, it's a touchback. For it to be a safety, the play has to unfold as I just described: the returner fields the ball in the end zone, crosses the goal line, and then retreats back into the end zone where he is tackled. That's the rule.
GUY COURTNEY FROM FREDERICKSBURG, VA: Ben Roethlisberger looked very slow during the playoff against the Browns. He has proven that he can still throw the ball with the best of them with accuracy (too bad for the many drops). What does his offseason conditioning consist of and does it include speed conditioning? Secondly, for as tall is Ben is, why does he seem to have so many batted balls at the line of scrimmage?
ANSWER: Speed conditioning? Ben Roethlisberger will be 39 years old on March 2. He has played in 233 NFL games, been sacked 516 times, likely enduring thousands of hits on his body in addition to those sacks, and had an unknown number of surgeries on his knees. That's a lot of wear-and-tear. As for the batted balls, what pass rushers are taught is that if they cannot get close to the quarterback they should get their hands up, and when the routes being run are so close to the line of scrimmage, passes are likely to be tipped.
ALYSSA VELLUCCI FROM ATCO, NJ: I'm only 16, and a Steelers fan, and I hope this doesn't sound like a stupid question. When a team is at its own 1-yard line or so, and it commits a penalty that moves them half the distance to the goal line, why isn't the first down marker moved farther down the field to correspond to the full amount of the penalty yardage?
ANSWER: All I can tell you is that's the rule, and that has been the rule for a long time.
LUIS ARAMBURU FROM CIDRA, PUERTO RICO: A point that I've kept seeing pop up time and again as a reason we lost was that we just weren't physical enough, or at least winning the one-on-one matchups. It's hard for me to imagine that the guys didn't put up enough effort to literally push their opponent back (or tackle, etc.) considering everything they knew was on the line.
ANSWER: The thing with one-on-one battles is that the other team has a contestant in the battle as well. Consider it similar to a boxing match, or a wrestling match, in that one individual bests the other. It doesn't necessarily always come down to effort or mindset or want-to. Sometimes their guy is better than your guy. That's not to condone it or accept it, but sometimes that's the way it happens. For the Steelers, it happened too often in 2020, and that's when you need to find new guys.
MICHAEL BEST FROM DUNMORE, PA: When was the last time the Steelers finished last in the NFL in rushing?
ANSWER: Since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970, the Steelers never had finished last in the NFL in rushing before the 2020 season. The previous worst was in 2003 and 2018 when they finished 31st both years.
CHUCK CARTER FROM MESA, AZ: Would you please explain the normal provisions and financial impact to the team related to a reserve/futures contract?
ANSWER: At the conclusion of the regular season, all teams are permitted to sign players who are without contracts and are thus free agents, and these are not players who can become free agents at the end of the league year in March. Those players are unable to play or practice with the team until the following year, and their contracts do not count against the team's salary cap until the start of the new league year.
TOM RENWICK FROM MONROE, MI: On the chance the Steelers take a running back in the first round of the 2021 draft, would you consider that a wasted pick if they don't have bulldozers up front to pave the way?
ANSWER: During the upcoming offseason, I believe the Steelers have to add players to reinforce their offensive line, and adding a player who could possible become a feature back also should be on the to-do list. But I believe good running backs can be found after the first round, and so I would suggest a better use of the first-round pick would be for an offensive lineman, if it came down to an either-or situation.
TODD FURST FROM ALLENTOWN, PA: When was the last time that you remember the Steelers making this many coaching changes while retaining the head coach?
ANSWER: I'll give you one example from Chuck Noll's tenure and one from Bill Cowher's, and there may have been others. In 1989, Noll hired Rod Rust as defensive coordinator, Dave Brazil as linebackers coach, John Fox as secondary coach, and George Stewart as special teams coach. Also, after firing Hal Hunter as offensive line coach, Ron Blackledge took over full-time responsibility for that unit. And those five changes were made on a staff made up of nine assistants. In 2001, Cowher hired Mike Mularkey as offensive coordinator, Ken Whisenhunt as tight ends coach, Tom Clements as quarterbacks coach, Russ Grimm as offensive line coach, and Kenny Jackson as wide receivers coach. And those five changes were made on a staff consisting of 10 assistants.
RICHARD SANTRY FROM ALLENDALE, MI: In regards to the 2021 NFL draft, let's go under the assumption that the Steelers need a running back. If you had to choose between Clemson's Travis Etienne and Alabama's Najee Harris from Alabama, which direction would you go?
ANSWER: My personal choice between those two players would be Najee Harris, but I don't believe I would be on board with where he would have to be picked.
JUSTIN BYERS FROM NEW CASTLE, PA: Is it worth drafting an offensive tackle and re-signing James Connor, or drafting a running back and re-signing one of the offensive tackles?
ANSWER: I would say the Steelers should draft one of each.
LUIS JAVIER CARRASCO FROM CHIHUAHUA, MEXICO: Do the Steelers know or have a clue who they will draft in the first round?
ANSWER: As the team with the 24th overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, the Steelers won't even "know or have a clue" who they will draft at the start of the day when the picking begins. With 23 teams picking before them, how could they possibly know who they will draft because how could they know who will be available to them when it's their turn?
KENNETH HAGGERTY FROM REYNOLDSBURG, OH: Why were some teams allowed to have more fans in the stadium for games, and who made the decision to allow it? Did the NFL have any input in the decision?
ANSWER: Decisions on how many people were allowed in stadiums were made by the state and local governments where the individual franchise was located. The NFL long ago decided to abide by those decisions.
MALCOLM WATERS FROM PHILADELPHIA, PA: If we are not able to re-sign Bud Dupree, would J.J. Watt be on the Steelers radar especially since we already have his two brothers?
ANSWER: First of all, Bud Dupree is an outside linebacker in a 3-4 alignment, and J.J. Watt is a defensive end in a 4-3 alignment, so that wouldn't be a one-for-one exchange. Also, J.J. Watt is under contract with the Houston Texans through the 2021 season, which means the Steelers would have to arrange a trade for him. I cannot imagine a realistic scenario in which the Steelers would be interested in spending the draft capital to complete such a trade and then allocate $17.5 million in salary cap space to a 32-year-old defensive end who would be bound to them for just one season. Family ties have no bearing, either on the team or on the player.
NICHOLAS CZYRNIK FROM JOHNSTOWN, PA: Would it be possible for Mason Rudolph to become the starting quarterback next year with Ben Roethlisberger backing him up?
ANSWER: It's not against the rules, if that's what you're asking, but the Steelers are not going to have Ben Roethlisberger on the 2021 roster to be a backup. They wouldn't do that, and neither would he.
KC COOK FROM PLANO, TX: This is my first year reading Asked and Answered, I have fully enjoyed the information and the wit. What is the Asked and Answered schedule for the offseason?
ANSWER: Tuesdays and Thursdays until I hit the Powerball.
MIKE FOSTER FROM EWA BEACH, HI: Is the NFL going too far in complying with Equal Employment Opportunity laws by hiring deaf, dumb, and blind officials?
ANSWER: Unless of course, they "sure play a mean pinball."