Let's get to it:
DAVID OROCHENA FROM POTOMAC, MD: Will there be a fan vote for Hall of Honor nominations this year? I've been on the lookout for an announcement but have not seen one unless I missed it.
ANSWER: You didn't miss it. Next week, on Steelers.com, the process for fans to submit names for the Hall of Honor's Class of 2021 will begin. The Steelers mobile app will have a link that will take fans directly to the Hall of Honor nomination page.
CHRISTOPHER GIBSON FROM MANALAPAN, NJ: Would you explain why Marcus Allen signed a one year deal this week? Wasn't he on a four-year rookie contract? So if drafted in 2018, wouldn't he'd be playing on the fourth year of that contract in 2021?
ANSWER: Marcus Allen, a fifth-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, made the 53-man roster as a rookie, but after training camp in 2019 he was waived by the Steelers, and then after he cleared waivers he was signed to the practice squad. When he was waived, the contract Allen signed as a rookie was automatically voided. From there he played on a one-year contract in 2020, which was considered his second NFL season, and so that then made him as exclusive rights free agent heading into 2021. That's why he signed that one-year contract for the 2021 season.
ERICK WAKEFIELD FROM WEST PALM BEACH, FL: Will the Steelers be able to keep WR Ray-Ray McCloud this year?
ANSWER: Ray-Ray McCloud could have become a restricted free agent on March 17, and historically there is little movement from team-to-team among restricted free agents. But McCloud didn't even take things that far, because he reportedly agreed to a one-year contract with the Steelers on March 9.
SCOTT HOLTZMAN FROM TAMPA, FL: Assuming JuJu Smith-Schuster leaves in free agency, we will be left with a very talented but very young receiving room. Is it safe to assume the Steelers would look to bring in an economical veteran free agent to add some experience?
ANSWER: Even if JuJu Smith-Schuster signed a contract to remain with the Steelers, the team still would have a "very young receiving room." Don't forget, Smith-Schuster won't be 25 until late November.
TIM SHAFFER FROM CURWENSVILLE, PA: When you restructure a contract and save cap space for this year, how much of that will come back to haunt you towards the next couple of years?
ANSWER: During the process of restructuring a contract to save cap space, the amount of the cap charge that's pushed down the road is determined by the amount of salary that was converted into a signing bonus as well as by the number of years remaining on the contract. As an example, take the recent case of Ben Roethlisberger: Before he re-did his contract he was due to cost the Steelers around $42 million on the salary cap if he played, while that charge was to be around $25 million if he retired or was cut. The difference in those two numbers was because of the previous restructurings to help the team clear cap space in previous years.
BOB JONES FROM MIAMI, FL: Najee Harris, Travis Etienne, or Javonte Williams?
ANSWER: The style of offense a particular team employs could be a factor as to which of these three running backs would provide the best fit, and recently Javonte Williams has been climbing the mock draft boards, and those mock drafts are starting to list him as a possible first-round pick. But that kind of speculation is typical for this time of year, as the "draft experts" start tripping all over each other trying to come up with a unique angle on the same information. I like Najee Harris, but I also admit my opinion is based on watching a lot of Alabama games during the last couple of college football seasons and not seeing the other two very much at all.
DIABLO SAYAYIN FROM CDMX, MEXICO: How is the draft board built? I suppose the team ranks players who can fill its needs, but does the team consider that other teams may be interested in those same players? Has the Steelers draft board ever been leaked or released?
ANSWER: Here is a general description of the way the Steelers assemble their draft board: Players are scouted, reports are written on those players, and with the better players more than one scout will evaluate and write a report on an individual. Those reports are reviewed, and if there are any gaps or additional questions, that individual player could be evaluated again. Then there are meetings with the coaching staff, where assistant coaches take part in the evaluations of players at the positions they coach. Coordinators are involved with the evaluation of players on their side of the ball, and Coach Mike Tomlin is involved in all of it. At the end of all of the information gathering, a grade is put on each player, and then the players are arranged on the draft board based on those grades – best to worst. What other teams might like/dislike about prospects isn't considered in the grading and ranking of the prospects. The Steelers draft board is confidential work product and never is "leaked or released."
GREG JAMES FROM MIAMI, OH: Did the Steelers make any effort to get J.J. Watt? I thought he would sign for less money because he would be with his brothers. Do you know why he didn't try to negotiate with the Steelers?
ANSWER: Not to burst your bubble, but the whole notion about J.J. Watt leaving millions of dollars on the table in order to play with brothers T.J. and Derek was nothing but a fantasy that never had a chance to come true. J.J. Watt got $31.5 million over two years from the Arizona Cardinals, and good for him. Why would he take significantly less from the Steelers to play with his brothers? He can spend time with his brothers in the offseason and when all of their careers are over.
JOE BARGER FROM BILOXI, MS: Is there any chance we draft a good linebacker with our first pick? Or do you think we will try to target the offense with it?
ANSWER: Sure, there is "a chance," but here's something to take into consideration: The Steelers have at least one starting job open on their offensive line as a result of Maurkice Pouncey's retirement, and could have more starting spots open based on what happens during free agency with Zach Banner, Matt Feiler, and Alejandro Villanueva. There are no starting linebacker jobs open, what with the return of Devin Bush from knee surgery and the team having prepared itself for Bud Dupree leaving in free agency with the drafting of Alex Highsmith in 2020. Not saying the Steelers won't draft a linebacker in the first round, but I would think there's a better chance the No. 1 pick is an offensive lineman or a running back.
TJ VALESKI FROM KEY WEST, FL: Looking at pictures from the Steelers and other NFL teams from the 1970s, one of the first things you notice is all the arm pads the players wore. I recall that it was odd at the time that Dave Casper of the Raiders stood out as one of the only players not to "pad up" like the rest. What changed over the years? Was it a rule change, or did it fall out of practice naturally as the game evolved?
ANSWER: There were no rules changed to prohibit the amount of padding players could wear, but some players began to eschew wearing pads because they believed pads slowed them down. As an example, when Rod Woodson was a Steelers cornerback all he wore during games was a helmet, shoulder pads, and an athletic supporter.
JOSHUA THORNTON FROM SAINT PETERSBURG, FL: In this situation when the Steelers have so little cap space, what kind of contracts do they negotiate so that the majority of the cap hit happens in later years? The number I've seen thrown around is $3.5 million for our current cap space. How is that even enough to sign drafted rookies?
ANSWER: That number is sufficient space to be cap compliant on March 17, and I believe what you're going to see is that the Steelers will approach free agency this way: If/when they sign a free agent, they will follow the move with a corresponding roster move that opens up more room under the salary cap. For lack of a better description, it could be referred to as a sign-one-cut-one arrangement. Players and their agents aren't going to agree to contracts that don't contain up-front money, because in the NFL that's often the only guaranteed compensation there is.
RICHIE MORRIS FROM RICHMOND, VA: If Trevor Lawrence falls to us, do you think we should go ahead and take him with our first-round pick?
ANSWER: If Trevor Lawrence falls to the 24th overall selection of this upcoming draft, I would suggest the 23 teams that passed on him be drug tested.
KEVIN BURNS FROM LAVALLETTE, NJ: Is there any possibility that the Steelers give Antonio Brown a call and ask if there is any chance for a reunion in Pittsburgh?
ANSWER: You have a better chance of hitting the Powerball. Twice.
ROBERT WAYNE FROM LAKEVIEW, KS: What are your thoughts on the Steelers possibly signing free agent tight end Rob Gronkowski?
ANSWER: Rob Gronkowski only came out of retirement to play with Tom Brady in Tampa. The Steelers do not employ Brady, and they're not headquartered in Tampa.