Let's get to it:
DRU TAYLOR FROM MYRTLE BEACH, SC:
Which rookie from our 2017 draft class do you expect to make the biggest leap next season? I think Cam Sutton will turn heads next year, whether at cornerback or safety.
ANSWER: There are a couple of different ways to interpret your question, and those different interpretations could have an impact on my answer. For example, T.J. Watt could go from being a full-time starter as a rookie and the only linebacker in the NFL to finish the season with at least 50 tackles (52), five sacks (seven), five passes defensed (eight), and one interception (one) to a player who was voted a starter in the Pro Bowl. Or Cam Sutton could go from a guy who spent the first part of the season on the injured reserve list to a guy who became a full-time starter.
That said, I believe Sutton will have a much more significant role with the team in 2018 than he did as a rookie, and I think Brian Allen will have a chance to become a guy who earns a role on defense. And even though JuJu Smith-Schuster and Watt made significant contributions as rookies, I see them as being able to make an even bigger impact in their second NFL seasons.
Since you asked me to pick just one player, I'm going to pick Watt, because as the No. 1 pick a case can be made that he's the most talented member of the draft class and I can see him using the experience he gained as a rookie as fuel during the offseason to propel himself to bigger and better things. Watt comes from an NFL family, and now that he has gotten a taste of what it takes to succeed in the NFL, I could envision him working hard in the offseason to take a significant step forward, similar to what his brother did in going from 5.5 sacks as a rookie to 20.5 sacks as a second-year player. Maybe not a specific jump in a single statistical category such as that, but as an overall improvement as a multi-skilled linebacker.
JOHN GIBBON FROM HEXHAM, UNITED KINGDOM:
If the Steelers wanted to rescind the franchise tag on Le'Veon Bell, is there a cut-off date by which they have to do it, or can they do it at any time – offseason or even into the regular season, as long as hasn't signed?
ANSWER: The Steelers could rescind the franchise tag at any point up to and until Le'Veon Bell signs the tender, because once he signs the tender that $14.54 million is fully guaranteed for everything outside of a league-imposed suspension or if the player "fails to establish or maintain his excellent physical condition."
MARK TOBIN FROM SHELBYVILLE, KY:
Do you think the Steelers need Le'Veon Bell to win the Super Bowl?
ANSWER: Given the current configuration of the team, with Ryan Shazier out for 2018, my assessment is that it would be a lot more likely with him than without him.
BILL OLIVER FROM BUTTE, MT:
Due to the unfortunate injury suffered by Ryan Shazier, it seems apparent that the Steelers will need help at inside linebacker for the 2018 season. In your opinion, do they get the help internally, from the draft, or sign a free agent?
ANSWER: Finding a replacement for a unique talent such as Ryan Shazier is going to be a long-shot regardless of where you look, but the most likely place would be via the draft.
Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin and GM Kevin Colbert visited the Pittsburgh Pirates at spring training in Bradenton, Florida. (photos courtesy of Pittsburgh Pirates)
TODD FURST FROM ALLENTOWN, PA:
Off the top of your head, can you name any offensive players who had great NFL careers after the Steelers let them go? Gary Anderson and Matt Bahr might make the list but are there any other non-kickers?
ANSWER: Off the top of my head, no.
MICHAEL SHUMAC FROM STATE COLLEGE, PA:
With some of the veteran releases, and some of the expected releases, do you expect the Steelers to try to bolster their defensive backfield through free agency?
ANSWER: I have made this point several times already: The Steelers don't have the kind of room under the salary cap to pursue the kinds of players you have in mind. A player such as Richard Sherman, for example, is going to command the kind of salary the Steelers cannot afford this offseason. They had the cap space last summer and used it to sign Joe Haden. I cannot see any moves of that type being possible this offseason.
BILL PALAICH FROM CLERMONT, FL:
Just some advice to fellow participants. Catch up on Asked and Answered before submitting a question that has been answered already. This space should not be wasted on redundant questions.
ANSWER: Thanks, Bill.
GARY WHITAKER FROM LEETSDALE HEIGHTS PA:
Should the Steelers make a pitch for Ndamukong Suh? He'd improve their secondary which was picked apart by quarterbacks last year who had enough time in the pocket to switch the ball to their off hand and back, and improve the linebackers who had to make a lot of stops up the middle.
ANSWER: I'm not going to waste even a second of time on your football assessment, because as I have written many, many times already, there is no room under the Steelers' salary cap for a free agent who is going to be looking for the amount of money that Ndamukong Suh will command on the open market. You fans with these ideas have to quit living in a fantasy world and start dealing with the realities of an NFL salary cap before proposing these fanciful and unrealistic scenarios.
DAVID LUPREK FROM JOHNSTOWN, PA:
I agree that players with Le'Veon Bell's talent are extremely hard to come by. I also think $14.54 million guaranteed is a big risk for a player who will likely hold out until Week 1 and who plays a position with a high risk of injury. I know it's going to be hard for the two sides to come to a long-term deal, and I never fault any player for wanting to get everything he can in such a short career that comes with plenty of sacrifices. Do you think it's possible that the Steelers tagged Bell only to buy more time to try to find common ground on a long-term deal, with the intention of rescinding the tag and trying to find a gem in the draft if that doesn't happen?
ANSWER: The way I see it is that if the Steelers weren't in this with Le'Veon Bell for the entirety of the 2018 season, they would not have placed the exclusive franchise tag on him. The exclusive franchise tag prohibits Bell from soliciting offers from other teams, whereas if the Steelers had chosen the non-exclusive franchise tag Bell's agent could have solicited offers that if not matched would bring the Steelers two first-round draft picks as compensation. In my mind, it would make no sense to place the exclusive franchise tag on Bell, tie up so much room on the salary cap, and then rescind the tag and make him an unrestricted free agent immediately after the draft.
ZEV YUDOVICH FROM ST. LOUIS, MO:
I hate when the Steelers play on Thursday nights, and I can't imagine the players enjoying playing two games in one week. Why doesn't the players union push hard to end the Thursday Night Football franchise? If the league is truly serious about player safety, it should put an end to Thursday Night Football.
ANSWER: It recently was reported by John Ourand that FOX will pay an average of $550 million per year through the 2022 season for the Thursday Night Football package. The FOX deal includes 11 games between Weeks 4 and 15 (excluding Thanksgiving night). The games will simulcast on NFL Network and be distributed in Spanish on Fox Deportes. The NFL still has the digital rights to this package to sell, and Amazon was believed to have paid the league $50 million for the rights to stream the TNF broadcast last year.
Generally speaking, the players receive 50 percent of designated gross revenues, and so their half would be at least $300 million a year for Thursday Night Football. That answer your question?
NICK MOSES FROM SIMI VALLEY, CA:
What is the significance of Antonio Brown restructuring his contract? Is that to free up additional money for signing Le'Veon Bell, or is it perhaps to allow the team to go after a free agent linebacker or safety?
ANSWER: By placing the franchise tag on Le'Veon Bell, the Steelers are committed to counting the $14.54 million on their salary cap even though he hasn't signed the tender. The restructuring of Antonio Brown's contract and some others is just so the Steelers can get themselves into compliance with the salary cap, which kicks in at 4 p.m. tomorrow.
GRADY DAVIS FROM ELKTON, SD:
What do you think the chances are of the Steelers attempting to trade up in the draft to pick a real game changer on defense, like linebacker Tremaine Edmunds?
ANSWER: Most of the early mock drafts tab Tremaine Edmunds as a top 10 pick, and the Steelers' first pick is No. 28 overall. In order for a team to get from No. 28 into the top 10 would require a bunch of draft picks, maybe even multiple No. 1s. I don't see the Steelers investing that kind of draft capital in one individual, because if the team was to do that, you have to understand there would be no picks left to fortify the safety position.