Let's get to it:
TOM GRIBBIN FROM McKEAN, PA: Any idea who will be playing inside linebacker next year?
ANSWER: Predicting that so far in advance with so much that can happen between now and then is a low-percentage endeavor, but one thing I believe will happen is that Mark Robinson, the team's seventh-round pick from Mississippi, will get every chance to build upon the playing time he was getting at the end of the 2022 season to make a push for a more significant role within the defense in 2023. Coach Mike Tomlin always expects players to make a significant jump in performance going into their second years in the league, and Robinson also will have had another full offseason at a position he didn't begin playing until his final season of college football. I'm not going to predict in January that a second-year player who entered the NFL as the 225th selection of the previous draft is going to be a starter in September, but I also wouldn't bet against Mark Robinson making that happen.
KEITH CARTER FROM RICHMOND, VA: I'm not a talent evaluator, but Mark Robinson really caught my eye with his aggression against the run vs. the Ravens. What are some areas he could improve on during the offseason if he wants to get a shot at more playing time next season?
ANSWER: In the days leading up to the game vs. the Raiders on Dec. 24, Coach Mike Tomlin had this to say about Mark Robinson: "He has a skill-set that we can't coach: he embraces the physical component of play. He's a physical matchup and confrontation guy, but the intellect component of the game, the nuances of the game, the things that you have to know to play football at this level – he's still very much in development. He's a one-year linebacker at the college level, but within that year we did see some things that were really attractive. That's why we're doing business with him, and he's proven those things to be true. But we got into this relationship with the understanding that it was going to be a growth and development thing. There was a lack of exposure to the position." My impression of what Robinson would need to do during the offseason is to study the nuances of inside linebacker play since he was a running back until his final season of college football, but he also must work on his conditioning and preparing his body for the rigors of the NFL so that once training camp opens, he'll be able to be available to practice every day to maximize the number of on-field reps he gets to facilitate his "exposure to the position."
SCOTT SWEENEY FROM HICKORY, NC: Do you know if a Chase Claypool for Roquan Smith trade was discussed with the Bears?
ANSWER: In return for Roquan Smith, the Bears wanted a premium draft pick and them something else. They would not have done a straight up one-for-one deal for Smith in exchange for Chase Claypool.
OWEN O'CEALLAIGH FROM CORK, KILKENNY, IRELAND: Which Steelers game of the 2022 season was your favorite?
ANSWER: I was impressed with the entire presentation of the Dec. 24 game vs. the Raiders at Acrisure Stadium and the atmosphere it created. Despite it being Christmas Eve night and with the temperature at kickoff being 8-degrees with a win chill of minus-10, the fans who braved the conditions were into the game throughout, they stayed until the very end, and they all stayed in their seats during the halftime presentation when Franco Harris' No. 32 was retired in an emotional ceremony involving Steelers President Art Rooney II, Harris' wife Dana, and son Dok, while a group of former players from that era were on the field to lend their support. And then they all were treated to a finish that had a 14-yard pass from Kenny Pickett to George Pickens with 46 seconds left give the Steelers the lead and then a Cam Sutton diving interception with 29 seconds left seal the outcome.
DUANE HYLAND FROM HERNDON, VA: Since Cam Heyward has better statistics than three of the defensive linemen voted to the Associated Press All-Pro team, what explains his obvious snub from both the Pro Bowl and the All-Pro team?
ANSWER: These "awards" are both determined by a vote – players, coaches and fans for the Pro Bowl, and a nationwide panel of 50 media members who cover the NFL for the All-Pro team. By definition, any vote is a popularity contest, and what might sway a voter to cast a ballot one way or another might have nothing to do with worthiness. I'm sorry that I cannot give you a plausible reason why Cam Heyward was snubbed for the Pro Bowl and the All-Pro team, because while there can be some instances over the years of voters paying too much attention only to statistics, Heyward actually finished the season with better stats than some of the players who finished ahead of him in the voting. My fervent hope is that there is some sort of karmic payback and Heyward is repaid for these snubs by being voted the winner of the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, a recognition that he deserves and is long overdue.
PERCEVAL SONDAG FROM DOYLESTOWN, PA: It is my understanding that players are paid weekly during the season, and not paid at all during the offseason. If that is correct, how and when are reserve/futures contracts paid?
ANSWER: Unless there is some signing bonus attached to a particular reserve/futures contract, which would be very unusual for such a contract, players signed to reserve/futures contracts are paid the same way as all of the others.
JIM WINIARSKI FROM NOTTINGHAM, NH: The Steelers have done a fairly good job of bringing in veteran defensive linemen, such as Tyson Alualu, Larry Ogunjobi, and Chris Wormley. What are your thoughts around possibly reuniting with Javon Hargrave, and if not, then taking a flyer on Jadaveon Clowney?
ANSWER: As mentioned in a previous Asked and Answered, I believe the notion of Javon Hargrave returning to the Steelers is more wishful thinking than possibility. Hargrave will turn 30 years old in a couple of weeks, and he will be finishing up a contract that has paid him around $39 million over the last three seasons. In 2022, Hargrave started every game and contributed a career-high 11 sacks plus 16 hits on the quarterback as part of a defense that is in the conversation for being the NFL's best this season for a team that entered these playoffs as the top seed in the NFC. Why would Hargrave want to leave all of that, and why would the Eagles not be extremely interested in making sure he doesn't? As for Jadaveon Clowney, no. I would have no interest in that.
MATTHEW CONFER FROM SALEM, OH: Mitch Trubisky's contract runs through next year. Do you believe he will be back?
ANSWER: As you mentioned, Mitch Trubisky is under contract through the 2023 season, and so the Steelers are in control of his rights. Unless the team finds itself in dire salary cap shape, I would be in favor of retaining Trubisky to be Kenny Pickett's backup. In my opinion, Trubisky has the proper mindset and approach to be a solid backup in the NFL, and that role just might be his ticket to a long, lucrative career.
PAT FLYNN FROM OAKDALE, PA: Among the players, which is the more prestigious honor: Being named to the Pro Bowl or being voted All-Pro? Can there be contract incentives for both?
ANSWER: To clarify, players are voted, not named, to both the Pro Bowl and to the All-Pro team. Being voted All-Pro is way more prestigious, simply from a scarcity of numbers standpoint. The 2022 Associated Press first-team All-Pro team was made up of 11 players on offense, 11 players on defense, and 6 specialists (punter, placekicker, long-snapper, punt returner, kickoff returner, and a coverage guy). A Pro Bowl roster is made up of maybe three times as many players, and that's just for one of the two conferences. And that doesn't even begin to include all of the alternates. There can be contract bonuses associated with either honor, but usually the All-Pro bonus is bigger.
BOB RUSSAK FROM HASTINGS-ON-HUDSON, NY: Are the Steelers projected to get any compensatory picks in the 2023 draft?
ANSWER: I don't have high hopes for a lucrative haul when compensatory draft picks are awarded, because the Steelers signed a bunch of guys (Mason Cole, James Daniels, Gunner Olszewski, Levi Wallace, and Mitch Trubisky) as unrestricted free agents.
KEN GROSZ FROM PISTICCI, ITALY: What are your thoughts of the Steelers keeping and/or promoting Brian Flores to defensive coordinator and demoting Teryl Austin?
ANSWER: That won't happen, and besides, Teryl Austin doesn't deserve to be demoted.
MICHAEL FOLEY FROM SADDLE BROOK, NJ: I just received my latest edition of Steelers Digest. The tribute to Franco Harris was AWESOME. I go back to the late 1980s as a subscriber, and my two all-time favorites are the tributes to Ben Roethlisberger's career and to Franco Harris' career and life. Kudos to you, Teresa Varley, and the rest of the staff. Tremendous job. A must for all Steelers fans.
ANSWER: Thank you for the kind words. It was a sad occasion, but honoring Franco Harris was worthwhile and deserving of our best efforts.