Asked and Answered

Asked and Answered: March 1

Let's get to it:

MOISES LOPEZ FROM QUEENS, NY: Pat Freiermuth has become a real gem for the Steelers and hasn't even come close to reaching his potential. My query is regarding Zach Gentry. Granted, he may not be as good as Freiermuth, but he has gotten much better and is built to bulldoze through opponents. Have the Steelers given any indication about Gentry's play and his future with the team? We don't see much of him, and I'm concerned Steelers have other plans.
ANSWER: Just because you may not have noticed Zach Gentry while watching games on television doesn't mean the Steelers don't value him. With tight ends, the most common way for them to be noticed are as receivers in the passing game, and Gentry has not been a big part of that. As an example, Pat Freiermuth was targeted 79 times during the 2021 regular season, while Gentry was targeted only 25 times. But Gentry's value to the Steelers comes from his blocking ability, and I know his contributions in that area are recognized and appreciated. During the 2021 preseason, Coach Mike Tomlin had said Gentry was the Steelers' best blocking tight end and come the end of the regular season Tomlin doubled down on that assessment.

"I think he's solidified that opinion (of being the team's best blocking tight end)," said Tomlin a couple of days before the Jan. 3 game vs. the Browns at Heinz Field. "He's been highly consistent and improving in that area over the course of the year, and more importantly than him being 'our best blocker,' he fits a job description. You play some teams that use a 3-4 defense, and the people playing on the edge for those teams roughly weigh 250 pounds. And when you play a team that uses a 4-3 defense, those teams have 280-pound people who play on the end of the line of scrimmage, and so you better have a 280-pound-like tight end on your roster for those weeks when you're trying to wage that battle of the end of the line of scrimmage in the run game. Tight end vs. edge player is less significant when you play 3-4 teams, and you know you got a guy like Pat (Freiermuth) who's 255 pounds and capable of matching up against the 255-pounds guys like Alex Highsmith. But when you play those 4-3 teams, that 30 pounds is a significant difference, and that's why Zach Gentry's role is significant. We anticipate and we expect him to be our best blocker. He's 25 to 30 pounds bigger than the other tight ends on our roster. He's got a specific function. He's got to match up vs. those 4-3 ends, and he better represent himself well in those matchups."

JEFF ELINOFF FROM PITTSBURGH, PA: With Brian Flores being a well-respected NFL coach, do you believe this can/ will impact players choices to come to the Steelers in free agency period or trades?
ANSWER: I have no argument with your assessment of Brian Flores. but in my experience the factors that most often impact players' decisions during free agency have to do with opportunity for more playing time or for a starting job, and then there's the most significant factor of all – more money.

RAY JAMES FROM WOODSTOCK, GA: Could you see Tua Tagovailoa following Brian Flores to the Steelers?
ANSWER: Tua Tagovailoa is bound to the Dolphins through the 2023 season via the four-year contract he signed as a rookie – and at very reasonable salaries – and there's also the possibility the Dolphins could exercise the fifth-year option on his rookie contract, which would mean he would be bound to that team through the 2024 season. That's a long time from now, and by then Flores might have gotten another chance to be an NFL head coach, or the Steelers may have found themselves a starting quarterback.

COREY WISE FROM WATERFORD, OH: I know nothing about the inner workings of an NFL franchise, but isn't Brian Flores a bit overqualified to be an assistant? I see he was also hired as a linebackers coach. Doesn't Jerry Olsavsky still hold that title? How do you think their responsibilities might differ?
ANSWER: Brian Flores title is defensive assistant/linebackers. In terms of a position, it's believed Flores will work with the outside linebackers. Jerry Olsavsky is the inside linebackers coach.

JOE KILBURG FROM CLARK, NJ: I work with a huge Dolphins fan. He mentioned to me that one of the main reasons Minkah Fitzpatrick requested a trade from Miami is because he didn't get along with Brian Flores. Do you know if there's any truth to that? If that is true, do you see Fitzpatrick leaving Pittsburgh soon?
ANSWER: I have received thousands of submissions from "huge Steelers fans" since the inception of Asked and Answered, and it's not very often that they have an in-depth understanding of the goings-on within the organization. Whether Minkah Fitzpatrick's trade request was all about Brian Flores, I have no way of knowing and I'm not going to go by the word of a self-proclaimed "huge Dolphins fan." I am of the opinion that the addition of Brian Flores to the coaching staff could end up providing a similar boost to the Steelers that the hiring of Mike Munchak had when Mike Tomlin hired him back in 2014. But it also should be understood that the Steelers originally thought enough of Minkah Fitzpatrick to break a long-held policy by trading away a future No. 1 pick for the first time since the late 1960s to acquire him, and since he joined the team in 2019 he has 11 interceptions, 27 passes defensed, three forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries, and played 3,033 defensive snaps over the course of 46 games. He also has been voted first-team All-Pro twice. The Steelers broke one of their basic business principles to acquire Fitzpatrick, and he has so far justified their decision with his play/production. When some NFL team wises up and gives Flores a second shot at being a head coach, I am confident Fitzpatrick still will be playing for the Steelers.

ANTONIO CAMPOS FROM TORREON, COAHUILA, MEXICO: Could a "young" Hall of Famer, let's say Calvin Johnson who is 36 years old, come out of retirement to play one more season?
ANSWER: There is no rule preventing that, although I would consider a player being out of football for the five years it takes to become eligible for the Pro Football Hall of Fame and then returning to play as highly unlikely.

MARY FARR FROM WILLIAMSPORT, PA: Looking back on the 2021 season, do you think the Steelers should have kept Alejandro Villanueva?
ANSWER: I do not.

JOSHUA PRIMM FROM CARMEL, IN: This year as in most, I saw a quote from General Manager Kevin Colbert that detailed what positions he thought were deep or thin in the upcoming draft. Does he evaluate free agent "classes" in the same way? And if so, what positions does he feel have the most depth among 2022 free agents?
ANSWER: Free agent classes are much more difficult to evaluate in that way because the situation is much more fluid. For example, teams have until March 8 to use the franchise tag, which could remove a bunch of the top players from unrestricted free agency. Another thing is that since teams can negotiate with their own players at any time, it's possible a bunch of guys could be re-signed before their contracts expire and they officially hit the open market. And there also is the tampering issue, and so a lot of front office people are reluctant to talk publicly about other teams' players.

STEVE TRAUTAMAN FROM SASKATOON, SASK., CANADA: Do you think the Steelers might go to camp with just three quarterbacks? The upside I see for that is more reps available for the ones who there. The downside is not enough arms for the other players in camp.
ANSWER: No, the real downside is the possibility of coming out of training camp and the preseason with the winner of your competition to be the starting quarterback heading into the regular season opener with a dead arm.

HOLDEN SPARKS FROM CLARION, PA: Do you ever think Ben Roethlisberger will come to the Steelers to coach or even be part of the staff in general?
ANSWER: To steal one of Coach Mike Tomlin's all-time responses: "Never say never. But never."

ROBERT MCCREARY FROM SPRINGFIELD, IL: In response to a submission to Asked and Answered on Feb. 15 about bringing Mike Munchak back to Pittsburgh, do you think the Steelers front office has considered enticing Munchak's daughter and her husband to move to Pittsburgh?
ANSWER: I would see it as much more likely that the Steelers don't view getting involved in family matters as being professionally ethical.

MARK MAIOLI FROM BROOMFIELD, CO: Just wanted to say thanks. I literally laughed out loud three times reading your responses in the Feb. 10 edition of Asked and Answered. Keep slinging those zingers.