Let's get to it:
TIM GAYDOSH FROM MOUNT AIRY, MD: I remember the disastrous injury to Shaun Suisham in the Hall of Fame Game that many blamed on the condition of the field. Do you know if they've done anything to make it better?
ANSWER: That occurred during the 2015 game, which was played on Sunday, Aug. 9. Shortly after, as a part of some previously scheduled maintenance, the artificial surface on the field was replaced. But then the 2016 Hall of Fame Game, which was to match Green Bay vs. Indianapolis, was cancelled due to sub-par field conditions. Since then, there have been no serious issues with the playing surface.
DONNIE BROWN FROM VAN BUREN, ME: If the Steelers are selected to play in the Hall of Fame Game, it would be their seventh time. How did they fare in seasons that started with a game in Canton?
ANSWER: Well, in all of their seasons that began with the Hall of Fame Game none ended with any of their six Super Bowl victories, and in fact no team appearing in the Hall of Fame Game has ended its season by winning the Super Bowl. Back to the Steelers. In 1963, the Steelers entered the regular season finale needing a win over the New York Giants to clinch the Eastern Conference and earn a spot in the NFL Championship Game. They lost to the Giants, 33-17, and finished 7-4-3. In 1964, the Steelers finished 5-9. In 1983, the Steelers won the AFC Central Division with a 10-6 record and were defeated by the eventual Super Bowl Champion Raiders, 38-10, in the Divisional Round. In 1998, the Steelers finished 7-9 and had their string of six straight playoff seasons snapped. In 2007, the Steelers finished 10-6 in winning the AFC North but were eliminated by Jacksonville, 31-29, in the Wild Card Round. And in 2015, the 10-6 Steelers qualified for the playoffs as a Wild Card, defeated the Bengals, 18-16, in the Wild Card Round before losing to eventual Super Bowl Champion Denver, 23-16, in the Divisional Round.
JOHN MARTIN FROM GETTYSBURG, PA: With the announcement of the Hall of Fame's Class of 2020 coming up, how is a football player's team determined when inducted? For example, if someone plays his entire career for one team and then goes to another team in his last year or two, does the player get to choose which team he is designated as being a member of, or is it based solely on which team he spent more time with?
ANSWER: First of all, you're confusing the Baseball Hall of Fame with the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It's in baseball where an inducted player is associated with one particular team to represent his career in the Major Leagues, but in football, those elected are enshrined in one of three categories: player, coach, or contributor. Subsequently, the Pro Football Hall of Fame categorizes each individual and credits him to a team or teams. There is a page on profootballhalloffame.com that lists all enshrinees by franchise, and here is the exact verbiage the Hall of Fame uses in determining which individuals "belong" to which franchise: "Hall of Famers who made the major part of their primary contribution for any one club are listed in bold. In cases where a player contributed about equally and/or in a major way to two or more clubs – he is listed in bold under both clubs (i.e., Gary Zimmerman is listed with both the Vikings and the Broncos as his primary teams). Hall of Famers who spent only a minor portion of their career with any club are listed under that club in normal font."
MURRAY SHERMAN FROM CHICAGO, IL: I understand that in the Emmanuel Sanders trade to the 49ers, due to scheduling, he lost the bye week, meaning that he might have had to play 17 games in the regular season. What does this mean in terms of compensation?
ANSWER: In being traded from the Denver Broncos to the San Francisco 49ers this season, Sanders went from a team that already had its bye week (Denver) to one that had not yet had its bye week (San Francisco). Because the NFL pays its players weekly during the regular season, Sanders actually came out ahead. That's because he got paid seven game checks by the Broncos, and then he got paid 11 game checks – 10 games plus the bye week – by the 49ers. So while NFL players traditionally receive 17 game checks over the course of a regular season, in 2019 Sanders received 18 game checks. According to reports, Sanders was to be paid a base salary of $5,970,588 for the 2019 season, which worked out to $351,211.06 per week over a standard 17-week pay schedule. But because of the trade, Sanders actually earned $6,321,799 in salary (an extra $351,211.06) for the 2019 regular season.
BERNIE BLASKO FROM YOUNGSTOWN, OH: When and how much do the players signed to a futures contract receive?
ANSWER: Players signed to futures contracts are paid the same way every other player in in the NFL is paid: over 17 weeks of the regular season. If they don't make the team, they don't get paid.
NICK PITNER FROM RUSSELL, PA: I read that we may be playing in the Hall of Fame Game in early August. Is that a game where we would have starters play, or would that be an added preseason game to evaluate our newcomers? I also read that it would give us extra training camp time. Can you explain how that happens?
ANSWER: The Hall of Fame Game is an extra preseason game for each of the participating teams. If selected, the Steelers would play five preseason games in 2020 instead of four. The way this leads to more time at training camp is simple: under the terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, teams are permitted to open training camp a set number of days before their first preseason game. The Hall of Fame Game is on Aug. 6, and so the teams selected will be permitted to open their training camps roughly a couple of weeks before that, or right around July 23. The 30 teams not participating in the Hall of Fame Game will open their preseason schedules sometime around Aug. 14-16, which means they will be permitted to open their training camps right around Aug. 1.
GREG FINDURA FROM NORTH ROYALTON, OH: Do the Steelers have the cap space to go after free agent running back Kareem Hunt?
ANSWER: I would prefer the Steelers use their available space under the salary cap to "go after" Bud Dupree. Running backs can be had in the draft, and you don't necessarily have to commit a premium pick to getting one, either.
DANIEL ALFANO FROM NORTH PLAINFIELD, NJ: Who were the other candidates the Steelers were considering before hiring Bill Cowher?
ANSWER: The final four for the job to follow Chuck Noll were Joe Greene, Kevin Gilbride, Dave Wannstedt, and Bill Cowher. The choice then came down to Wannstedt or Cowher.
WALLACE HORTON FROM HYATTSVILLE, MD: Do you think the Steelers need to change their philosophy on evaluating tight ends? Every team in the league seems to have at least two or three pass catching tight ends and we struggle to find one every year.
ANSWER: "Every team in the league seems to have at least two or three pass catching tight ends …" C'mon, that's a big-time exaggeration. I will admit that the closest NFL team to you – the Baltimore Ravens – certainly would fit that description, but that's about the only one able to live up to your claim. The Steelers want their tight ends to be competent blockers, because the coaches believe that the running game requires competent blocking on the perimeter if it's going to be successful. If that's what you mean by changing their philosophy on evaluating tight ends – to eliminate the importance of blocking ability and view the position as a de facto wide receiver – I don't believe that's going to happen. And because of the way the game is played in college – lots of spread offenses – there aren't a lot of dual-threat tight ends available in the draft each year. But if you look at the tight ends the Steelers have picked in the 20 drafts from 2005-2019, their record at identifying talent at the position is pretty decent.
Here are the tight ends drafted during that span: Heath Miller (first round in 2005); Matt Spaeth (third round in 2007); David Johnson (second pick of the seventh round in 2009); David Paulson (second pick of the seventh round in 2012); Rob Blanchflower (seventh round in 2014); Jesse James (fifth round in 2015); and Zach Gentry (fifth round in 2019).
Miller arguably was the best all-around tight end in the league during his career; Spaeth was the caliber of blocker who was capable of sealing the edge for the running game and handling defensive ends or outside linebackers in pass protection; Johnson played six seasons with the Steelers because of his blocking; James delivered a nice return to the Steelers as a fifth-round pick and then got paid as an unrestricted free agent by the Lions; Gentry is too young to be labeled one way or the other; and Paulson (240th overall pick) and Blanchflower (230th overall pick) were long-shots all along.