Asked and Answered

Asked and Answered: July 25

Let's get to it:

EDITOR'S NOTE: Many, many readers submitted questions concerning various aspects of the Le'Veon Bell situation, with the most common being how the franchise tag tender is determined and how many times a team can use the franchise tag on the same player. These first two questions were selected to represent all of those:

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Can you explain how the NFL determined that Le'Veon Bell will get paid $12.1 million under the franchise tag, when the highest paid running back is only getting around $8 million this year?

ANSWER: Under prior labor deals, the non-exclusive franchise tag was determined by the average of the five highest-paid players at each position from the prior year. Under the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, the franchise tender number is based on the five-year average cap percentage at each position. My suggestion is to do what I do, which is to wait for the league to announce the numbers and then just remember them. Trying to do the math yourself is too confusing.

Can the Steelers use the franchise tag on a player for three or more consecutive seasons, and if so, what would Le'Veon Bell's salary be if the tag were used on him in this manner?

ANSWER: Players can be tagged in successive years, but it's expensive. For a player to be tagged in back-to-back years, the team must pay 120 percent of the player's previous salary the second time the tag is used. If it's three-straight years, the team must pay the player 144 percent of his previous salary. So for simple arithmetic purposes, let's round off Le'Veon Bell's 2017 salary at $12 million. Tagging him in 2018 would mean the number would be $14.4 million. Tagging him in 2019 would mean $20.74 million.

My fiancé and I will be spending some time in Pittsburgh after our wedding, since it is my hometown. While we're home, we'll be able to go to a Steelers training camp practice. It starts at 2:55 p.m., but would you recommend we arrive earlier if it means we have a greater chance of meeting/getting an autograph from players? If so, how much earlier do you think?

ANSWER: I hesitate to give advice on something like this, because I would hate for you to listen to me and then be disappointed if things didn't work out as you had hoped. Generally, more players sign autographs after practice than before, but there is no way of predicting which players are going to sign on which day, and then whether that will be before or after practice. Personally, I never have understood the autograph phenomenon, and a day at training camp, for me anyway, would be about the chance to watch NFL athletes up close as they ply their trade and compete to earn a roster spot. But that's just me, and it's not meant as a criticism of you or anyone else whose day at camp would be made complete by leaving campus with some signatures. What I can tell you is that Coach Mike Tomlin signs autographs every day after practice, and he signs for anyone and everyone who is interested. That is something you can count on.

For my 70th birthday, my wife presented me with a replica No. 70 Steelers jersey with my name on the back. In checking the current roster, I do not see a No. 70, nor do I recall a player who wore that number. Is that number not assigned, or has it been retired?

ANSWER: No. 70 was worn by Ernie Stautner, who played 14 seasons for the Steelers – and only missed one game – from 1950-63. A defensive tackle who was the team's No. 2 pick in the 1950 NFL Draft, Stautner played his college football at Boston College. In the NFL, he was a voted to nine Pro Bowls and was named a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's All-1950s team. He was voted either first-team or second-team All-Pro 25 times by the various entities that picked those things back in that era. His jersey was retired by the Steelers in 1964, and he was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1969. Stautner died in February 2006 at the age of 80.

I have always wondered through the years how the Steelers "let go" a player when his contract is up. From my viewpoint, it appears that when the contract is almost over the Steelers just don't talk to that player anymore and the player and fans are left in an ambiguous state of what will happen. Kind of like a girlfriend who won't return calls until you get the hint she's not interested anymore. Or is there more to it behind the scenes? Does the organization tell the player they are not renewing the contract so they know what to expect? Take Shamarko Thomas and DeAngelo Williams, for example.

ANSWER: At the end of every NFL season, each individual player – active roster, practice squad, injured reserve – has an exit meeting with Coach Mike Tomin. In those meetings, both coach and player have the opportunity to speak their minds, ask questions, vent, whatever. If a player with an expiring contract wants to know where he stands, that meeting certainly would provide a prime opportunity to ask.

I believe what you're seeking is for the Steelers to make a public "announcement" about its interest or lack thereof in players, and the team doesn't believe in doing that. The reason they don't make such announcements is that they would serve no purpose and could end up embarrassing the player. Another thing about making an "announcement" is that situations can change after an "announcement" is made. Maybe there are a series of injuries at a particular position, or maybe a guy brought in to be the replacement doesn't work out for whatever reason. After that happens, maybe a guy they didn't plan on bringing back becomes someone they would be interested in again. As Mike Tomlin has said about free agency, "It's free for them, and it's free for us." To use the players you referenced as examples, if Shamarko Thomas and/or DeAngelo Williams received attractive offers from other teams as free agency opened, you cannot believe they would sit around and wait for the Steelers. It's too much of a business for that.

I understand that you believe Landry Jones will be the backup quarterback this year, but can you tell me what you see as the advantages Jones possesses over both Joshua Dobbs and Bart Houston besides time/experience with the Steelers? We have all seen what rookie Dak Prescott accomplished for the Dallas Cowboys last season, and so can you honestly say that the Steelers don't have a rookie capable of accomplishing similar things as the backup if the "next man up" option was needed?

ANSWER: You, and many other fans, are looking for someone, anyone, to unseat Landry Jones this summer, but I am telling you all once again that the Steelers are not. This has nothing to do with what I see or with what I think about Jones' ability to do the job; I am just telling you how the Steelers coaches view the pecking order at quarterback. You, and many other fans, may want to see a rookie quarterback, any rookie quarterback, given a chance to replace Jones, but that's not the way it works. Coaches play the guy they believe gives the team the best chance to win, and the belief within the organization is that after Ben Roethlisberger, the quarterback who fits that description is Landry Jones. And the "time/experience" issue, combined with having NFL regular season game experience, is a huge advantage.

Lastly, allow me to provide you, and many other fans, with the history behind the Cowboys' decision to go with Dak Prescott last year:

When training camp opened, the Cowboys' backup quarterback – the guy they planned on playing in the event the oft-injured Tony Romo was sidelined again – was veteran Kellen Moore. Prescott was No. 3. Shortly after training camp opened, on Aug. 2 to be precise, Moore fractured a fibula, and he was put on the injured reserve list on Aug. 30. Romo was injured three plays into a preseason game on Aug. 25, which was Dallas' third preseason game of 2016. At the time, the Cowboys were confident that Romo would be back at midseason, and that left them with Prescott as the only quarterback on the roster with any experience with the team. Dallas would add Mark Sanchez to be Prescott's backup, but that move didn't come until Sept. 3 after the Broncos released Sanchez. So when the 2016 season began, the Cowboys had no real choice but to start Prescott – because he was the only guy familiar with the playbook at the time – and then once he started winning games for them they did the smart thing by sticking with him.

That's typically how these kinds of situations play out. Teams are forced to go with a rookie at quarterback by circumstances, rather than actively looking to "give him a chance" to unseat the veterans ahead of him on the depth chart. In fact, that's how it worked with Ben Roethlisberger in 2004. When camp opened that summer, Roethlisberger was No. 3 on the depth chart behind veterans Tommy Maddox and Charlie Batch, and if fans believe Bill Cowher was looking to give his rookie a chance, they're delusional. Batch was injured shortly into camp, which allowed Roethlisberger to move up to No. 2, and then when Maddox was injured in the second game of the regular season, the Steelers had no other real options except to go with the rookie.

In summary, my assessment of the Steelers quarterback situation is this: the only way Dobbs starts meaningful regular season games for the Steelers in 2017 is if Roethlisberger and Jones are both injured.

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One of my favorite Steelers stories was the one when new coach Chuck Noll first told the team something like, "We're going to win the Super Bowl, but unfortunately, most of you won't be here when we do." Who on the team from the pre-Noll era played significant roles in winning the any of the Lombardi trophies? I can think of two of my favorite Steelers: Andy Russell and Rocky Bleier. Anyone else?

ANSWER: Based on the 47 players on the roster on the date of Super Bowl IX – there were only 47 players on NFL rosters in that era – the guys who had been with the Steelers prior to Chuck Noll's arrival in 1969 were linebacker Andy Russell, halfback Rocky Bleier, center Ray Mansfield, guard Sam Davis, and punter Bobby Walden.

My wife and I will be at training camp, and we plan to attend the night practice at Latrobe Stadium. Can I purchase tickets in advance?

ANSWER: I am very confident you will be able to purchase tickets the day of the event. Very confident.

How is undrafted rookie guard Ethan Cooper progressing?

ANSWER: That's a question to be answered at training camp. My advice to him, and to all rookies except the high draft picks, would be to stay healthy enough to practice regularly. As the saying goes, you can't make the club in the tub.

My uncle Bud played halfback for the Glassport Steelers. Any relation to the current team, historically?


Do you think that there is a realistic chance for the Steelers to acquire Gary Barnidge as a free agent to take over the starting role at tight end?


I just purchased my first tickets to a Steelers game in Pittsburgh this year. I will be going to watch our Steelers beat the Bengals. Will I be able to get my jersey signed by any players? I am pretty close to the field.

ANSWER: Maybe you can entice a player to sign when they first come out for pregame warm-ups, but you'd have to be inside the stadium as soon as the gates open. But I would list the possibility as unlikely.

Hear anything about Doug Whaley coming back?

ANSWER: No. The Steelers currently have no openings in their personnel department, and Doug Whaley still has years left on his contract with the Buffalo Bills. Whaley will be able to collect his entire salary from that contract unless he takes another job with an NFL team.

I've submitted questions several times with no acknowledgement. Can someone at least let me know if they've been received? Or am I just wasting my time?

ANSWER: I receive hundreds of questions each week, and there is no time to spend acknowledging receipt of the ones not selected. Since I'm using this one, you can rest assured your questions have been received. Only you can decide if you're wasting your time.

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