Let's get to it:
BYRON BLEDSOE FROM WASHINGTON TWP, MI: I know Chris Boswell was injured this year, and after returning from his injury, a lot of his kickoffs were well short of going out of the end zone, and he struggled with field goal accuracy. Do you think he is going to recover and be the kicker that he was in the past, or do you believe the Steelers might be looking for a new kicker in free agency or in the draft?
ANSWER: You began your question with the fact Chris Boswell was injured in 2022, and I tend to believe that had a good bit to do with him converting 20-of-28 field goals, with that 71.4 percent success rate being the second-lowest of his 8-year career. And as for the length of the kickoffs, often going for hang-time and placement instead of distance is a strategy employed in an effort to pin the opponent inside its own 25-yard line. Even Baltimore's Justin Tucker had a touchback percentage of just 61 percent during the 2021 and 2022 seasons, so that proves such a strategy is employed even with the best kicker in the NFL. Anyway, I cannot imagine the Steelers using either salary cap space to sign a veteran free agent or spend any draft capital on a placekicker when they have Boswell under contract through the 2026 season. What might happen is the team will be a little more serious in bringing in some competition for Boswell during the training camp/preseason period, but even with that I expect he will be the kicker for the upcoming season, barring injury of course.
GREGORY GRANT FROM BROOKLYN, NY: Now that Tampa Bay fired Byron Leftwich, is it reasonable to think that the Steelers could possibly go after him even though Matt Canada is still the offensive coordinator?
ANSWER: Reasonable? At this stage of the offseason, I don't foresee Byron Leftwich being content with a job as a position coach but depending upon how the rest of this offseason unfolds for him with respect to the job market and whether or not he has any money due him from the Buccaneers, and if Coach Mike Tomlin is interested in doing for the offense what he did with Brian Flores for the defense in 2022, maybe Leftwich would be a possibility. Or maybe Tomlin might tab someone else for a Flores-like role on the offensive staff. Remember, it was Feb. 19, 2022, when the Steelers hired Flores, and it's only Jan. 24.
KARL WARHEIT FROM HOLLYWOOD, FL: Why didn't we retain the services of Mike Hilton? He seems to be having a great season with the Bengals.
ANSWER: Mike Hilton hit unrestricted free agency during an offseason when the Steelers were in absolutely the worst possible place when it came to their salary cap. It was 2021, and the pandemic year of 2020 had the Steelers playing their home games in an empty stadium, which was a typical situation all across the NFL. As a result, revenues plummeted for all teams, which meant the salary cap per team for 2021 was going to be lower than it had been per team in 2020. In addition to that reduction in the salary cap, the Steelers had 19 players reach unrestricted free agency, including 9 (Tyson Alualu, James Conner, Bud Dupree, Matt Feiler, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Cam Sutton, Alejandro Villanueva, Chris Wormley, and Hilton) who were coming off seasons in which they were starters or significant contributors. And complicating matters even further was that something had to be worked out with Ben Roethlisberger, who was entering the final season of his existing contract at a salary cap number too high to be absorbed under that climate. When the Bengals offered Hilton a 4-year, $24 million contract that included a $4 million signing bonus and $6 million guaranteed, the Steelers simply were in no position to match or come close to those numbers.
STEFAN PISOCKI FROM WILMINGTON, DE: Hypothetically, of course, Kenney Pickett for Brock Purdy, straight up. Do you make the trade?
ANSWER: No. There is a reason why Brock Purdy was a seventh-round draft choice in 2022, the 262nd overall pick, and the ninth and final quarterback selected. And usually, that reason or reasons has to do with physical skill-set, which usually means that once the NFL gets a library of video on a guy, his ability to continue to be successful will come down to how he develops and uses his physical skills. I'm not predicting that Purdy will end up being a one-year wonder, and I realize that there can be examples cited – Tom Brady – where the NFL evaluation fell short of the individual's potential to thrive in the NFL, but as a general rule I'd rather have the first-round talent.
DARRELL SAUNDERS FROM MIAMI, FL: Do the playoff results affect the draft order? The Steelers currently have the 17th pick in the first round and the first pick in the second round. We lost to New England, Miami, Buffalo, and the Jets, but why are Miami, New England, and the Jets picking ahead of us again?
ANSWER: First of all, draft order is determined by teams' records over the course of the whole season, not by head-to-head matchups/results. Yes, the Steelers lost to both New England and the Jets, but because the Jets finished 7-10, they have the 13th overall pick, and the 8-9 Patriots will have the 14th overall pick. Both of those records are worse than the Steelers' 9-8, and that's why those teams will pick before Pittsburgh. The 9-8 Dolphins, by virtue of their appearance in the Wild Card Round of the playoffs, will pick after the Steelers.
TERRY HALDEN FROM LETHBRIDGE, ALBERTA, CANADA: With quarterbacks wanting to be running backs (a la Lamar Jackson) and subject to being tackled, as opposed to pocket passers (a la Tom Brady), do you think the new crop of quarterbacks will have a shortened career because of increased wear and tear?
ANSWER: Assuming the rules remain the same, I believe wear and tear will be something teams consider in handing out huge second contracts to quarterbacks who are dynamic weapons based more on their ability to run rather than their ability to make the same dynamic kinds of plays with their arms.
SURIEL URIBE FROM SAN DIEGO, CA: Are the Steelers going to play this year in Mexico City for an international game?
ANSWER: The NFL announced its schedule of international games for 2023, and the league revealed there would be no games played in Mexico this season. The teams that will be hosting international games in 2023 are Buffalo, Tennessee, Jacksonville, New England, and Kansas City, and because the Steelers list of road opponents doesn't include those teams, the Steelers won't be playing an international game in 2023.
SHAWN M. FRANKLIN FROM URBANDALE, IA: What penalty irks you the most? Barely touching a quarterback that's flagged as roughing the passer, blocking in the back on a fair catch punt, blocking in the back on a kickoff, or some other?
ANSWER: This may be a bit off your particular subject, but what I really hate is when there's a penalty flag thrown, then there's a discussion among the on-field officials, and then the referee gets on his mic and announces that there is no foul on the play. Somebody threw a penalty flag for something, and if he wasn't certain it was a penalty, he shouldn't have thrown his flag in the first place. Don't throw a flag unless you're SURE.
BRUNO CONTORCHICK FROM YORK, PA: I was watching highlights of a game against the Ravens, and James Harrison had a career night. He finished with 10 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery, and 1 interception. After a little research I found an article saying Harrison was an undrafted free agent. I know Donnie Shell was also. Were there any other Steelers who were undrafted free agents who played a few seasons or more with the team?
ANSWER: That James Harrison game vs. the Ravens came in 2007, and the Steelers' history with undrafted rookie free agents is a long and successful one. You can go all the way back to 1951 when the Steelers signed an undrafted rookie defensive back named Jack Butler, who played his college football at St. Bonaventure. Butler started 10 of the 12 games during his rookie season, and he ended up being a two-time first-team All-Pro during a 9-year career in which he posted 62 takeaways (52 interceptions and 10 fumble recoveries ) in 104 games before a knee injury ended his career. Butler was voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2012. Then there was the running back who couldn't even get playing time during his college career at North Carolina, but after he signed as an undrafted rookie with the Steelers in 2004, Willie Parker turned into a two-time Pro Bowl selection, who posted three straight 1,000-yard seasons from 2005-07, scored 13 rushing touchdowns in 2006, and still holds the Super Bowl record for the longest run for a touchdown when he raced 75 yards in the Steelers win over the Seahawks in Super Bowl XL. Flipping the spotlight to the current roster, two of the players who joined the Steelers as undrafted rookies were Jaylen Warren (2022) and James Pierre (2020).