Let’s get to it:
TONY SIMPSON FROM BELFAST, UNITED KINGDOM: Has an NFL team ever refused to let a player elected to the Hall of Fame to go in under their colors?
ANSWERS: While this question has been answered many times in the past, I’ll entertain it one more time here since the Hall of Fame will announce its Class of 2019 on Saturday night. When it comes to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, inductees are classified in one of the following categories: player, coach, contributor. Individuals are not inducted as a member of a particular team. To provide a specific example: should Alan Faneca, whose playing career included stints with the Steelers, New York Jets, and Cardinals, get elected to the Hall of Fame on Saturday night, he would be inducted as a player and not as a member of one of those three teams.
MICHAEL WOLOZYN FROM OIL CITY, PA: Just where is Antonio Brown in his current contract? Isn't he still obligated to the Steelers, effectively giving them control over his immediate playing future? When does free agency come into the picture for him?
ANSWER: Antonio Brown’s current contract runs through the 2021 NFL season, which means he next would be eligible for free agency some time in March 2022, at which point he would be 34 years old going on 35 in July 2022. According to spotrac.com, Brown’s salaries over the three years remaining on his current contract total $36.425 million.
BRIAN MORELLA FROM POLAND, OH: If the Steelers transition Le’Veon Bell and match the contract and then trade him, does Bell’s signing bonus have any cap implications on the Steelers?
ANSWER: The way for the Steelers to avoid any salary cap implications and do what you describe would be to place the transition tag on Le’Veon Bell and then when he presents them an offer sheet from another team, you contact that team and tell them that in exchange for a draft pick – let’s just say a No. 2 for the sake of this discussion – that you won’t match the offer, and then don’t match the offer in exchange for the negotiated upon draft pick compensation. If it’s not executed that way, then it’s very possible there could be salary cap implications for the Steelers in that process.
BUD COCHRAN FROM GENEVA, IL: I heard some talk at work today about the Steelers releasing Morgan Burnett, and that we could see Eric Weddle playing in Pittsburgh next year. I have not found anything to support this talk. So I ask you, isn't Eric Weddle 34 years old? And would the Steelers even consider signing him?
ANSWER: The only time you should take football talk that you hear at work seriously is if you happen to be working for an NFL team, and even then it’s wise to take things you hear with a grain of salt. There have been reports that Morgan Burnett has asked to be released, and even if that’s true, there’s no guarantee the Steelers will grant his request. As for Eric Weddle, he turned 34 on Jan. 4, and he is under contract to the Ravens through the 2019 season.
JEFF BARNES FROM CARLISLE, PA: Having just watched two weekends of terrific NFL playoff games, is it just me, or did the teams involved play a different brand of football than our Steelers? Defensive backs were tightly covering receivers instead of playing 5 yards back leaving them frequently wide open; and the play of the offenses was quick, variable, and imaginative instead of slow, methodical, and predictable.
ANSWER: It’s definitely just you, or you’re not watching with an unbiased eye. If you saw defensive backs tightly covering receivers, you must have missed the entire fourth quarter of the AFC Championship Game in Kansas City, because there were instances when the Patriots had three or four receivers WIDE OPEN on the SAME PLAY. In the fourth quarter and overtime, the teams combined to put together scoring drives of 75 yards in nine plays, 75 yards in 10 plays, 68 yards in five plays, 65 yards in six plays, and 75 yards in 13 plays. Tight coverage? Hardly. Also in that game, the Patriots defense blew four different fourth quarter leads to allow the game to get into overtime. New England led, 17-7, at the start of the fourth quarter, and then 21-17, and then 28-24, and then 31-28, and the Patriots defense couldn’t hold any of those.
In the NFC Championship Game, Saints Coach Sean Payton is getting a totally free pass for awful, just awful clock management on the snaps leading up to that horrendous gaffe by the officiating crew on the pass interference non-call. But we begin with Payton’s inexplicable love affair with second-year pro Taysom Hill. In the game against the Steelers, Payton put Hill in at quarterback in place of DREW BREES, and Hill threw an interception in the end zone. Against the Rams, the Saints were 2-for-5 in the red zone, and leading up to one of those red zone field goals was a play in which Hill was in at quarterback instead of Brees on a third-and-4 from the Rams 12-yard line. But let’s get to the clock management. At the two-minute warning, the Saints had the ball at the Rams 13-yard line, and Los Angeles had two timeouts left. New Orleans should have run the ball on both first and second downs, and it’s reasonable those plays would’ve gained a combined 4 yards and consumed a combined 12 seconds of clock time, but they also would have forced the Rams to use their final two timeouts. Then on third down, if Payton wants to give Brees a shot to effectively end the game by getting a first down on third-and-6, so be it, or maybe Alvin Kamara or Mark Ingram broke on of the runs for a first down; if not, run the ball again and the total time that would’ve then come off the clock is around 48 seconds. Then kick the field goal, and the Rams would’ve had around 56 seconds and no timeouts to try to get in position to tie.
Instead, Payton called a pass play on first down at the 13-yard line, and it was incomplete. So once the field goal was kicked, the Rams got the ball with 1:41 remaining and one timeout, and they tied the game on a field goal with 19 seconds remaining.
The Chiefs and the Saints deserve credit for advancing to their respective conference championship games, and the Rams and the Patriots deserve even more for winning and advancing to the Super Bowl, but to paint the play of those four teams as aesthetically and technically superior just isn’t accurate.
DANIEL MAZENKO FROM LITITZ, PA: Can football players be traded for “cash considerations” like they are in baseball?
CHASE JOHNSON FROM HARRISBURG, PA: I understand that you don’t want to risk injuring Antonio Brown or JuJu Smith-Schuster on kick returns but how come they don’t ever return kickoffs or punts anymore?
ANSWER: Readers should feel free to continue answering their own questions, as you have done here, but please don’t expect to get paid for it.