Asked and Answered

Asked and Answered: Jan. 26

Let's get to it:

RYAN YEDLINSKY FROM LANSING, KS: I've watched the live stream of the NFL Draft but obviously can't identify all the folks involved. Who do the Steelers have in the room to discuss the picks throughout the draft process? I know it's a team effort, so who is on the draft day team?
ANSWER: The first thing to understand is that while there might be a lot of people in the Bill Nunn Draft Room during the three days of the NFL Draft, and while their opinions might be requested at various times during the process, not everyone is involved in the decision-making. In fact, there are only three people in that room who have any voice in the final decision, and they are the Steelers President, the head coach, and the general manager. With Kevin Colbert out of the picture, and with the task of putting together the draft board in the hands of someone other than the general manager, there could be some adjusting starting this year. But the task of deciding on which way the Steelers go when their turn comes up in a round of the draft is decidedly not a democracy. It's not a vote.

ROBERT YEAGER FROM CANYON COUNTRY, CA: Now that the 2022 season is over, do you consider this one of the best "season turnaround" accomplishments in recent Steelers history?
ANSWER: The Steelers qualified for the playoffs in each of the first six seasons of Bill Cowher's tenure as coach (1992-97), but then things began to disintegrate in 1998 when the team finished 7-9 and then in 1999 when the team finished 6-10. One of the persistent issues at the time was finding consistency at the quarterback position. After becoming the full-time starter in 1997 and finishing the regular season with 21 touchdown passes and 11 rushing touchdowns, Kordell Stewart produced 13 total touchdowns, threw 18 interceptions, and was sacked 33 times in 1998. After Stewart produced 8 total touchdowns, threw 10 interceptions, and was sacked 22 times in 1999, he lost the starting job to Mike Tomczak. The Steelers didn't renew Tomczak's contract for 2000, but they did sign free agent Kent Graham, who "won" the starting job coming out of training camp and during an 0-3 start to the season he completed 48-of-98 (49 percent) for 625 yards, with no touchdowns, no interceptions, and a rating of 69.5. Cowher turned to Stewart, who started all but one game (injury) the rest of the season, and the Steelers went 9-4 by putting together a 5-game winning streak and then closing the season with 4 wins in their last 5 games. The finale, Dec. 24 in San Diego, was a game the Steelers needed to win and then get help in order to make the playoffs for the first time since 1997. With 131 yards rushing, 6 sacks, 2 takeaways, and limiting the Chargers to 171 total net yards, the Steelers won, 34-21, but did not get the help they needed to qualify for the postseason. But it can be remembered as a turning point, because over the next 10 seasons (2001-10), the Steelers played in 5 AFC Championship Games – 2001, 2004, 2005, 2008, and 2010.

NICK MOSES FROM SIMI VALLEY, CA: Do you think the Steelers will look to free agency for wide receiver help this offseason? Feels like an experienced receiver might be an aid to our young quarterback.
ANSWER: That's impossible to predict at this stage, because nobody knows who's going to be available in free agency vs. which players might re-sign with their current teams. Generally, I would tend toward predicting the money will be spent elsewhere, because the Steelers won't be looking for a top-of-the-depth-chart wide receiver in free agency because the cost would be prohibitive, and I tend to believe Kenny Pickett will be served best by developing relationships with the receivers starting from scratch rather than trying to integrate someone who's used to doing things a different way.

GORD BEILBY FROM TINY, ONTARIO, CANADA: Who makes the determination at a game as to whom is credited with a sack, or forced fumble, etc.? Do you feel it's warranted to make a distinction between whether an interception is charged to the quarterback or listed otherwise?
ANSWER: The things you describe are determined by the on-site stats crew that is working the game, and those stats crews are selected and paid by the home team. Of course, whatever determination is made at the site of the game could be reviewed by the Elias Sports Bureau, which is the longtime Official Statistician for Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Basketball Association, the Women's National Basketball Association, Major League Soccer, NBA G League and the PGA Championship. Upon that review, the on-site decision could be confirmed or changed, and then that decision is final in the eyes of the NFL. And interceptions belong to the quarterback. They make enough money to bear the burden.

RICHARD KOVAL FROM BRUCETON MILLS, WV: I know teams have time periods to follow when it comes to talking to and signing free agents, but what about free agents themselves? When their season is over, are they permitted to go talk to teams setting up a deal ahead of actual free agency?
ANSWER: If the teams are restricted by rule regarding contact with free agents, how could the players be exempt from that? Imagine trying to enforce a "rule" where only one of the two sides is bound by its terms.

WILLIAM NANOOK FROM BOILING SPRINGS, PA: In your opinion, what would it take to retain a talented coach such as Brian Flores?
ANSWER: Brian Flores is head coach material, and he deserves to be interviewed for that position and then will be encouraged to take a head coaching job when it's offered. If nothing comes available for Flores at that level, or he isn't interested in the one being offered, then I'm sure he would be welcomed back by the Steelers. But it's going to be a situation where it's up to him to stay, rather than being up to the Steelers to retain him.

SIMON SAEZ FROM ABERDARE, WALES: As the rumor mill is in full swing, Tremaine Edmunds is being touted as a possible acquisition this summer. Whether he joins the Steelers or any other franchise, do you have any sense of how much of the salary cap he'd likely take up? More or less than the $8 million for Myles Jack?
ANSWER: I'll start off by clarifying Myles Jack's contract status with respect to the Steelers salary cap. In 2022, Jack counted $4.75 million on the Steelers' cap, and in 2023 he is due to count $11.25 million on the cap. Tremaine Edwards earned $12.7 million on the fifth-year option of the contract the Bills decided to exercise after making him their No. 1 pick in 2018. That makes this the first time Edmunds has hit free agency, and maybe it turns out to be the only time in his career where he's able to market himself as a completely unrestricted free agent. There is no team going to be able to sign him for the cap space to be commanded by Myles Jack in 2023.

MICHAEL ANGELO FROM LAS VEGAS, NV: Would the Steelers consider trading wide receiver Diontae Johnson for the right price given their excellent track record of finding gems at that position in the draft and with George Pickens emerging as a clear No. 1 receiver talent? What would the cap/dead money implications be in this scenario?
ANSWER: If the Steelers were to trade or release Diontae Johnson this offseason, he would count $19.67 million in dead money against their 2023 salary cap. Besides the financial hurdle, the Steelers wouldn't be able to "get the right price" in a trade for Johnson at a time of the NFL calendar when free agency is right around the corner and will be followed by a draft class that's certain to provide many diverse options for a team looking for a wide receiver. The best path forward with Johnson is to continue to work with him and develop him at his position and then count on Diontae and Kenny to work on a partnership that if successful will end up being successful for everybody.

STEPHEN KEISTER FROM KINNELON, NJ: Though undrafted, Jaylen Warren was a big addition to the Steelers this year. How do undrafted rookies come to try out for a given team? Are they invited by the team, or do they independently just show up?
ANSWER: Undrafted rookies have reports done on them just like every other player who's eligible to be drafted from a particular class, complete with on-field testing, medicals, everything. Once the time comes, teams contact those individuals, and it's not a tryout as much as it's a recruiting. It's not unusual for coveted undrafted rookies to choose from more than one NFL offer. And NFL teams do not accept people literally coming in off the street.

PAUL PEACHEY FROM LITITZ, PA: We hear a lot about play-calling in the red zone, both offensively and defensively. How might the play-calling change for the red zone compared to other areas of the field?
ANSWER: The play-calling changes because the dimensions of the field have changed. Inside a 20-yard line, there is less area for the defense to defend and less area for the offense to operate. The kinds of tactics that might be successful for either side when there's more lawn to cover might not be successful when the dimensions are reduced, often significantly. That's how, and often why, play-calling has to change in the red zone.

ANDREW SCHERBIK FROM PORTSMOUTH, OH: With the Steelers just recently having retired the late, great Franco Harris' No. 32, who was the last player before Franco to wear No. 32?
ANSWER: The last player would be Hubie Bryant, who attended Penn Hills High School just outside the City of Pittsburgh limits, then attended the University of Minnesota. He had a flirtation with the Browns in 1968, and then in 1970, Bryant – 5-foot-10, 170 pounds – returned 37 punts for 159 yards (4.3 average, with a long of 33 yards) in his only season with the Steelers. Bryant also played for New England in the NFL in 1973 before playing in the World Football League for three different teams in 1974-75.

MICHAEL PAOLINI FROM SCHWENKSVILLE, PA: In Three Rivers Stadium, what was the purpose of having cars behind the end zone sidelines?
ANSWER: That was part of a marketing agreement with Chrysler dealers in the Pittsburgh area.

JOHN KUN FROM FREDERICK MD: If a college player declares early for the draft and then is not drafted, can he go back and play for his college?
ANSWER: No. There are no backsies.

SCOTT JOHNSON FROM DAVENPORT, IA: Since the Steelers offseason has begun, given the needs at cornerback, defensive line, and the possibility of wide receiver Jordan Addison, which position would you target in the first round of the draft?
ANSWER: I have written this a bunch of times already this offseason, and I'm not going to keep doing it forever. You draft players, not positions, and especially so in the first round of an NFL Draft. You picked the quarterback because it was Kenny Pickett, and the running back because it was Najee Harris, and the defensive lineman because it was Cam Heyward. Drafting the position but not having it be manned by the right player is destined for failure.

CARY GOUDEAU FROM BATON ROUGE, LA: Come on, Bob, I've submitted several "outstanding" questions over the years. Please pick mine! I think we are building a solid team and barring injury and free agency we could be in the Super Howl hunt in two years. What are your thoughts?
ANSWER: Come on, Cary, that's not an "outstanding" question. In fact, rattling off your opinion and then closing with, "What are your thoughts?" doesn't really qualify as a question at all.

GREGORY BECK FROM BOCA RATON, FL: I don't know if you have seen this new sport called "Power Slapping." You stand across from your opponent and slap him as hard as you can. After all of your years covering football and being involved with the media, who would you love to Power Slap?
ANSWER: Does it have to be limited to the media?