Let's get to it:
TOM HAYS FROM BEND, OR: Now that the CBA has been ratified, can you give a quick overview of how any extra salary cap dollars will affect the Steelers? Is it a big enough jump to dream of keeping Javon Hargrave?
ANSWER: What's important to understand is that whatever amount of "extra" salary cap money the Steelers might reap based on the ratification of the CBA, each NFL team will see the same increase to its cap. My belief is that some team is going to make Javon Hargrave an offer he cannot refuse, similar to Jesse James' situation last offseason when the Detroit Lions signed him to a four-year, $22.6 million contract with $10.5 million guaranteed. Even if the Steelers are capable of making Hargrave a representative offer, I really believe a different team is going to come in much higher, and there is no way the Steelers can prevent that from happening.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Another team coming in with an offer to Hargrave that the Steelers would've had no chance to match in fact happened Monday evening when he agreed to a three-year, $39 million deal with Philadelphia that includes $26 million guaranteed.
REED FITZSIMMONS FROM MONACA, PA: Who do you think is more valuable to the defense: Javon Hargrave or Bud Dupree?
ANSWER: All due respect to Javon Hargrave, it's Bud Dupree, and it's not even close. In the Steelers scheme, an outside linebacker who can post double-digit sacks and be an asset in coverage always, always, always will be more valuable than an interior defensive lineman.
ROD KEEFER FROM EDMOND, OK: In the March 12 installment of Asked and Answered your list of Steelers' compensatory picks "who turned into contributing players" did not include James Conner. Am I mistaken that he was a 2017 compensatory pick, was it an oversight, or are you not yet convinced that the Pro Bowl running back has proven himself as a contributor?
ANSWER: You are not mistaken. It was my error not to have included James Conner among the Steelers' compensatory draft picks since the system first was implemented by the NFL in 1994. And Conner definitely qualifies as a compensatory pick who turned into a contributing player.
SCOTTY DAVES FROM BESSEMER CITY, NC: In the CBA, there are minimum salaries for veteran players. Is having a veteran minimum salary not detrimental to the majority of veteran players? Can a seven-year veteran player only be worth $500,000 to a team? And if that player is willing to play for $500,000 with a team, why should he not be allowed to play for that amount?
ANSWER: When a union collectively bargains with management in any industry, one of the cornerstones of that process is establishing a strict value for its workers. If you're in the construction business, and you want your building to be built by union carpenters, union electricians, union plumbers, etc., there are specific amounts that have to be paid to those workers for those jobs, with the idea being that their training and experience lead to a certain quality of work that's worth the cost in the long run. Those minimum salary figures serve as protection for the players, because if they didn't exist, management would run roughshod over them and for all intents and purposes force those people to work for less than what their union believes they are worth. And by the way, if management doesn't believe a seven-year veteran is worth $915,000, as an example, it shouldn't ratify the contract. But beyond that, in the NFL there is a provision made for these kinds of veteran players, where the individual is paid the stipend called for in the CBA while the team gets a break on its salary cap as a result. It's called the Minimum Salary Benefit Clause, and here's an example of how it works: For the 2019 season, the minimum salary for veterans with 5-or-6 years in the NFL was $790,000; for players with between 7-to-9 years in the NFL it was $915,000; and for players with 10-plus years it was $1.051 million. Any players in that range of experience (5-plus years in the NFL) who signed a one-year deal with included bonuses not exceeding around $80,000 would get paid the entire amount while only counting $630,000 against the respective team's cap.
KEVIN NEVERLY FROM WEIRTON, WV: The three players that the Steelers cut yesterday – Mark Barron, Anthony Chickillo, and Johnny Holton – was their time here gone, or were they cut for salary cap reasons?
ANSWER: The short answer is this: players cut at this time of the year are salary cap victims. If the team had room for them under the salary cap, it would make no sense to cut them before replacements were found, because with rosters at 90 players per team there is room for them on the roster, and they don't get paid until the regular season starts, which means there is no financial gain from making those moves now. Except to clear space under the salary cap.
BURTON HARRIS FROM GREENSBURG, PA: Since NFL teams will be able to sign XFL players, do you think the Steelers would look for a tight end or a running back? And if so could they sign them for NFL minimum wage.
ANSWER: The Steelers have been scouting the XFL since it began play, and so they have compiled information and have written reports on players they might believe are NFL-caliber. As far as what signing XFL players might cost an NFL team, keep in mind that those players are free agents and able to sign with any NFL team for whatever sum they could command on the open market. It could be for the NFL minimum, or it could be for a significantly higher amount. Also keep in mind that we have seen leagues fold and release players to the open market recently – the AAF, the original incarnation of the XFL – and it's not as though there are a bunch of future NFL Pro Bowl players among them waiting to be signed.
MIKE CLAPPER FROM BEDFORD, PA: With the COVID-19 virus rocking the sports world with all kinds of cancellations and postponements, do you think the upcoming NFL Draft could be affected? Will we see Commissioner Roger Goodell in a room by himself announcing picks while the players sit at home?
ANSWER: Based on where we are today, I cannot imagine a realistic scenario in which there would be an event attracting 500,000 people to a city. The NFL Draft was said to have attracted that kind of a crowd last year, and so I cannot imagine this year's version being staged in a similar fashion in a city like Las Vegas. How it ends up, though, I have no idea.
RICK CHABOREK FROM WINDSOR, ONTARIO, CANADA: Why does New England have two compensatory draft picks in the third round, and both of them before the Steelers' one compensatory pick in the third round?
ANSWER" Compensatory draft picks are awarded based solely on unrestricted free agents signed vs. unrestricted free agents lost during a particular offseason. During the offseason in question, the Patriots lost Malcolm Brown, Trenton Brown, Trey Flowers, Chris Hogan, Cordarelle Patterson, Eric Rowe, and LaAdrian Waddle. The only UFA the Patriots signed was Brandon Bolden. For the Steelers, they lost Le'Veon Bell and signed Steven Nelson. Based on the NFL's formula, that discrepancy netted the Patriots two third-round picks ahead of the Steelers' one third-round pick.
SHARON COLEMAN FROM PASADENA, MD: Why is the Steelers' schedule always more difficult than the Ravens' schedule? Why doesn't the organization fight for fairness?
ANSWER: The NFL employs a scheduling formula that ensures teams within the same division play almost identical schedules. Last year for example, the Steelers and Ravens both played each team from the NFC West and each team from the AFC East. That makes eight opponents that are the same on both schedules, with the venues for the games in those categories decided on a rotating basis. Both the Steelers and the Ravens play a home-and-home series against the other teams in the AFC North, which makes for a total of 14 games. The other two games – both against AFC teams – are determined by the previous season's standings. Last year, as the first-place team in the AFC North in 2018, the Ravens got the Chiefs on the road and the Texans at home; as the second-place team in the AFC North, the Steelers got the Bills at home and the Chargers on the road. I don't see how the schedules are markedly different, or patently unfair.
CARRIE SHAMROCK FROM FLORENCE, KY: What do you think about the Pittsburgh Steelers possibly cutting Ben Roethlisberger to save money for Bud Dupree and Javon Hargrave and then starting Devlin Hodges for the entire 16 games next year?
ANSWER: I was going to explain how the dead money hit after cutting Ben Roethlisberger would be so significant that there would be no real savings on the Steelers' salary cap to then make the moves with Javon Hargrave and Bud Dupree that you suggest. But I think it would be more appropriate to let you know I think your insanity plea would be recognized in a court of law.