Let's get to it:
PATRICK CHARLES FROM GILLETTE, WY: Now that the defense has given up 40-plus points in three straight playoff games , do you think it's time to change the scheme from a 3-4 back to a 4-3? Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt at defensive end; Tyson Alualu and Chris Wormley at defensive tackle; T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith at outside linebacker; and Joe Schobert as the middle linebacker. Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin had success with the Tampa-2, and so did the 1970s Steelers teams. The 1976 Steelers posted six shutouts, right?
ANSWER: Actually, the 1976 Steelers defense posted five shutouts. But you should understand that just because you type names of players and assign them positions doesn't mean they're suited to those positions. T.J. Watt, as just one example, is a multiple-time first-team All-Pro and the co-holder of the NFL's single-season sack record. He is a 3-4 outside linebacker, an edge rusher, and just because you put him down as an outside linebacker doesn't mean he could play the position in a manner approaching the level at which he plays his current position. You're also making significant assumptions regarding Stephon Tuitt and Joe Schobert, just to name two more players. As for the success enjoyed by the 1970s Steelers defenses, are you prepared to assign all of that success to the base alignment of the defense, or the fact the 11-man unit started four Hall of Fame players – Joe Greene, Jack Ham, Jack Lambert, and Mel Blount, with a fifth (Donnie Shell) waiting in the wings. The Steelers need to improve their defense, but that will be achieved by adding more good players and not by changing the base alignment and hoping that what worked 50 years ago will work today.
JAY SIMMONS FROM DALTON, GA: I usually defer to the Steelers brain-trust on player decisions, especially General Manager Kevin Colbert, but I'm thinking the trade of Melvin Ingram to the Chiefs was an error. Comparing his production for the Chiefs vs. Alex Highsmith's for the Steelers makes me believe keeping Ingram and playing him more would have been the better short term (this past season) decision. I understand Highsmith has more upside for the future due to age, but from how Ingram has played since the trade if he was happy with more playing time it may have been a win-win.
ANSWER: Did you spend any time whatsoever in researching the seasons that Melvin Ingram and Alex Highsmith turned in from a statistical standpoint? I think not, because I did, and the simple ability to read a stats line would have debunked your contention that "Comparing his production for the Chiefs vs. Alex Highsmith's for the Steelers makes me believe keeping Ingram and playing him more would have been the better short term (this past season) decision." Even combining Ingram's statistics with the two teams doesn't bring him close to Highsmith's production. Ingram played in 15 games in 2021 with seven starts, and he finished with 25 tackles, two sacks, one pass defensed, one forced fumble, no fumble recoveries, and no interceptions. Highsmith played in 16 games with 16 starts, and he finished with 74 tackles, six sacks, no passes defensed, one forced fumble, no fumble recoveries, and no interceptions. Trading Ingram caused some short-term pain for the Steelers because it cut into their depth at the critical outside linebacker position, but to claim he was more productive than Highsmith is just not true.
HOWIE PFEIFER FROM GILBERT, AZ: What is the estimated salary cap for next year? And, in your opinion, who do you see being salary cap losses?
ANSWER: The salary cap per team in 2022 is supposed to come in around $208.2 million. While the Steelers may lose some unrestricted free agents either to bigger contract offers from other teams or to a decision to move on from that player for competitive reasons, I don't anticipate them having to cut any players simply to get into compliance with the salary cap.
TIMOTHY TRATHOWEN FROM SOUTH VIENNA, OH: Do you feel like a change at either coordinator position will happen?
ANSWER: Keith Butler announced his retirement on Jan. 22, and so the Steelers will have a new defensive coordinator, and based on what Coach Mike Tomlin said at his news conference on Jan. 18 about Matt Canada, I don't believe there will be a change at offensive coordinator.
BRIAN WOLF FROM OLD HICKORY, TN: Could the Steelers possibly afford Aaron Rodgers if the Packers moved on from him after the season and he was willing to come to them, and secondly, would Gardner Minshew be a possibility to come in and provide competition for Dwayne Haskins and Mason Rudolph?
ANSWER: Gardner Minshew is under contract to the Philadelphia Eagles through the 2022 season, and as Jalen Hurts' backup I don't see the Eagles being overly interested in cutting ties with him unless they received an offer they couldn't refuse. And I would imagine there is a way for the Steelers to "possibly afford Aaron Rodgers," but it likely would preclude them from then making any other moves in free agency during the offseason. We can deal with hypotheticals and what-ifs for many months, but Rodgers to the Steelers isn't going to happen. Not in the real world.
JOSHUA CAMPBELL FROM CINCINNATI, OH: A lot of people have asked you about the next quarterback for the Steelers. I have seen your opinion on who it shouldn't be, and I agree with you, mostly. However, no one has asked you who you think the Steelers next quarterback will be.
ANSWER: What aggravates me about this whole issue is the need fans feel to have that answer now. It's late January, for goodness sakes. The offseason program won't even start for three months, and free agency doesn't begin for two months. I don't know who the Steelers next quarterback will be. Nobody knows.
STEVE ORLOSKY FROM MOHRSVILLE, PA: Your gut feeling: Who is under center next year?
ANSWER: What if they open in the shotgun?
CULLEN ROBISON FROM SUFFOLK, VA: My question is regarding the best available player strategy to drafting. If you're making the Steelers first-round selection and a player at every position is available with the same grades and potential, what position do you pick?
ANSWER: The what-if situation you describe doesn't happen in the real world in the way the Steelers prepare for the draft. There is no such thing as multiple players being tied in terms of how they're stacked on the draft board. There are no ties. Once the discussion on a player is concluded, he is placed on the board in his own slot.
ROY MILLER FROM TULSA, OK: What is your opinion of Derek Carr becoming our starting quarterback for next season?
ANSWER: In the real world? Or in your imagination? Because in the real world, there is going to have to be compensation to the Raiders, because Carr is under contract to Las Vegas through the 2022 season. Also in the real world, there is going to have to be compensation to Carr, because he can become an unrestricted free agent following the 2022 season, and since he'll earn nearly $20 million on the final year of his existing contract an extension likely wouldn't be simple to negotiate nor inexpensive. But hey, maybe in the world of your imagination, the Raiders are willing to trade Carr for a third-round draft pick, and Carr is eager to sign a cap-friendly extension that still allows the Steelers to do some things in free agency to strengthen some other areas of their roster, since as of this writing the team has no picks in the fourth or fifth rounds in the upcoming draft.
TOM HENSON FROM MARTINSVILLE, IN: How do you think Wink Martindale would fit in as defensive coordinator for the Steelers, and what would you guess is the interest level the Steelers would have in him and vice versa?
ANSWER: Let's begin with this: I have absolutely no idea whether the Steelers have any interest in former Ravens defensive coordinator Don Martindale, who was fired by the team at the end of the regular season, nor do I have any idea whether Martindale has any interest in joining the Steelers. But there is something I do find curious about this: Over the past two seasons, I have been inundated with hundreds of submissions via this forum that have complained about the Steelers offense, ripped the coordinators – Randy Fichtner and Matt Canada – and been told via these submissions in no uncertain terms that both of them should be fired immediately and/or charged with gross professional incompetence. Over that same timeframe, the Steelers are 4-0 vs. the Ravens (and the defenses Martindale coordinated) – 2-0 with Fichtner as the offensive coordinator and 2-0 with Canada as the offensive coordinator. See where I'm having trouble understanding what seems to me to be an obvious contradiction?
BRANDON LATTANZI FROM STRATFORD, CT: Wonder what your thoughts are on perhaps drafting a true nose tackle in this upcoming draft if a good one is available with the 20th overall pick in the first round? I realize we have other needs, and most people would say you don't spend that kind of draft capital on a player who's only on the field for maybe 25 snaps a game, but I also watched opposing offenses run for 200-plus yards multiple times this year vs. the Steelers defense.
ANSWER: I believe the Steelers need to reinforce their defensive line this offseason, both in terms of looking for top-of-the-depth-chart talent as well as strengthening the unit against the likelihood of injuries. But this concept of "a true nose tackle" would be a waste, in my opinion. Find defensive linemen who are good at stopping the run but also provide something in the way of a contribution on those downs when the opposing offense does not run the ball. That way, the player you add is able to stay on the field for more than 20-some snaps a game. Those kinds of defensive linemen exist, and that's the kind of player I would be looking to add to the team's roster this offseason, either via free agency or the draft. And especially in the first round.