Let's get to it:
WAYNE PAUGH FROM DENVER, CO: Can you explain in greater detail the functionality of an NFL futures deal? With a quarterback like Dwayne Haskins having finished third in Heisman voting and drafted in the first round, I assume his skill-set is not typically seen in most futures deals. As a result of signing him, what rights have the Steelers acquired (right to negotiate, to invite to camp, etc.)? If any personal or behavioral issues are resolved, does Haskins have a chance to enter the mix at quarterback next season?
ANSWER: Let's begin with futures contracts. During an NFL offseason, all teams – from the ones still playing on the first Sunday in February to the ones that didn't make the playoffs – technically are required to stick to a 53-man roster until the new league year begins in early March. This disparity in when teams begin looking forward to the following season led to the creation of futures contracts. A normal NFL player contract becomes effective as soon as it's signed, but futures contracts take effect on the first day of the new league year. The first day of the new league year also is when teams can expand their rosters to 90 players, which remains the limit until cut-down day at the end of the preseason.
Futures contracts mostly are used for young players, but they're not limited to being used on young players, and anyone not on an active roster at the end of the regular season is eligible for one. Teams typically begin an offseason by signing their own practice squad players to futures contracts, because practice squads are dissolved at the end of the league year. Another characteristic of futures contracts making them valuable to teams is that players signed to a futures contract typically earn the NFL minimum salary for their years of experience, and because a team's offseason salary cap only counts the top 51 earners on a roster, players on futures contracts rarely count on a team's offseason salary cap.
For a player like Dwayne Haskins, the Steelers' signing of him to a futures contract means they control him for one year at what can be assumed is the NFL minimum salary, and because that number is less than $1 million he probably won't be among the top 51 earners and therefore won't count on their offseason salary cap. Once the league year begins in early March 2021, Haskins can work out/practice/attend meetings with the Steelers according to the rules for the 2021 NFL offseason; he will be eligible to participate in OTAs and required to attend minicamp – if those things exist in 2021; and if he's not waived he will attend training camp. At that point, it's up to Haskins to win a spot, either on the 53-man roster or maybe the practice squad.
JOHN CULLEN FROM BELMONT, OH: Why did the Steelers sign Dwayne Haskins? He has shown nothing as an NFL quarterback at Washington and has made poor decisions off the field. Do we really need another problem/distraction at this point?
ANSWER: Players signed to futures contracts are not distractions. They may become names on the waiver wire, but being that low on the totem pole makes them easily discardable.
DAVID PICKEL FROM SPRING LAKE, NC: I saw where the Steelers signed Dwayne Haskins to a one-year contract. Are they going to hire another quarterback coach to work with him and Mason Rudolph? Also does the signing of Haskins mean that they might be looking to move on from Mason Rudolph?
ANSWER: As of this writing, the Steelers quarterbacks coach is Matt Canada. There have been reports that Canada is a prime candidate to replace Randy Fichtner as the offensive coordinator, and if that happens to come true I believe Coach Mike Tomlin would hire someone to replace Canada as quarterbacks coach. And the signing of Dwayne Haskins has virtually nothing to do with Mason Rudolph's position on the team, because there is a far greater chance the Steelers "move on" from Haskins before they "move on" from Rudolph, especially before Rudolph's current contract expires after the 2021 season.
LUCA VALENTINI FROM MILANO, ITALIA: The decision to sign Dwayne Haskins looks smart. The guy is talented. Could he be our future starting quarterback?
ANSWER: Remember when the Steelers signed Paxton Lynch, another talented, former No. 1 pick? Remember how Lynch was cut at the end of training camp? Dwayne Haskins right now is a lot closer to following in the footsteps of Lynch than he is to ascending to the starting quarterback job with the Steelers.
RONNIE SHAW FROM LOGANVILLE, GA: Why do you think the Steelers signed Dwayne Haskins when they rarely gave Joshua Dobbs any playing time?
ANSWER: The Steelers typically go to training camp with four quarterbacks on their 90-man roster. As of today, they have three quarterbacks under contract for 2021: Ben Roethlisberger, who will be 39 in early March and possibly could opt to retire this offseason; Mason Rudolph, who is entering the final season of the contract he signed as a rookie; and Dwayne Haskins. Joshua Dobbs will be an unrestricted free agent in March, and Devlin Hodges was not re-signed after spending last year on the practice squad. The Steelers needed numbers at the quarterback position on their offseason depth chart, and Haskins is someone who came cheap, has practice squad eligibility, and has started regular season games in the NFL. If nothing else, he should provide the team with some competition at the position and with a fourth quarterback for training camp.
DENNIS NEVINSKY FROM ERIE, PA: If Dwayne Haskins develops, could the Steelers keep him during his fifth year since he was a first-round pick?
ANSWER: The fifth-year option only exists on a player's rookie contract. That contract was voided when Washington waived Dwayne Haskins, and then he cleared waivers to become a free agent. So the futures contract Haskins signed with the Steelers does not contain the fifth-year option. What does exist, however is this: If Haskins makes the 53-man roster and finishes the 2021 season with the Steelers, he would be a restricted free agent in March 2022. If some other team then presented him with an offer sheet that Haskins accepted and the Steelers declined to match, the Steelers would be entitled to the other team's first-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft as compensation.
BEN MURPHY FROM INNISHANNON, IRELAND: With Matthew Stafford now requesting a trade, how would you feel about him as a cheaper trade alternative to Deshaun Watson to replace Ben Roethlisberger not that I necessarily want Roethlisberger replaced?
ANSWER: None of these scenarios are going to happen, so do yourself – and me – a favor and put ALL of them out of your head.
MATT McNITT FROM MOUNT CARMEL, PA: I am just curious why a player who retires still gets paid and counts against the salary cap? I can understand if they are cut, but do not understand why it is that way when retiring.
ANSWER: A player who retires doesn't continue to get paid his salary, but he still counts against the salary cap for the simple reason that this prevents teams from subverting the purpose of having a salary cap. If dead money was forgiven once a player retired, there would be nothing to prevent a team from doing something like this: A 42-year-old quarterback is in the final year of his contract, and his team knows the guy can play for just one more year. So, the team offers him a 10-year contract that includes a $30 million signing bonus and a first-year salary of $1.05 million, which is the NFL minimum for a veteran with his years of service. That means his cap number for that one year is $11.05 million, while the player earns $31.05 million in actual dollars. He plays that season and retires. Without the dead money then counting on the team's cap, the team would have "beaten the system" by paying a player a lot of money without the bulk of it ever counting on its salary cap. When the NFL negotiated the current system of free agency tied to a salary cap back in the early 1990s, it wanted to prevent richer teams from having this kind of advantage.
RICKY SCOTT FROM ALLENTOWN, PA: If players retire like Vance McDonald did and were under contract for next season like he was, do the Steelers take a hit in their salary cap for any of the money that was owed to him?
ANSWER: Yes, and in Vance McDonald's case, he will count for $2.73 million on the Steelers' 2021 salary cap even though he is retired.
GAETANO BERCINI FROM WARREN, OH: Your assessment of the quarterback situation, or simply put, what am I "missing" in regards to Josh Dobbs' status?
ANSWER: I don't know what you're "missing," but the Steelers could be "missing" Joshua Dobbs if he leaves to sign with another team when he becomes an unrestricted free agent in March.
GEORGE KELLY FROM GALENA, OH: Has the Rooney family always owned the Pittsburgh Steelers?
ANSWER: The franchise was founded by Art Rooney Sr. in 1933, and Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and Cincinnati all played their inaugural seasons in the NFL in 1933. The Steelers and Eagles survived, but the Cincinnati franchise folded eight games into the 1934 season.
ALVIN SHELL FROM RICHMOND, VA: Do you think we need a linebacker at No. 24?
ANSWER: I believe the Steelers will use the draft to add to their corps of linebackers, but at this stage of the process I doubt that will mean using the No. 24 overall pick of the first round to add to the position.
WAYNE EPPEHIMER FROM JAMESTOWN, NY: During training camp I sent James Conner a letter to congratulate him on his book. I assume that many of the players receive a lot of mail, probably too much for them to read and respond to. Do the players actually receive the mail or does someone else sort through it?
ANSWER: Mail addressed to players at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex is sorted and delivered unopened to each individual's locker in the facility's locker room. What happens after that is up to the individual player.
BRIAN TENNANT FROM WEST HAVEN, UT: The topic in a recent ESPN segment was free agency and the reporter was talking about the need to re-sign Juju Smith-Schuster. The comment was made, "The Steelers don't re-sign wide receivers. The only exceptions being Hines Ward and Antonio Brown." That statement feels wrong for some reason. Can you shed a little light on the subject?
ANSWER: During the free agency era, the only receivers drafted by the Steelers who earned second contracts with the team were Hines Ward and Antonio Brown. A short list of those who were allowed to leave via free agency after their rookie contracts expired included: Plaxico Burress, Mike Wallace, Emmanuel Sanders, and Antwaan Randle El, although both Burress and Randle El returned to the Steelers after stints with other teams.
JOHN PUHALA FROM SPRINGFIELD, VA: With T.J. Watt having another team-leading sack season, did the Steelers pick up his fifth-year option? How much will that option cost? And will Bud Dupree get re-signed at a hometown price since he was injured?
ANSWER: In late April 2020, the Steelers exercised the fifth-year option on the contract that T.J. Watt signed as a rookie, and according to overthecap.com, that amount will be $10.089 million for the 2021 season. As for Bud Dupree, I believe he will get a multi-year offer from another team during free agency that will be for an amount that's more than the Steelers will be able to pay.
ROGER YARHOUSE FROM CLERMONT, FL: What did you think of the "let them play" officiating during the Green Bay-Tampa Bay NFC Championship Game?
ANSWER: I'm always in favor of fewer penalties, but what I believe should be absolutely mandatory in a game of that magnitude is consistency. Meaning, what is or is not a penalty in the first quarter will be or won't be a penalty in the fourth quarter. After all of the grabbing and holding that was allowed through the first three quarters of the NFC Championship Game and then to put Tampa Bay in victory formation with a penalty on what had been allowed to that point was arbitrary and inconsistent.