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Asked and Answered

Asked and Answered: June 20

EDITOR'S NOTE: With summer upon us, Asked and Answered will be taking a one-week hiatus, with the next installment to appear on Tuesday, July 2.

Let's get to it:

MIKE DARROW FROM MANHATTAN BEACH, CA: I saw quite a bit written about the improvements at inside linebacker with the additions of Patrick Queen and Payton Wilson, and Cam Sutton adds quality depth in the secondary. Did anyone surface during OTAs or minicamp as the fourth outside linebacker?
ANSWER: What happens during OTAs and minicamp often is referred to as "football-like activity" by Coach Mike Tomlin, because things really don't deserve to be called football until the players are wearing pads. Since there is no contact in drills, there is no way to evaluate things such as rushing the passer or setting the edge on running plays, and so it's not possible to evaluate an individual's potential worthiness for a roster spot. I too often have been fooled by what I saw at OTAs and minicamp to waste your time by throwing out a name for the fourth spot on the roster at outside linebacker. What I'm willing to point out is that Nick Herbig – based on his production as a rookie and the way he spent the entire offseason preparing himself mentally and physically for an NFL season – is going to end up being a starting-caliber Steelers outside linebacker. That doesn't mean Herbig will be starting instead of T.J. Watt or Alex Highsmith, but only that having him as the No. 3 is going to be more significant for the 2024 defense than the No. 4 outside linebacker.

BARRY KRIEBEL II FROM ALLENTOWN, PA: How many more years does T.J. Watt have left on his contract?
ANSWER: According to, T.J. Watt is under contract to the Steelers through the 2025 NFL season. He is due to earn $21.05 million in salary during each of those seasons and carry a salary cap charge of $30.42 million in each of those seasons.

BENEDIKT PRUME FROM BRANDENBURG, GERMANY: Is the rivalry between the Steelers and Ravens a continuation of the rivalry with the old Browns franchise, and then moved with them to Baltimore? Or did that only develop with the Ravens once they got to Baltimore?
ANSWER: I totally agree with the opinion that the Steelers-Ravens rivalry had its seeds sown during the last few seasons of Steelers-Browns. Pittsburgh and Cleveland had been paired by the NFL starting when the Browns came over from the AAFC for the 1950 season. Almost instantly that home-and-home series became a box office smash, with fans from both cities gladly traveling the Turnpike to pack the other franchise's stadium even though the outcomes were often one-sided. Steelers fans' suffering at the hands of the Browns shifted to glee in 1970 when their team started a 16-game winning streak vs. the Browns at Three Rivers Stadium.

In 1994, the Steelers had won the AFC Central Division with a 12-4 record by virtue of a regular season sweep of the Browns, who finished 11-5. Then in the AFC Divisional Round, the Steelers handled the Browns for a third time, 29-9, during a raucous environment at Three Rivers Stadium.

When the Browns became the Ravens, that still was Art Modell's team, and Ozzie Newsome – a thorn in the Steelers' side as both a player and executive – was still a key member of the organization. Also for the Ravens' inaugural season in 1996, Marvin Lewis left the Steelers as the linebackers coach to take a job in Baltimore as the defensive coordinator. Those individuals, plus a few select players, kept the embers going during the infancy of the Ravens franchise, and then guys like Ray Lewis and Tony Siragusa and Shannon Sharpe stoked it into the fire that is remains to this day.

MIKE CLAPPER FROM BEDFORD, PA: I've never seen "Hard Knocks" before. Have you? With the AFC North Division being featured this season, I was wondering if you think it would be worth getting a subscription to watch?
ANSWER: Not a fan of "Hard Knocks" and never have been even though I love football. To me, it just felt like watching a show about the meat-packing industry even though I love so many of those products. My primary memory of "Hard Knocks" came from the portion of one of the first episodes that showed the process and emotion involved when a coach cuts a player. That right there soured me on the series, and I've never returned. But my opinion clearly isn't the consensus, because "Hard Knocks" has won 18 Emmy Awards over a span of 19 seasons that included 105 episodes. I have a hard-and-fast rule where I don't instruct/advise other people how to spend their money, so the decision on the subscription is entirely up to you.

JUSTIN SIMS FROM UNIONTOWN, PA: What did we do to deserve "Hard Knocks" on top of our unprecedented schedule this year? I hope we handle the extra distraction, but what a headache it must be for the coaching staff.
ANSWER: If I were to play the role of a raging cynic, I might suggest that the NFL purposely back-loaded the regular season schedule to build the drama for this season of "Hard Knocks," because 12 of the 24 games matching AFC North teams will be played after Dec. 1 (the show's first episode appears on Dec. 3) and there isn't a single game matching AFC North teams until the first week of October. But everyone knows I'm not a raging cynic.

KEITH MILLER FROM CANTON, NC: Historically, how many players do the Steelers keep at each position on the 53-man roster?
ANSWER: The Steelers 53-man roster heading into the 2023 regular season opener vs. San Francisco had the following position-by-position breakdown:

QBs: 3
RBs: 3
WRs: 6
TEs: 3
OL: 9
DL: 7
LBs: 8
DBs: 11
Specialists: 3

Those numbers may vary slightly because of developments that crop up during training camp and the preseason, but those are realistic estimates.

TERRENCE TURNER FROM LAS VEGAS, NV: Every year there are "camp darlings." Who is on your radar after football in shorts?
ANSWER: For me, it's more about how watching how the competition for roles is unfolding as opposed to focusing on certain individuals. And I'm also going to be careful about forming an opinion, because I was completely and totally fooled by the offense during the camp/preseason period last summer compared to what was on display once the regular season began.

BOB GAYDOS FROM SPRINGDALE, PA: Regarding the Brandon Aiyuk trade rumors. Have the Steelers talked to his him or his agent about his situation, and what would the Steelers be willing to give up to acquire him?
ANSWER: Since wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk is under contract to the 49ers through the 2024 season after San Francisco exercised the fifth-year option in the contract he signed as a first-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, talking to him or his agent is tampering. Acquiring him in a trade is a deal that has to be made from team-to-team. I have no informed notion of what the Steelers would give up in a trade for Aiyuk, or even if there is the slightest interest in pursuing a trade for Aiyuk, but trading away a future first-round draft pick is something the Steelers have done just once since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970, so I would eliminate that notion.

RICH BACH FROM WICHITA, KS: I have read or heard that Cam Hayward is contemplating leaving Pittsburgh before the 2025 season for either the Browns or the Bengals. Is there any truth to that particular rumor?
ANSWER: Nothing that is heard or read today about something that couldn't possibly happen until March 2025 – nine months from now, by the way – is even worth talking about. In my opinion.

ROB WARREN FROM MOSES LAKE, WA: Based on what you've seen during minicamp, which position is more likely to be added to during training camp?
ANSWER: If the Steelers add to a position during the run-up to training camp, I believe that would happen because of an opportunity to add a specific individual at an attractive price. Once camp begins, that's when signings are more in response to developments, good or bad, at certain positions.

MAURICIO CRUZ FROM MÉXICO, UNITED MEXICAN STATES: In a recent Asked and Answered, you wrote that WR Hakeem Butler had a chance in a recent Steelers training camp but didn't make the team. Now Butler is Offensive Player of the Year in the UFL's inaugural season. Of course the UFL is not close to NFL level, but if we are so needy at wide receiver, wouldn't it be worth giving Butler a second chance?
ANSWER: Whatever it is that the Steelers might need at wide receiver in 2024, Hakeem Butler is not the one to provide it.

TODD McCANDLESS FROM WILDWOOD, MO: For some reason, probably because I now live near St. Louis, I had hopes Renell Wren (listed as from St. Louis) would earn a spot on the defensive line. I recently reviewed the 90-man roster and 2024 transactions and found no mention of him. Is he still with the Steelers?
ANSWER: Renell Wren was signed to the Steelers practice squad on Sept. 2, 2022. After spending that season on the practice squad, Wren signed a futures contract in January 2023. He then was placed on injured reserve on May 16, 2023. On May 16, 2024, Wren was released.

SEAN DELANEY FROM GARDNER, MA: I'm surprised the Steelers didn't pick up Najee Harris' fifth-year option. Two starter-quality RBs – at significantly reduced salaries – are now popular in the NFL, and the $6.79 million seems reasonable. Why take Najee in the first round if we're not going to use the fifth-year option? Are the coaches down on Najee, or do you think the team will just cycle through RBs on a year-to-year basis?
ANSWER: General Manager Omar Khan said during a recent radio interview, "It was a business decision that we had to make by May 2, but Najee's awesome to have around here. Love Najee as a player and a person. Just because we didn't pick it up doesn't exclude us from doing something with Najee long term. I'd love to say Najee was here and had a long career in Pittsburgh. He really represents us well on the field and off the field."

I'm going to take Khan at his word. My interpretation is that the Steelers made the organizational decision to let the 2024 season play out with Najee Harris being on the final year of the contract he signed as a rookie, and then they'll re-evaluate the situation at that point. That's the way the NFL works – during the player's first four years in the league, the team has the advantage. But come March 2025, the advantage shifts to the player, who can become an unrestricted free agent and sell his services to whatever team at whatever the market will bear. I believe when it's all over and decided, whatever the outcome will be I believe it will come down to a business decision. By both sides.

KEVIN McDEVITT FROM WHITEHALL, PA: I know I am going way outside the box, and I certainly understand if you can't do this, but I have to ask for prayers from Steelers Nation.

Sven Muessigbrodt is a resident of Germany, and an enormous fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers. I met him at a fan event 10 years ago, and we've been friends ever since. He watches every game (time difference be damned), he's an avid reader of "Asked and Answered," and he will tell you that his two favorite words in the English language are "touchdown, Steelers." After that, his two favorite words are "thank you." He makes his way from Germany to the U.S. for 2-3 Steelers games every year.

Last week, Sven experienced a medical episode that has left him with some arduous challenges ahead. Would it be OK to ask the fans of this column, and of this great team and organization, to say a prayer or two for a brother that they haven't met (yet)?
ANSWER: It's absolutely OK to ask, and I hope those prayers are answered.