Let's get to it:
DENNIS TAMMARO FROM CORTLAND, OH:
If you could go back in time, which three Steelers would you choose to play for the 2016 team? And why those three?
ANSWER: Full disclosure: I gave this very little thought and am opting instead for a first-thing-that-comes-into-my-head approach. I'm going to go with Mel Blount, Rod Woodson, and Joe Greene. Two Hall of Fame cornerbacks who rank statistically among the top interceptors in NFL history, and a player/presence/tone-setter who was the ultimate difference-maker. Looking for takeaways? Blount had 70 takeaways (57 interceptions, 13 fumble recoveries) in 14 NFL seasons, and during his 10 seasons with the Steelers Woodson had 60 (38 interceptions and 21 fumble recoveries). And I really don't have to defend the Joe Greene choice, do I? Here's one stat to ponder, though, just in case: In a league where an interior defensive lineman who has pass-rush skills are few and far between, Joe Greene had 66 sacks and 16 fumble recoveries in 181 NFL games.
STEVE MARSHALL FROM ENFIELD, CT:
How does a player "miss" a drug test? Are the tests scheduled and the player forgets? Do they call the player but can't reach him? Do they show up at the player's residence and the player refuses?
ANSWER: This is a complex process detailed by pages and pages of legalese, but I'm going to make some attempt to explain it briefly and as simply as possible. But please understand I cannot and will not attempt to cover every contingency, because it's impossible. There are two categories of substances that can trigger punishment from the NFL – performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) and substances of abuse (SOAs). If a player is in the program for some previous violation of the SOA policy, he is subjected to random tests, which can number as many as 10 over a 30-day period. In these cases, a player is given a three-hour notice as to the administration of a random test, and players are required to provide accurate, up-to-date phone numbers and addresses. If the player cannot be reached, or if the player is somewhere other than the address given, and the three hours expires then that counts as a missed test.
JOHN DOMINY FROM LANOKA HARBOR, NJ:
What kind of discipline can the Steelers place on Le'Veon Bell, or is time to cut the cord no matter how good he is?
ANSWER: The punishments players receive for violating either the substance abuse policy or the performance enhancing drugs policy have been collectively bargained between NFL management and the NFLPA. Those take precedence, which means the individual teams largely are prohibited from attempting to implement any of their own discipline beside what is called for in the labor agreement, especially when the infraction rises to the level of a suspension.
As to the "cut the cord" portion of your question, you aren't the only one to suggest the Steelers take this action, but doing so at this time would make no sense to me. Bell's talent is undeniable, and he was a first-team All-Pro running back in 2014. He is under contract through the 2016 season, and at a bargain rate. A suspended player isn't paid, nor does he count against his team's salary cap, during the term of the suspension, and this is not the time to be looking on the street for a franchise running back. Then there's this: what if the suspension is overturned on appeal?
JORDAN KNAPTON FROM SALT LAKE CITY, UT:
Will Le'Veon Bell's second suspension affect his contract negotiations?
ANSWER: Until there is a final determination on Le'Veon Bell's appeal and a suspension either is imposed or not, and the length of said suspension is determined, I see it as impossible to be talking contract. It once was explained to me that in contract negotiations the trust factor becomes hugely significant as the dollar amounts rise. That teams must have a sense of trust with the player and in the player before committing the really big money. Yes, the outcome of this will have a huge impact on contract extension talks with Bell, but what that impact might be is impossible to predict until the events play out. Until then, I would guess everything is on hold.
KEN GLEASON FROM CINCINNATI, OH:
If a player is injured and unable to play, who pays his salary? If a key player is injured and the team still has to pay him and find someone to replace him the team's budget would fall apart in hurry. So, in short, how does an injured player get paid?
ANSWER: Injured players are paid by their individual teams, and their salaries count on those salary caps whether they're on the field for games or not. Your inference that an injury to a high-salaried star player can be a disaster is true, and the Steelers make some attempt to leave themselves with a bit of a cushion so that they could have some flexibility if pressed to replace a significant contributor once training camps open.
AUSTIN DUFOUR FROM CURWENSVILLE, PA:
What is the all time win-loss series between the Steelers and the teams in their AFC North division?
ANSWER: The AFC North was formed during the league's latest realignment, which began with the 2002 season. Since then, the Steelers are 15-16 (including 2-1 in the playoffs) against the Baltimore Ravens; 22-8 (including 2-0 in the playoffs) against the Cincinnati Bengals; and 25-4 (including 1-0 in the playoffs) against the Cleveland Browns.
JON SMITH FROM MILTON, WV:
Why do the Steelers not usually participate in the trade market? The only trade in my memory is the trade for Josh Scobee last year. Do they simply not like to give away their players or are they confident with their depth chart and don't feel the need to trade?
ANSWER: Last year, the Steelers made two trades – for CB Brandon Boykin in exchange for a No. 5 pick in the 2016 draft, and the one you referenced for Josh Scobee, which cost a No. 6 pick in the 2016 draft. Neither of those worked out, but the one that brought Jerome Bettis to Pittsburgh in 1996 turned out OK. Actually, there isn't a lot of trading in the NFL when compared to the other professional sports, because systems and schemes play a much bigger role in football. Playing third base is the same for every Major League team, but playing defensive end is not the same for every team in the NFL.
JOSH SHERK FROM HARRISBURG, PA:
Do you see the Steelers signing LaMarr Woodley to add some depth?
DAN CWYNAR FROM BOULDER, CO:
There are Steelers bars all over the country. I'm not sure if you're much of a drinker, but if you are, what's the best watering hole, outside of Pittsburgh, where you've ever watched a Steelers game?
ANSWER: I have been covering the Steelers in some fashion since 1985, and so I have attended every game since then. And it hasn't been all glamorous. I've been in some stadium press boxes where had they been bars they would've given dive bars a bad name. "I'm not sure you're much of a drinker." That one almost made me laugh out loud.
DANIEL MARK FROM PITTSBURGH, PA:
At this point, how many reps do you anticipate Demarcus Ayers getting this year?
ANSWER: Are we assuming Demarcus Ayers makes the 53-man roster and then gets a helmet on game days? Because that's no sure thing.
LUKAS KNEELAND FROM ALEXANDRIA, VA:
With Heath Miller retired, who will be the Steelers' emergency quarterback? To go along with that, how do they take care of the emergency quarterback and ensure he gets enough practice to stay moderately proficient?
ANSWER: I have no idea who the Steelers would turn to in a game if they lost at least two quarterbacks to injury, and I'll bet that right now they don't either. Nor do the vast majority of teams across the NFL. When was the last time a team actually had that kind of a situation happen during a regular season game? Narrow it to the Steelers? Can you name me even one? I can't think of any, and the way games are covered today, something like that actually happening would've been BIG NEWS. There's only so much practice time, and any that's spent on something so unlikely is wasted practice time. What I could tell you definitively is that whomever might turn out to be the "emergency quarterback" will have gotten exactly the same amount of practice time as Heath Miller got for that job. None.
NICK KRASKI FROM NASHVILLE, TN:
Thanks for all of your answers this offseason regarding the Hall of Fame. I was among those who thought a player would only get inducted as a member of a single team. Regarding contributors, what do you think is the likelihood of Myron Cope ever getting elected?
ANSWER: Never say never, but getting to broadcasters as "contributors" is some time away, in my opinion. For a while, anyway, "contributor" is going to refer to personnel men, scouts, people who played significant roles in the construction of NFL rosters. There are a lot of those guys out there, and my perception is that they are the ones to be targeted for election for the time being. I think that the first person to be elected in the "broadcast contributor" category would be John Facenda. Until he gets elected, none of those kinds of guys will get elected.
JAY JAY SIMMONS FROM COHUTTA, GA
It is regularly said that the Steelers' fan base is one of the most knowledgeable in the league. You often hear national announcers say that during broadcasts. So how is it that you get so many moronic questions?
ANSWERS: Just blessed, I guess.
DAVID ROMFOE FROM MINNEAPOLIS, MN:
Mary Ann or Ginger?
ANSWER: Yes. Nothing like closing with a "Gilligan's Island" reference. For me, it was always Mary Ann. Still is, in a manner of speaking.