Let’s get to it:
PACO CHATO FROM CHIHUAHUA, MEXICO: I’m assuming Troy Polamalu will be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in February 2020 in his first year of eligibility. Who are the next Steelers you see wearing a gold jacket?
ANSWER: Whenever the subject is the Pro Football Hall of Fame, there are two distinct categories when it comes to eligible players and contributors: those who are deserving, and those who can get elected. Troy Polamalu is deserving, and I believe he will be elected soon, but whether that happens to make him a part of the Class of 2020 in his first year of eligibility could come down to who else happens to be on the ballot. Alan Faneca has been a finalist for several years now, and it’s time for him to be elected. Hines Ward definitely is deserving, but what concerns me is the way the voters have been treating receivers lately, what with the explosion of statistics resulting from the rules changes that have made it easier for teams to throw the football.
DUSTIN COVAULT FROM YOKOSUKA, JAPAN: How does the formula for the compensatory draft pick the Steelers receive for Le’Veon Bell work? Is it based on his 2019 statistics, or can I just go ahead and be vindictive and hope he has the worst season of his career?
ANSWER: Embracing the hate is an inevitable part of being a fan, and so I’m going to let you decide how you want to handle this issue. When it comes to the compensatory draft pick formula the most heavily weighted factor is the player’s average salary per year of his new contract. When it comes to the performance aspect, playing-time and winning awards (Pro Bowl, All-Pro, MVP) are considered but those things don’t weigh as heavily in the formula as the salary.
DONIAE COLE FROM PITTSBURGH, PA: I noticed we are still having kicker issues. What happened to the kicker we called up when we sat down Chris Boswell last season for the final game? He didn’t miss a kick, so why isn’t he our main guy?
ANSWER: You write that you “noticed” the Steelers “are still having kicker issues.” I don’t understand that, because the Steelers haven’t played a game since the 2018 finale against the Bengals when Matt McCrane, who had been signed to take Chris Boswell’s place after Boswell went on the injured reserve list with an injured groin, helped the Steelers to a 16-13 victory by making field goals of 35, 47, and 39 yards. Based on that, I don’t understand what you mean by “you noticed.” Anyway, the Steelers entered their offseason with both McCrane and Boswell under contract, but once Phase I of the offseason program began, they decided McCrane’s lack of depth on kickoffs wasn’t something they wanted from a kicker over the course of an entire regular season. So they waived McCrane to give him a chance to hook on with another team. Meanwhile, Boswell will be competing for his job and a $2 million roster bonus that he will earn if he makes the 53-man roster.
KEVIN SUNDE FROM MOREHEAD, KY: When a team earns a playoff spot, the players from both teams receive a check for playing in the game(s). Is that money paid by the team or the league? And does that money count against the teams salary cap for the following year?
ANSWER: Playoff shares are paid by the league and don’t count on the respective teams’ salary caps.
ROBERT LONG FROM CLEARFIELD, PA: With talk of a possible NFLPA strike in 2021 becoming a bit louder a question comes to mind. Would those players who have contracts with guaranteed salary components continue to receive payments under that provision during the duration of a players strike should one occur?
ANSWER: In the NFL, the general rule is that if there are no games, then there are no paychecks because even if there are players with guaranteed contracts, those guarantees are tied to the league being in business, which isn’t the case during a strike.
JOHN MAIR FROM RIDGE, NY: In a earlier installment of Asked and Answered, you wrote that Bill Cowher initially wanted to draft offensive lineman Shawn Andrews over Ben Roethlisberger. How did Andrews fare in the NFL? Was he a total bust?
ANSWER: Shawn Andrews (6-foot-4, 335 pounds) ended up being the 16th overall pick in the first round of the 2004 NFL Draft by the Philadelphia Eagles, but after being an offensive tackle during his college career at Arkansas he was moved to guard once he got into the NFL. In his five seasons with the Eagles, Andrews played in 50 games, all starts, and he was voted to two Pro Bowls and was named Associated Press first-team All-Pro in 2006. After missing the entire 2009 season with a back injury, Andrews spent one season with the New York Giants, where he played in 13 games with seven starts. For his career, Andrews appeared in 63 NFL games and started 57 of those, and during his career he was flagged for holding nine times. Clearly, Andrews was not a “total bust,” but he also never rose to the level of Ben Roethlisberger.
CONRAD CARLEN FROM BURLINGAME, CA: Given that OTAs are non-contact, why are the players wearing helmets? But I’ve seen a few pictures of Ben Roethlisberger throwing passes without one. Is it up to the player, or is it team policy?
ANSWER: If you play for the Steelers, a padless practice includes players wearing helmets. That’s done for a couple of reasons, with one being general protection of the head just in case, and with another being that seeing things from inside a helmet is critical to being a successful player. During the loosening up portion of practice, players often will leave their helmet and pads off to the side and then put them on once the competitive periods of practice are to begin. Photographs are permitted at any point in a practice, and so what you might be seeing in a snippet of the session isn’t necessarily a reflection of the entire workout.
KENNETH HAGGERTY FROM WAVERLY, OH: Is there a number of times a scout can go to a college campus to watch that team practice and if so would the Steelers have an advantage watching Pitt at its practices?
ANSWER: Colleges allow NFL scouts to visit and watch practice during certain times of the season. It’s not a situation where NFL scouts can go whenever and as many times as they choose. And the amount of time and the emphasis an NFL team places when scouting a college team has much more to do with the number of prospects on the roster than it does the proximity of the school.
MATHEW TORRES FROM VAN NUYS, CA: Let’s say Ben Roethlisberger gets injured and is out for most if not the whole season and either Mason Rudolph or Joshua Dobbs steps in and performs well enough to be considered a starter. Does Roethlisberger lose his job, or because he has a contract for the next three years he remains the starter when he returns?
ANSWER: For someone to take Ben Roethlisberger’s job, he would have to be better than Ben Roethlisberger, not just good enough to rise to the level of an NFL starting quarterback. Blake Bortles has been a starting NFL quarterback. See the difference? I don’t foresee Roethlisberger losing his job because of injury.
RICHARD FABER FROM JACKSON, MI: What is the status of tight end Christian Scotland-Williamson? I’m sure he’s learning, but so is Zach Gentry. Do you think he can compete with the other tight ends and make the 53-man roster?
ANSWER: Christian Scotland-Williamson currently is one of six tight ends the Steelers have on their 90-man roster, and he is one of three of those six who have had any previous exposure to the Steelers – Vance McDonald and Xavier Grimble being the others. As I’ve pointed out in this forum previously, it’s extremely, extremely difficult for someone who has had no exposure to football at any level to come in at the NFL level and try to make a roster. You mention that rookie Zach Gentry is learning the position along with Scotland-Williamson, but Gentry led his high school team to the state semifinals in back-to-back seasons and then earned a full scholarship to one of the most storied college programs in the history of the sport. Rugby is not football, not even at the level at which Scotland-Williamson competed, and the skills he had to hone to become a world class rugby player are not the same skills that Gentry was honing just to get that scholarship to the University of Michigan. I believe that when we get to early September, Scotland-Williamson will be on the Steelers practice squad and will spend the season there, as he did last season.