Let's get to it:
DONNIE BROWN FROM VAN BUREN, ME: How have the Steelers fared with compensatory picks in the past? Any hidden gems out there?
ANSWER: The system of compensatory draft picks began in 1994, which was the first season when all of the elements of the NFL's new system of free agency tied to a salary cap first went into effect. The Steelers first compensatory draft pick was a placekicker from USC named Cole Ford, and he was a No. 7 pick, the 247th overall selection of the 1995 draft. The team used a draft pick on a kicker that year because Gary Anderson was locked in a contract dispute that eventually would end his Steelers career. As a result, the Steelers went to training camp with veteran Dean Biasucci, signed as an unrestricted free agent from Indianapolis, undrafted rookie Ty Stewart, and Ford all competing for Anderson's job. None of those three performed well enough, and so on Aug. 21 the Steelers signed veteran Norm Johnson, who went on to lead the NFL in both field goal attempts and field goals made in 1995 on the way to scoring 141 points for a team that advanced to Super Bowl XXX.
As for compensatory picks made by the Steelers since Ford who turned into contributing players – in chronological order – there was outside linebacker Mike Vrabel in 1997 (91st overall); wide receiver Hines Ward in 1998 (92nd overall) running back Amos Zereoue in 1999 (95th overall); tackle Willie Colon in 2006 (131st overall); cornerback Will Gay in 2007 (170th overall); tackle Kelvin Beachum in 2012 (248th overall); inside linebacker Vince Williams in 2013 (206th overall); and outside linebacker Anthony Chickillo in 2015 (212th overall).
Clearly the best compensatory draft pick the Steelers ever made was Ward, who finished with 1,000 receptions for 12,083 yards, 85 receiving touchdowns, and the Super Bowl XL MVP trophy.
JASON PRASTER FROM SAN ANTONIO, TX: With the Steelers selected to play in the Hall of Fame Game, which adds a fifth preseason game to their schedule, what amount of compensation do the players receive for the extra preseason game?
ANSWER: NFL players are not paid for preseason games. They get a stipend for the number of days/weeks they are in training camp based on their years of experience.
SCOTT SWEENEY FROM HICKORY, PA: The Steelers always seem to be up against the cap and this year is no different. Paying a franchise quarterback and other top players will do that. Do you see a time in the next couple of years when Ben Roethlisberger retires and other high-salaried veterans will be nearing the end or at the end of their careers as well, that the Steelers go into "rebuild" mode and start shedding salary, etc.?
ANSWER: That's not how the Steelers do business, and they never have done business that way dating back 26 years to the start of this current system of free agency tied to a salary cap. They don't load up their roster, take a shot at competing for a championship, and then shed salary and tank only to try to rebuild for another run at contending. They don't do business that way because they don't believe that spending money on free agency is the way to build a championship roster, and when a team's philosophy is to build through the draft, develop those draft picks, and then use their cap dollars to keep their good players, the situation of salary dumping never really enters the picture. The first full year of the salary cap was 1994, and the Steelers have had some bad seasons in those 26 years, but never have they had those bad seasons because they were dumping salaries and tanking to rebuild their roster.
ANDRE BURRELL FROM BALTIMORE, MD: How much contract reconstruction would the Steelers have to do to keep Jayvon Hargrave and Bud Dupree, and is there a chance that they could keep both of them?
ANSWER: The only path even to have a remote chance to keep both Bud Dupree and Javon Hargrave would be for the players to ratify the Collective Bargaining Agreement, and for that vote to add a significant amount to each team's 2020 salary cap. But if that happens, every team's salary cap would rise by the same significant amount, and there likely would be a team willing to throw stupid money at Hargrave. Is there a chance the Steelers could keep both players? Sure, but there's also a chance you could win the Powerball jackpot.
JAMES R. PATTERSON FROM CUMBERLAND, MD: If/when the Steelers use the franchise tag on Bud Dupree, and then if they were able to strike a quick deal for a long-term contract with him, can the tag be re-used to keep another player?
ANSWER: Once a transition tag or a franchise tag is used on a player, that tag cannot be used on another player until the following year. That's why teams often wait until right before the deadline even to place a transition or franchise tag on a player, because there is no advantage to making the move earlier than absolutely necessary.
RON WILLIAMS FROM ASTORIA, OR: From time to time we hear of current players restructuring their contracts to help free up some money on the salary cap for the team to sign other players or re-sign current players. What are the drawbacks, if any, for the player who restructures his contract?
ANSWER: With the way the Steelers do this, there are no drawbacks for the player who restructures. The way the Steelers do it is this: Say a seven-year veteran player is in the second year of a six-year deal and he is due to earn a $10 million salary in the upcoming season. The minimum salary for a seven-year veteran is $930,000, and so the Steelers take the rest of the $10 million he is due ($9.07 million) and convert it into a signing bonus and spread it out over the rest of the player's contract, which in this example is five years. The player is paid the $9.07 million immediately, and then he receives his regular game checks over the season to cover the $930,000. The player receives his full $10 million, he gets it more quickly, and his cap number drops from $10 million for that particular season to $2.73 million for that particular season. This is merely a short-term fix, however, because pushing the cap charge down the road ultimately results in an eventual huge cap hit. But it does provide temporary relief for the team at no detriment to the player.
PAUL MITCHELL FROM CHICAGO, IL: Recently, Le'Veon Bell was sighted in Pittsburgh, likely visiting. Do you see ANY scenario in which he could return to the Steelers via trade with the Jets, or if the Jets decide to unceremoniously release him?
ANSWER: ANY scenario, or ANY REALISTIC scenario? No, to both.
JOHN BATES FROM DURHAM, NC: Minkah Fitzpatrick had a very good season last year after arriving following the start of the regular season. Having a preseason with the Steelers, he should be fantastic. What do you think about it?
ANSWER: I believe not only will Minkah Fitzpatrick be better and more familiar with what the Steelers like to do on defense after having a full offseason and training camp with the team, but the Steelers will be more comfortable and creative with what he can do and with what they can do with him after a full offseason and training camp. Keep an eye on the trajectory of Fitzpatrick's career with the Steelers, as well as a trajectory on the guy the Dolphins draft with the No. 1 pick they got from the Steelers in the trade (18th overall). I'm betting Fitzpatrick turns out to be the better player, and not by a little bit.