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Asked and Answered

Asked and Answered: March 14

Let's get to it:

JUSTIN COLVIN FROM NEW OXFORD, PA: Limiting your answer to the Super Bowl era, who in your humble opinion was the best Steelers quarterback to not win a Super Bowl?
ANSWER: Because of somewhat drastic changes in quarterback play during the Super Bowl era, I'm going to offer a two-pronged answer. Based on the current expectations for quarterback play, how the game is legislated, and how offenses have evolved to expect a quarterback to be a dual-threat weapon, I would pick Kordell Stewart. I'm not going to claim Stewart was better back then than Lamar Jackson is now, but I would argue that athletically I don't see a whole lot of difference. In 113 games, Stewart averaged 5.2 yards a carry, scored 35 touchdowns, and was sacked 145 times. In 70 games, Jackson is averaging 6.1 yards per rush, scored 24 touchdowns, and was sacked 132 times. And I don't know whether Jackson has the skills to switch to wide receiver at the start of a regular season and be an effective weapon on a team that advanced to play in the Super Bowl, but I saw Stewart do that.

If the parameters for this question are going to be picking the quarterback best suited to mesh with the supporting cast within the way the sport was legislated and played during his era, I would go with Bubby Brister. The Steelers of the early 1990s were a physical, run-first offense that looked to the quarterback to manage that and then make some plays down the field in the passing game. And mobility was required only as an option to being a stationary target in the pocket. Brister was a good teammate who wanted to win more than he was interested in personal statistics and that, plus a defense that was becoming dominant into the late-1990s would have made those Steelers teams a multi-year championship contender.

DENNIS SLEEGER FROM YORK, PA: I'm curious. Our own unrestricted free agents, do they show up on our salary cap even though they're not signed? Like with Cam Sutton signing with Detroit, does that give us any more salary cap space?
ANSWER: Until the official start of the new league year, which in 2023 is 4 p.m. EDT on Wednesday, March 15, all talk about salary cap and signing unrestricted free agents is theoretical. Whatever "salary cap space" a team is said to have or to lack before Wednesday at 4 p.m. is a projection/estimation and is entirely unofficial, which is a fancy way of writing "it doesn't matter a whit." At 4 p.m. on Wednesday, all 2022 contracts expire, and players who are set to become unrestricted free agents are off the books, and all teams must be in compliance with the 2023 salary cap, which is $224.8 million.

JEFF BANKOVICH FROM ELIZABETH TOWNSHIP, PA: What is the difference between restricted and unrestricted free agents?
ANSWER: I'm going to avoid the legalese version and attempt to boil it down to the essentials. A restricted free agent is a player who has three NFL seasons to his credit (also referred to as "accrued seasons"), while it takes 4 or more accrued seasons to qualify for unrestricted free agency. In the case of a restricted free agent, his team can offer him a tender, and the amount of that tender triggers compensation to the original team should the player sign an offer sheet from another team and have the original team decline to match. The levels of the tenders are:

• RIGHT OF FIRST REFUSAL: One-year contract worth $2.627 million. Team has the right to match any offer sheet signed with another team, but there is no draft compensation tied to this tender.

• ORIGINAL ROUND TENDER: One-year contract worth the greater of (a) $2.743 million or (b) 110 percent of the player's prior-year base salary. Draft-choice compensation: a pick in the round the player was originally drafted in.

• SECOND ROUND TENDER: One-year contract worth the greater of (a) $4.304 million or (b) 110 percent of the player's prior-year base salary. Draft-choice compensation: second-round pick.

• FIRST-ROUND TENDER: One-year contract worth the greater of (a) $6.005 million or (b) 110 percent of the player's prior-year base salary. If the player's original team decides not to match an offer sheet the player signed with another team, it is entitled to a first-round draft pick from the player's new team. Unless received two days or later prior to the NFL draft, draft compensation for each tender is due in the same league year as the offer sheet is signed.

In the case of an unrestricted free agent, there is far less opportunity for the player's former team to receive compensation, with the only such mechanism available at this level being the franchise tag. Unrestricted free agents are able to sign with any team for whatever price the sides agree upon provided the contract does not violate the salary cap.

MIKE ZEKIR FROM MARIANNA, PA: Do you think Jordan Addison falls to the Steelers, whose first-round pick in the upcoming draft is 17th overall, and if so, will they take him?
ANSWER: What I believe is based on having 4 of the first 80 overall picks and the reality that there is good depth in the category of playmaking wide receivers in the 2023 NFL Draft, the best use of the No. 1 pick is to spend it on a player who lines up on either of the lines of scrimmage and can be described as "mobile, agile, and hostile."

MIKE PALOMBO FROM McMURRAY, PA: If a team wants to sign a player to an offer sheet who is carrying the franchise tag but doesn't have a first-round pick for the next 2 years, must the player's current team wait 2 years for compensation if it chooses not to match?
ANSWER: When it comes to a player carrying the franchise tag, it's no different than patronizing a Las Vegas casino – you have to have the collateral on the table up front. For the team using the franchise tag, it must have the upfront collateral in the form of dollar-for-dollar salary cap space necessary to apply the tag; and the bidding team must have the required draft picks up front on its end of the potential transaction. As an example, the Dolphins could not try to sign Lamar Jackson to an offer sheet this offseason until after the draft, because Miami has been docked its No. 1 pick in 2023 as a consequence of owner Stephen Ross being "suspended … following an investigation into whether the organization violated league policies pertaining to the integrity of the game." You gotta be able to pay in order to play.

NATE GEISLER FROM BOISE, ID: A question in a recent installment of Asked and Answered had to do with Steelers tight ends and Super Bowls. A 1990s tight end was Eric Green, and as a kid I remember he was an unbelievable player. If I remember correctly, he was a No. 1 pick in 1990 and then was released/traded before the 1995 season. What happened to him?
ANSWER: I would disagree with your memory of Eric Green as "an unbelievable player." In my mind, Green was a player who could be physically dominant, and he certainly put up some stats that got him to two Pro Bowls and netted a big-money unrestricted free agent contract from the Dolphins, but he carried himself as someone who believed he was a more important player than he was. And the big-money free agent contract Green got came after the 1993 and 1994 seasons when he combined for 109 catches for 1,560 yards (14.3 average) and 9 touchdowns. In 1995, the Steelers drafted Mark Bruener in the first round, transitioned their offense away from being so tight-end-centric, and advanced to Super Bowl XXX.

RON WOOSTER FROM HOOVER, AL: Recently, Kenny Pickett had a practice session with some skill position teammates in Florida. The news stories quoted his personal quarterback coach on what he was working on, the focus for improvement, etc. Is there any communication beforehand with the Steelers coaches? I know Steeler coaches are not permitted to participate, but if the Steelers want improvement in some specific areas while the personal coach emphasizes other areas, this exercise could potentially be counter-productive.
ANSWER: With respect to that workout in Florida, Kenny Pickett most likely was more in charge of what went on during the on-field sessions than his personal quarterback coach. Tony Racioppi was able to provide his input on some of the fundamentals and mechanics of the position, but everything else was brought to the party by Pickett.

TERRY STROUSE FROM MONTGOMERY, PA: What do you think about James coming to Pittsburgh, and would we be able to make a deal, or would you like to keep the young talent we have and develop it?
ANSWER: Who is James? Seriously, I have no idea to whom you are referring.

ERIC SCHIER FROM DOWNINGTOWN, PA: Following up on the recent question about Kendrick Green. Do you have any insight into his failure to become a contributor? I figured once the experiment at center didn't work out, he would become a fixture at guard. But he wasn't even active for a game in his second season.
ANSWER: This is the way I saw it: Once the decision was made to move Kendrick Green from center, and the Steelers signed unrestricted free agents Mason Cole and James Daniels, Green was left to compete at left guard vs. Kevin Dotson. Green had his moments during training camp, but Dotson was chosen as the starter coming out of the preseason. By then, the coaches were most comfortable with J.C. Hassenauer as the backup center, and because Green didn't play tackle and the seventh spot on the gameday roster went to a backup tackle, Green was inactive. Then, the starting five played an entire season, with Dan Moore Jr., Dotson, Daniels, and Chuks Okorafor all playing 100 percent of the offensive snaps on the season, Green had nowhere to go. Had there been any injuries or other absences that created openings that might have led to playing time, maybe that all ends differently.

ZACK NUNEZ FROM COLLEGE STATION, TX: Despite the many defensive players brought in last season like Larry Ogunjobi, Myles Jack, etc., the defensive line failed to stop the run in the critical games vs. Nick Chubb, Samaje Perrine, Joe Mixon, and J.K. Dobbins having their way. In fact, the Ravens beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh with a practice squad quarterback with Dobbins singlehandedly running over the Steelers. Is it poor coaching, defensive scheming, or lack of talent that is to blame for this poor run defense?
ANSWER: I have a question for you: Is it a poor attention span or a selective memory that is to blame for you having no idea what you're talking about? The Steelers defense finished the 2022 season ranked 9th in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game and 8th in yards allowed per attempt. They lost to the Ravens in Pittsburgh, 16-14, because Mitch Trubisky threw three interceptions in scoring territory and Chris Boswell had a 40-yard field goal blocked that he typically makes in his sleep. In the rematch, on Jan. 1 in Baltimore, the Steelers out-rushed the NFL's No. 2 ground game, 198-120, in a 16-13 win. Las Vegas' Josh Jacobs came to Pittsburgh as the NFL's leading rusher and was held to 44 yards on 15 carries in a 13-10 Steelers win. Carolina was ranked in the top 10 in the NFL in rushing when the Panthers were held to 21 yards on 13 carries (1.6 average) in another Steelers win. Atlanta finished third in the NFL in rushing, but the Falcons managed no rushing touchdowns in a 19-16 Steelers win. And the Steelers outrushed the Colts with first-team All-Pro running back Jonathan Taylor not allowed to be a factor in the 27-14 win in Indianapolis. The Steelers' 9-8 record wasn't good enough for a spot in the AFC's 7-team playoff field, but your assessment as to why is comically inaccurate.

JIM BUSER FROM MONTROSE, CO: William Jackson III has been released. He was acquired in a trade with the Commanders in return for a second-round draft pick. I know the Steelers needed help in the defensive backfield, but I don't understand the logic of that trade since he had been benched because of back problems in Washington and never played a down for the Steelers. It seems like a waste of a high draft pick. Did he pass a physical?
ANSWER: Your outrage is based on incorrect information. Here are the actual terms of the trade: The Steelers acquired William Jackson III and a conditional seventh-round pick in the 2025 NFL Draft, and in exchange they sent Washington a conditional 2025 sixth-round pick. Since Jackson never played a down and has been released, my sense is that the conditions for the trade were not met and so those 2025 picks will return to their original teams. There was not a second-round pick involved in the transaction.

ERIC ASH FROM WELLSVILLE, NY: The Steelers can pick 4 of the 80 best players available in the 2023 NFL Draft, but I keep hearing people say they should trade down for more picks in the lower rounds. Could you repeat what you said about the difference between winning the Super Bowl and winning the draft?
ANSWER: To clarify, that was something that Dan Rooney told me about the draft. He said, "Sometimes people make the mistake of trying to win the draft, when the idea is to try to win the Super Bowl."

PATRICK CHARLES FROM GILLETTE, WY: First I should ask, do you get a Hall of Fame vote? If so, why haven't the Pittsburgh writers pushed to get L.C. Greenwood into the Pro Football Hall of Fame?
ANSWER: I do not have a Hall of Fame vote, and your suggestion that "Pittsburgh writers push to get L.C. Greenwood into the Pro Football Hall of Fame" is not the way it works. All voting is done by the Selection Committee, and according to the Hall of Fame's website: "The Pro Football Hall of Fame's 49-person Selection Committee consists of one media representative from each pro football city — with two from New York and two from Los Angeles, as those cities each have two teams in the National Football League. There are 17 at-large Selectors, who are active members of the media or persons intricately involved in professional football, including one representative of the Pro Football Writers of America. All appointments are open-ended and approved annually by a majority vote of the Hall of Fame's Board of Trustees."

I happen to share your opinion that L.C. Greenwood belongs in the Hall of Fame, and I am just as convinced that there are fans of every other NFL franchise with just as strong a belief that one of their favorite team's players is being suitably overlooked. And because a player must receive 80 percent of the vote of the Committee, it is no simple process to be elected, or to get someone elected, to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. And I firmly believe that a certain "Steelers fatigue" has set in among the Committee, because if you look at the Class of 2020 and the Class of 2021, 5 Steelers were inducted in those two years. Five is a lot. Bill Cowher, Troy Polamalu, Bill Nunn, Alan Faneca, and Donnie Shell. Three players, a coach, and a scout representing the contributor category. Every wing of the organization. The voters are human, too, and susceptible to human reactions. That doesn't make it fair to L.C. Greenwood and Andy Russell – and I'm sure there are at least two snubbed individuals for every other team – but it's the reality.