Let's get to it:
MATTHIAS NOLDER FROM MILWAUKEE, WI: In the final regular season game against the Browns, Mason Rudolph, in my opinion, was dropping dimes on the Browns defense left and right. Has Mike Tomlin addressed Rudolph's growth at the position at all? Do you think that the Steelers will have him start once Ben retires?
ANSWER: This was Coach Mike Tomlin's answer to a question about Mason Rudolph that was posed to him after the loss to the Browns in the Wild Card Round: "I thought he displayed that he took a step in growth and development in his performance, even though it was a small sample size. I would imagine that he is going to continue with that growth and development. We will see where that leads us in terms of what he is able to provide us. I'm excited that he was able to display that, and I think it is reasonable for me to expect that general trajectory to continue."
As for Rudolph's possible future role with the Steelers, it needs to be remembered that he is entering the final year of the contract he signed as a rookie and could become an unrestricted free agent in March 2022. Assuming Ben Roethlisberger comes back for the 2021 season, Rudolph's contractual situation will have to be dealt with first.
JEFFREY NASH FROM PITTSBURGH, PA: Do you think the Steelers will participate in quarterback free agency outside of the Dwayne Haskins signing?
ANSWER: The Steelers have no salary cap room to be dabbling in free agency this offseason, and I don't believe you're referring to the team possibly looking for a No. 3 quarterback, or a fourth quarterback to take to training camp in the event Joshua Dobbs leaves as an unrestricted free agent. And if Ben Roethlisberger is back for the 2021 season, there wouldn't be room on the quarterback depth chart for anything more than that.
GREG TATSUGUCHI FROM HONOLULU, HI: The offensive line appeared to lose something over the past couple of years. How much was it coaching vs. players losing a step?
ANSWER: At the start of the 2020 season, Al Villanueva was 32 years old, and Maurkice Pouncey and David DeCastro both were 31, and so age and the wear-and-tear on the players' bodies resulting from the number of games each had played in the NFL likely was a factor. Also, the contract of offensive line coach Shaun Sarrett was not renewed at the end of the season, and so that indicates the Steelers came to the conclusion coaching was an issue as well.
DAVE HENEFELT FROM HUDSON, FL: Do you think the Steelers could restructure contracts to afford JuJu Smith-Schuster?
ANSWER: My impression is that JuJu Smith-Schuster wants to explore free agency and see what might be available to him on the open market. As an unrestricted free agent, that is his right.
DAVID MUSIATE FROM MEXICO CITY, MEXICO: With the promotion of Matt Canada to offensive coordinator and the hiring of Alfredo Roberts as tight ends coach, which coaching positions are still pending? Also, please extend my thanks to the team for giving us a great season although it ended before we expected. It was a complicated and challenging 2020, and to have this excitement and entertainment was a great way to get a little distracted from the things that made 2020 so challenging.
ANSWER: As of this writing, the positions on the coaching staff still to be filled are offensive line coach and quarterbacks coach.
MICHAEL WOLOZYN FROM OIL CITY, PA: I am curious about the drafting process and the logic behind a selection. I keep hearing that who gets drafted is the "best available" at the time of the selection. Just what does that mean? The best available at the time of a team's selection could be a quarterback but if the true need of the team is a defensive tackle, would that be overlooked?
ANSWER: Dan Rooney had a theory about that. He believed that when the coach and the personnel department put together its draft board and ranked the players in the order from which it then would select the "best available," it would be stacked with players at the position(s) of greatest need, so that when the time came it was possible to tell everybody that the pick was the highest-rated player left on the team's board. Joking aside, the teams that use the draft most effectively find a way to balance "need" with "best available." It's never an absolute, literal exercise.
DOUG COPPELER FROM FAYETTEVILLE, NC: The Steelers seem to be a "draft and develop" type of team vs. picking up big-name players via free agency and/or trades. The acquisition of Minkah Fitzpatrick is shaping up to be one of their best. The other trade that comes to mind was back in the 1990s when Pittsburgh traded for Jerome Bettis. Was Bettis already a big-name player when that trade happened, or did he develop into a big name after getting to Pittsburgh?
ANSWER: Jerome Bettis entered the league with the Rams as the 10th overall pick in the first round of the 1993 NFL Draft, and in his three seasons there he rushed for 3,091 yards, scored 13 touchdowns, was voted to two Pro Bowls and was a first-team All-Pro once. I would contend that qualified him as a big-name player before he came to the Steelers in that 1996 trade.
CLAY ROSSINI FROM RENO, NV: Is there any scenario that would allow us to keep Bud Dupree, Robert Spillane, and Ola Adeniyi?
ANSWER: Robert Spillane is an exclusive rights free agent, which means if the Steelers make him any offer, he has no choice but to sign it if he wants to play in the NFL in 2021. Ola Adeniyi is a restricted free agent, and those players rarely sign offer sheets and leave for another team. As for Bud Dupree, I would put his chances of being in a Steelers uniform for 2021 as just this side of "no chance."
LAYNE PENROD FROM RIVERDALE, UT: I was wondering how you felt about the Steelers going after a quality tight end in this upcoming draft, or even by trade/free agency.?
ANSWER: I believe tight end is just one of the positions the Steelers should seek to upgrade over the course of this offseason, and my focus would be to find one who can block because Eric Ebron showed himself to be useless is that aspect of playing the position. When the reasons for the ineffectiveness of the Steelers running game throughout much of the 2020 season are listed, the "blocking" the team didn't get with any consistency from its tight ends should not be underrated.
CLIFFORD BROWN JR. FROM SAN PEDRO, CA: Who do you see the Steelers realistically re-signing from this list of unrestricted free agents-to-be: Bud Dupree, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Cam Sutton, Mike Hilton, and James Connor?
ANSWER: Realistically? Maybe Cam Sutton, but only if there is some type of assurance that he'll be a starter. Otherwise, I believe he will leave for the opportunity to be a starter.
JOHN LAPLUME FROM LAND O' LAKES, FL: Last season highlighted the need for quality inside linebacker play. The defense played lights out until Devin Bush was injured. Robert Spillane was a pleasant surprise, and he played great until his injury. And let's not forget the impact of the injury to Ryan Shazier. What is going on at the inside linebacker position that keeps getting our personnel there injured?
ANSWER: My opinion is that it's a combination of the new trend toward inside linebackers being smaller and quicker to handle the new-age demands of the position based on how NFL offenses have come to attack defenses, plus the fact that inside linebackers usually play right behind the line of scrimmage in the middle of the field, where there is a lot of traffic and big, strong bodies they must be able to handle.
CIERA WABU FROM MISSOULA, MT: T.J. Watt is entering his fifth-year option on his rookie contract in 2021. Would it save the Steelers money by restructuring/giving him a new long term contract now, or when his option is up? Also, what are the options with the franchise tag this coming season?
ANSWER: If T.J. Watt plays the 2021 season under the terms of the fifth-year option figure of his rookie contract, he would count $10.09 million on the team's salary cap. It's possible that getting a long-term deal done could lower that number, but I don't believe a contract of that magnitude would be finished in time to keep some of the team's high profile unrestricted free agents, such as Bud Dupree or JuJu Smith-Schuster, from accepting more lucrative offers than the Steelers would be able to match. As for using the franchise tag, I don't believe that would be an option because the Steelers are going to be looking for ways to cut salary in February-March to get under the projected salary cap, and slapping the franchise tag on a player is adding salary at a big number.
MICHAEL ROBERTS FROM ELIZABETHTOWN, KY: Can you help me with a list of the starting quarterbacks after Terry Bradshaw retired and their records?
ANSWER: Here you go, and I'm listing them in as close to chronological order as memory allows: Cliff Stoudt was 9-6; Scott Campbell was 0-2; David Woodley was 7-6; Mark Malone was 21-22; Steve Bono was 2-1; Todd Blackledge was 2-3; Bubby Brister was 28-29; Neil O'Donnell was 39-22; Jim Miller was 0-1; Mike Tomczak was 15-12; Kordell Stewart was 46-29; Kent Graham was 2-3; Tommy Maddox was 15-16-1; and Ben Roethlisberger currently is 156-74-1.
HANS KOLLER FROM FREDONIA, NY: I have a hypothetical question: I know Aaron Rodgers is not leaving Green Bay and that the Steelers won't sell the farm to get him, either. But let's just say somehow Rodgers ends up in Pittsburgh. Does he get to wear No. 12, or do you think it stays unofficially retired?
ANSWER: In my opinion, there is no way the Steelers would give a guy who has done absolutely nothing for the franchise the jersey of the guy who quarterbacked them to four Super Bowl wins over a span of six seasons. No chance. None.
NICK MOSES FROM SIMI VALLEY, CA: Could you please give us a list of Steelers free agents? I'm particularly concerned about Cam Sutton and Mike Hilton.
ANSWER: UNRESTRICTED: 19 (listed alphabetically): NT Tyson Alualu, T Zach Banner, P Jordan Berry, RB James Conner, SS Jordan Dangerfield, FS Sean Davis, QB Joshua Dobbs, OLB Bud Dupree, OLB Jayrone Elliott, G Matt Feiler, T Jerald Hawkins, CB Mike Hilton, G Danny Isidora, OLB Cassius Marsh, WR JuJu Smith-Schuster, CB Cam Sutton, T Alejandro Villanueva, ILB Avery Williamson, and DE Chris Wormley.
RESTRICTED: 2 (listed alphabetically): OLB Ola Adeniyi, WR Ray-Ray McCloud.
I believe Cam Sutton wants to be a starter, and whether he signs with the Steelers or with another team is going to come down to that opportunity in addition to the money. As for Mike Hilton, my guess is he will draw less interested than Sutton, because Sutton could start as an outside cornerback and also play in the slot, while Hilton's value is geared more toward the slot only.
RICH SNYDER FROM DEERFIELD BEACH, FL: On the same play when that decisive pass interference penalty was called late in the NFC Championship Game, a Tampa Bay offensive lineman held the Green Bay player who could have disrupted Tom Brady's pass or even recorded a sack. Can you confirm if I was correct or wrong?
ANSWER: There was a replay of the play from behind the quarterback, and that camera angle showed a Tampa Bay blocker with his arm around the neck of a Packers defender as he was coming around the corner to try to get to Tom Brady. Officials have been ignoring offensive holding all year, so it didn't surprise me it wasn't called in that situation.
MARK TRIMBLE FROM CHEYENNE, WY: Is everyone done with the Dwayne Haskins questions yet?
ANSWER: I know I am.