Let's get to it:
JC CHUTA FROM PITTSBURGH, PA: I keep hearing that Steelers have a tight end in mind to draft in the second or third round of this draft, because they are in desperate need of one. If so, has Zach Gentry (fifth round in 2019) been determined to be a total bust already? He's built similar to Rob Gronkowski, and I was looking forward to his development.
ANSWER: Whoever was putting out there that the Steelers have a tight end in mind in the second or third round of the upcoming draft is guessing and has bad information on top of that. The Steelers don't have anything in mind yet for the upcoming draft because they're still gathering information on the pool of players, and additionally the Steelers don't have a third-round pick in the upcoming draft. If Zach Gentry has been labeled a bust by anyone, it was probably by the same source who didn't know the team didn't have a third-round pick in this draft. This doesn't mean the Steelers won't look to add a tight end during free agency and/or in the draft, but the notion they already have targeted a specific player in a particular round of a draft that is still three months away is total fantasy. And if they do spend their second-round pick on a tight end, that doesn't mean Gentry is a bust. It just would mean they see a need to upgrade the depth chart at tight end.
JOHN BRAGG FROM FAIRMONT, WV: I was thrilled to be watching when Donnie Shell was announced for the Hall of Fame. After this year, I guess the Seniors Committee will go back to "business as usual" in selecting one or two players per year. Do you know how they go about that process?
ANSWER: The following is from the Pro Football Hall of Fame's website: "To assure that older players, whose active careers have been completed at least 25 years … will be considered along with the Modern-Era players and coaches, a Seniors Committee and a Contributors Committee have been established. Each of these committees are made up of nine veteran members of the overall Selection Committee. Like the full Committee, the members of the Seniors Committee and the Contributors Committee are provided a preliminary list of eligible nominees … By way of a mail ballot, the Senior Committee members reduce the list to 15 Senior Nominee finalists. Five members of the nine-man Seniors Committee, selected on a rotating basis, are designated to attend the annual Seniors Committee meeting held in Canton, where they are charged with the responsibility of nominating candidate(s) from that list to be among the 18 finalists for Hall of Fame election … Seniors Committee members are assisted during their annual meeting by two Hall of Fame consultants, chosen by the Hall's President, who were contemporaries of the majority of the nominees. The consultants offer only their opinions and are not entitled to vote. After each candidate is discussed thoroughly, the consultants are excused from the meeting. Additional discussion is conducted followed by a series of reduction votes that results in the naming of the Senior Nominee(s)."
DEANNA VLASSICH FROM EAST BRADY, PA: This is a very odd question. My grandson turned 15 in July, and he is 6-foot-5 and plays football for his school. As Steelers fans, we have noticed how big some of their players are. My grandson wears a size-17 shoe, and those are so hard to find, and the Steelers players have such nice-looking shoes. I was hoping you could ask about where to get nice-looking shoes in his size.
ANSWER: I took your question to Steelers Equipment Manager Adam Regan, and he had this advice to offer: "There are a few options for getting larger sizes in cleats. I would suggest looking early in the spring when Nike releases them to the public for purchase on the Nike.com website. But the best options are going to be with Eastbay (Eastbay.com) and eBay (ebay.com). They will have a decent selection for her grandson. Shouldn't be an issue at all; eBay even has larger sized cleats on the site right now."
BILL PALAICH FROM CLERMONT, FL: I've been reading about the salary cap, free agents, team priorities and so forth and have seen nothing about Artie Burns. What is his current contract status, could he be a casualty of freeing up money, and what would you do with him based on those factors and his performance?
ANSWER: Artie Burns' contract will expire in March, and he certainly will opt for unrestricted free agency where I imagine he will look for an opportunity with another team where he could compete for playing time on defense. The former first-round pick lost his starting job last season, and then over the course of the 2019 season he also lost his role on defense in sub-packages but still was serving as a gunner on the punt team. But as the season progressed, Burns was replaced as a gunner by rookie Justin Layne. I am fairly certain Burns will leave as an unrestricted free agent, and he won't count anything on the Steelers' 2020 salary cap.
MARSHA TREMOR FROM PITTSBURGH, PA: I have seen numerous mock drafts. Some have the Steelers picking in Miami's spot in the fourth round, but most have the Steelers picking much later, in the Tennessee spot. This was a draft pick that Miami obtained from Tennessee. Do you know for sure, which fourth-round draft pick the Steelers have?
ANSWER: The fourth round pick the Steelers acquired as part of the trade for Minkah Fitzpatrick is Miami's original pick.
ADAM STATTI FROM CAPE CORAL, FL: Do you think the hiring of Matt Canada in any way suggests that the Steelers feel Ben Roethlisberger may not be able to come back next season?
ANSWER: I don't really understand what you mean by correlating the two, but my impression on the hiring of Matt Canada is that the Steelers want to have a dedicated assistant coach working on the fundamentals of the quarterback position with the young players on the roster – as of right now those being Mason Rudolph, Devlin Hodges, Paxton Lynch, and J.T. Barrett – plus his extensive experience as an offensive coordinator at a number of major college programs should allow him to be a help to Randy Fichtner when it comes time to devise schemes and formulate game plans.
KENNETH MARSHALL FROM TULSA, OK: Do you think the Steelers can get Cam Newton?
ANSWER: I don't know whether they can, but I am certain they have no interest.
DIABLO SAYAYIN FROM CDMX, MEXICO: How do undrafted players (like Donnie Shell) get to the team? Do they knock on the door, or does the team have them in sight and invite them?
ANSWER: The Steelers, and all NFL teams for that matter, scout all of the draft eligible players at all levels of college football, even if it's only through video. Towards the end of that process, those players then are graded based on which round the team believes they should be drafted, and then there are others who are given a free agent grade. Once the draft gets into the sixth and seventh rounds, teams will begin calling undrafted players and gauging whether they might be interested in signing as a free agent once the draft is over if they're not selected by any team. Once the draft officially ends, it becomes something of a free-for-all, with teams doing their best to sign undrafted players to free agent contracts. In 1974, Donnie Shell was one of those players who wasn't drafted, and he chose to sign with the Steelers over a couple of other teams that had shown some interest. That's how the process works, with regard to undrafted players.
CHRISTOPHER WILLIAMS FROM CASPER, WY: Do players under contract receive health insurance for non-football related injury and illness as a normal part of their employment?
ANSWER: Certainly for all illnesses, but when it comes to injuries sustained unrelated to football activity, there is a provision in the Collective Bargaining Agreement that pertains to non-football injuries. Depending upon the conduct leading to an individual sustaining a non-football injury that would prevent him from fulfilling the terms of his contract, there are measures a team can explore under the CBA to be granted relief from having to pay a player's salary, but those are adjudicated on a case-by-case basis.
BRIAN BOYCE FROM SPRINGBORO, OH: I will assume with two Steelers already announced as part of this year's Hall of Fame class that Alan Faneca will have to wait another year. Is it still realistic to believe Troy Polamalu is a lock to be elected in his first year of eligibility now that two Steelers – Donnie Shell and Bill Cowher – already have been announced?
ANSWER: I have found it's a total crapshoot when it comes to trying to predict how the Hall of Fame Board of Selectors is going to vote in any given year on any given candidate. I personally believe Troy Polamalu and Alan Faneca both are deserving of being enshrined, and the fact Faneca is a finalist for the fifth straight year proves he already has a significant amount of support. And Ray Lewis has said that since Ed Reed was elected in his first year of eligibility then Polamalu is worthy of the same. Nothing that happens, either favorably or unfavorably for Faneca and/or Polamalu would surprise me, because I have come to accept that when it comes to an election, any kind of election, the outcome of that election tells us more about the voters than the candidates.