Let's get to it:
Steelers who were set to become Unrestricted Free Agents on March 9, 2017.
ALVIN HARRIS FROM PITTSBURGH, PA:
Do you know why the Steelers didn't keep Lawrence Timmons? To me, and I believe for many others as well, he was one of the best players on the Steelers' defense. I think he had a pretty good thing going on here – he was a starter on one of the top four teams last season, and also a team that's always one of the top candidates to win it all. With the current salary cap, I'm sure he could've been offered more money, if that was an issue.
ANSWER: Fans view these situations differently than the team views these situations. Throughout the season, there are meetings, mostly informal, among Steelers President Art Rooney II, General Manager Kevin Colbert, and Coach Mike Tomlin during which personnel is discussed. Then there comes a time for another set of meetings during which free-agents-to-be are prioritized in terms of the interest in retaining those players.
"Those discussions happen, among Art and Kevin and myself," said Tomlin. "It's done formally, but probably done informally in a lot of ways throughout the course of a calendar year. When we actually sit down for that meeting, I think we all have a pretty decent understanding in which direction that meeting is going to go per player, just based on the informal communication daily that we all share over the course of a season."
Boiling it down, a value is placed on each guy, and that value has to do both with his role on the team and how much said role is determined to be worth in terms of salary. I believe the Steelers' preference was for Timmons to be re-signed, but that preference had a price attached to it because they viewed him as a player with declining skills, especially against the pass.
Timmons continued to be among the team leaders in tackles in just about every game, but the defense is designed for the inside linebackers to make a lot of tackles, especially vs. the run. Where things had deteriorated with Timmons was in his ability in coverage, both zone and man-to-man. At one time, Timmons was a special player in his ability to cover backs out of the backfield, tight ends, even the occasional wide receiver if an opponent's formation isolated him in that situation.
But over the last couple of years, that was no longer the case, and Timmons wasn't getting any younger or faster. Then when the Dolphins offered a contract that guaranteed Timmons $11 million over the next two years, that had to have been a deal-breaker for the Steelers because he just isn't that kind of player anymore. Maybe in Miami, but not here.
Lawrence Timmons deserves to be remembered fondly for his time with the Steelers, for his durability and dependability, for his leadership, for his play, for all of the good things he contributed to the organization after being the first No. 1 draft pick of the Tomlin-Colbert era. But it's also fair to note that for everything Timmons contributed to the Steelers during that time, he was paid $60 million.
MARK GOLDMAN FROM MT. KISCO, NY:
If a player is deemed to be too expensive and cut and then re-signed cheaper, is the salary cap hit based off the original (expensive) salary, the newer (lower) salary, or some other (blended) figure?
ANSWER: In the situation you describe, there could be a salary cap hit when the player is cut for being too expensive – any "dead money" remaining from the original contract's signing bonus – and then there would be a salary cap hit based on the new contract. A double-whammy, so to speak.
KENNETH HAGGERTY FROM REYNOLDSBURG, OH:
Have you ever heard of any other Steelers player who was hated more than Landry Jones, and who would it be since the beginning of the franchise?
ANSWER: Have you ever heard of Mark Malone? Or Kordell Stewart? Or Cliff Stoudt? Malone was the subject of chants and signs at Three Rivers Stadium ("Go home, Malone"). Stewart was the subject of vicious rumors concerning his personal life and booed mercilessly. Stoudt was pelted with snowballs when he returned to Three Rivers Stadium for a USFL game as the starting quarterback for the Birmingham franchise. Hopefully, Landry Jones never has to experience any of that vitriol.
RAY GREHOFSKY FROM BETHEL PARK, PA:
How happy are you the Steelers re-signed Landry Jones? From reading your column I laugh at those who speak poorly of him. From my view he is a very good backup who has a firm grasp of the system. How many NFL teams boast a franchise starter AND a really solid backup? Be thankful, Steeler fans!
ANSWER: My reaction to Landry Jones re-signing with the Steelers was less about happiness and more about the team securing a solid backup quarterback for the next couple of seasons. He is a good fit here, and so the Steelers can turn their attention to using their eight draft picks to continue to reinforce a defense they're re-making on the fly, and to add some depth at some offensive positions.
BRIAN ROACH FROM BLACKWOOD, NJ:
Didn't Jack Ham also win the NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award in 1975? In an answer the other day about whether Jack Lambert won the award twice, I think you left Ham out when listing the Steelers who have won the award. Of course, I did already Google it, so I'm pretty sure he did.
ANSWER: Google it again, because I'm positive that Jack Ham did not win the NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award in 1975, because Mel Blount did. Ham never was voted NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Not saying he didn't ever deserve it, but he never won it.
GARY WHITAKER FROM LEETSDALE, PA:
With this year's draft having so many good tight ends, do you think the Steelers might pick up a good one with a third-round pick?
ANSWER: I hope not. With Ladarius Green, Jesse James, Xavier Grimble, and David Johnson, the Steelers' depth chart at tight end is adequate, in my opinion. If the Steelers want to add a potential offensive weapon to the mix with a third-round pick, my preference would be that it be used on a receiver, or a running back.
BRENT PASSINO FROM AFTON, MI:
I do not see any possible way for Antonio Brown to live up to his new contract. Do you?
ANSWER: I think it's much more likely that after the 2018 season is over, people are going to be talking about how underpaid Antonio Brown is compared to other top receivers in the NFL.
DAVID RUDIN FROM MANITOU SPRINGS, CO:
I saw your list of the top 10 unrestricted free agent signings for the Steelers, with James Farrior rated No. 1. Do you have a similar list for players the Steelers acquired via trade? If so, who would be No. 1 in your book?
ANSWER: Jerome Bettis. And it's not even close.
TODD BERARDELLI FROM ORLAND PARK, IL:
Jerome Bettis doesn't make the list of the most impactful free agents ever signed by the Steelers? How's that?
ANSWER: Uh, because Jerome Bettis was acquired via a trade with the St. Louis Rams on the first day of the 1996 NFL Draft.
TOM JAMES FROM PITTSBURGH, PA:
How do the Steelers feel internally about Stephon Tuitt as a piece of the defensive puzzle moving forward? Also, do you think it's likely the Steelers pursue a true nose tackle in free agency? I love Javon Hargrave as a third-down player, but I think we need a run-stuffing type of player up the middle on first and second downs. What are your thoughts?
ANSWER: Based on the restricted free agent tender the Steelers put on Ross Cockrell, my opinion is that they see him as a part of what they're trying to build on defense but not as a slam-dunk long-time starter, like Artie Burns or Sean Davis as examples. As for run-stuffing nose tackles, the Steelers utilize that 3-4 defensive alignment less than one-third of the time. What they need is another interior defensive lineman with pass-rushing skills like Javon Hargrave.
KYLE GARTENSLEBEN FROM RICHMOND, VA:
If a defender knocks a ball in the air away from the targeted receiver, however another receiver catches the ball, will the defender get credited with a pass deflection or no?
ANSWER: In my opinion, he wouldn't deserve to be credited with a pass defensed, which is the actual meaning of "PD" in the statistics, because a pass defensed means the defender prevented a reception, either by getting hands on the ball or knocking it loose with a hit on the receiver. In the scenario you describe, the defender didn't prevent a reception.
JIMMY ENGLISH FROM DUBLIN, IRELAND:
Let me preface this by saying I'm a huge Notre Dame fan, so don't judge me. If Deshone Kizer falls to the Steelers at No. 30 in the first round of the draft, would he be worth taking and sitting behind Ben Roethlisberger for a few years?
ANSWER: At this point, I cannot imagine a realistic scenario in which the Steelers use their first-round pick in this draft on a quarterback. I do wonder, however, if you've ever gotten grief for living in Ireland and having the surname "English?"