Asked and Answered

Asked and Answered: March 18

Let's get to it:

MICHAEL CHERNOFF FROM QUERETARO, QUERETARO, MEXICO: I noted in your review of the Steelers-By-Position that the punter is the holder for Chris Boswell. Hence even a good punter who's not a reliable holder would have trouble making the squad. Would the Steelers consider using someone else on the roster as a holder, someone like a wide receiver who supposedly also has good hands?
ANSWER: This procedure – of the punter serving as the holder for the placekicker – evolved for the purpose of efficiency during practice. Because specialists often work off to the side during the periods of practice, especially during the season, when the rest of the squad is working on offense or defense, having the punter as the holder didn't remove a position player from that daily work. That's the way most NFL teams operate and have operated for some time, and it has become part of the job of a punter at the professional level. So, if you want to be an NFL punter, learn how to hold.

PAUL SOMERVILLE FROM HAMILTON, ONTARIO, CANADA: Just to add to your answer to the question about the Steelers' best unrestricted free agent signings in the last installment of Asked And Answered: How could you leave out Jerome Bettis?
ANSWER: It was easy to omit Jerome Bettis from that answer/list since he was acquired by the Steelers in a trade.

BOBBY KNIGHT FROM RESTON, VA: With the loss of three starters on an underperforming offensive line, who on the roster is best to fill the openings at left tackle, left guard, and center? I can see B.J. Finney at center, and Kevin Dotson at left guard, with the possibility of drafting a serviceable left tackle at No. 24 or No. 48 overall. Could that offensive line combination develop enough continuity to protect an aging and immobile quarterback?
ANSWER: First of all, pass protection is an 11-man assignment, and as that "aging, immobile quarterback," a.k.a., Ben Roethlisberger, showed last season, getting the ball out quickly goes a long way in reducing the number of sacks. Another thing that can slow the opponents' pass-rush is an effective running game, and that is a stated goal of this offseason. Maybe Roethlisberger ends up being sacked more than the 13 times he was in 2020, but it's very possible that the offensive line can be a more effective unit than it was last season. And come to think of it, if the Steelers had trotted out the same starting offensive line that had been below-the-line overall last season, would you feel good about it?

JEFF MONROE FROM MIAMI, FL: Looking at all these mock drafts, it seems like there are a lot of linemen who could be drafted in the first round. But if we would wait, would some of them fall to the second round by any chance?
ANSWER: Because mock drafts historically are so accurate?

CHANCE CALLAWAY FROM CHICAGO, IL: Are the Steelers upset that we missed out on Matt Feiler, Mike Hilton, and especially Tyson Alualu? We were probably going to lose Bud Dupree either way.
ANSWER: I have no way of knowing whether the Steelers were upset when Matt Feiler, Tyson Alualu, and Mike Hilton signed contracts with the Chargers, Jaguars, and Bengals, respectively, but it has been mentioned time and time again that the team had very-little-to-no-money to spend on free agents. And that meant their own free agents and other teams' free agents.

Looking at each individual case separately, in my opinion, anyone suggesting cutting Joe Haden to free up money to sign Hilton thinks it's an arithmetic exercise and not about building the best defense. Hilton has been a very nice plyer for the Steelers, and he has his attributes, which I believe the team has done a decent job of maximizing. But he's not that good in coverage, and a cornerback who's not that good in coverage isn't a player who's worth what's being reported as a four-year, $24 million contract. I'm happy for him and his family that he got paid, truly, but that's too much money for him. And don't think for a minute that in their two games against the Bengals in 2021 the Steelers won't be working to isolate Hilton on Chase Claypool.

Alualu is going to be 34 in early May, and he's a guy who would be playing in the center of a three-man defensive line less than 33 percent of the time over the course of a whole season. He also has value in being a rotational player who can eat snaps at defensive end to allow Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt to get some rest over the course of a game. Maybe he had some extra incentive to return to Jacksonville, which is where his NFL career began and where he played his first seven seasons as a pro. Again, good for Alualu that he could return to where his career began and get paid a nice sum, but the Steelers aren't in a position where they could or should allocate that amount of cap space for a 34-year-old part-time player. It's on the Steelers to get Carlos Davis or Isaiah Buggs ready to play.

Feiler is a similar case to Alualu, only he's younger and a starter. But Feiler's best spot is right tackle, and the Steelers have options there in Chuks Okorafor and Zach Banner, and my opinion is that for the way the Steelers want their offensive linemen to play in 2021, Kevin Dotson is a better left guard. I personally hope Feiler earns every penny on that $21 million contract he signed with the Chargers, but it also wouldn't surprise me that if in a couple of years the Chargers are looking to upgrade at his position.

Hilton, Alualu, and Feiler were contributors, never a problem either on or off the field, good teammates by any definition. But this offseason they were out of the Steelers' price range.

TIM SCHUCKERS FROM BIG RUN, PA: I read that Joe Haden's contact is the second largest on the team, only behind Ben Roethlisberger, at over $15 million. Also I believe that his contact was re-negotiated last year. What would be the cap hit if the Steelers were to release him? Also could they have signed both Cam Sutton and Mike Hilton for what would have been saved by cutting Haden?
ANSWER: Joe Haden's contract calls for him to be paid $7 million in 2021. The $15.6 million figure is his charge to the 2021 salary cap. By cutting Haden, the Steelers would've saved $7 million on their cap but been charged $8.6 million in dead money. As stated in the previous answer, Mike Hilton signed a four-year, $24 million contract, which works out to an average of $6 million per season, and besides, the Steelers are a better defense/team with Haden and Cam Sutton than they would be with Sutton and Hilton and without Haden.

RICKY SHAFFER FROM MEMPHIS, TN: Now that Tyson Alualu has signed with Jacksonville, are the Steelers just going to do away with the nose tackle position? Can we afford to pay a player top dollar to a player who's only on the field on 33 percent of the snaps?
ANSWER: I don't believe the loss of Tyson Alualu will be the catalyst for the Steelers to abandon their 3-4 alignment totally, but it's apparent that the position isn't a high priority in today's NFL. And particularly not a high priority for a team dealing with salary cap issues, as the Steelers are in 2021.

PAUL KAMMERMEIER FROM BLOOMFIELD, NY: With the departure of Tyson Alualu and Vince Williams, I'm wondering if you'd share your thoughts on the prospect of Isiah Buggs and Ulysses Gilbert developing into starters?
ANSWER: I believe the starting inside linebackers in 2021, barring injury, will be Devin Bush and Robert Spillane, and that's based on the way Spillane played in 2020 and the fact Ulysees Gilbert has been unable to stay healthy since coming to the team as a sixth-round draft pick in 2019. On the defensive line, I believe it's too close to call between Isaiah Buggs and Carlos Davis when it comes to the two young veterans who figure to be in the mix to replace Tyson Alualu in the defensive line rotation. There also could be additions at those positions during the draft.

JACOB GREENLEAF FROM AUSTIN, TX: Now that the Steelers have released Vince Williams, what will we do for a linebacker? Will we draft someone in Rounds 2 or 3?
ANSWER: The Steelers figure to address linebacker – both inside and outside – in the upcoming draft, although the interest at both of those positions would be for depth. Vince Williams wasn't going to be a starter in 2021.

BRIAN WINGARD FROM CURWENSVILLE, PA: If JuJu Smith-Schuster leaves via free agency, and the Steelers do not add a wide receiver via the draft or free agency, do you believe they would have enough offensive weapons to contend for a championship in 2021?
ANSWER: Wide receiver is another position I expect the Steelers to address at some point during the upcoming draft, but Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, James Washington, and Eric Ebron are there to catch passes, and the running game has to improve. If that happens, there will be enough offense. The wide receiver who will be added this offseason should be expected to be a complementary piece.

RON BLASKO FROM DENVER, NC: Besides Terry Bradshaw and Tom Brady, which quarterbacks have won four or more Super Bowls and/or NFL Championships?
ANSWER: Tom Brady is at the top of the list with seven championships, and Bart Starr is next on the list with five, which includes two Super Bowls. Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana are at four; and then the next level includes Otto Graham, John Unitas, Len Dawson, and Troy Aikman with three championships apiece.

MIKE DERYCK FROM STOW, OH: If Mac Jones is available when the Steelers are on the clock with the 24th overall pick in the upcoming draft, do you think they would entertain trading the pick for a first-round pick in 2022 plus other picks in 2021? Or would they simply draft the best offensive tackle or running back on their board?
ANSWER: The thing with offering these kinds of scenarios and then asking for a prediction as to how the Steelers might react is that the actual situation is neither as simple nor cut-and-dried as the scenario presented. In this specific case, some of the factors you don't mention that I believe would factor into the decision are:

Besides Mac Jones, who else is available with the 24th overall pick, and what do the Steelers think of him/them? What other picks in 2021 would be included in the offer to trade up? Which team is trying to trade up, and where are they drafting in 2021 and then where might they be drafting in 2022? What has happened to the Steelers roster between now and then either to add to the urgency of this draft, or create a little wiggle room where the kind of deferment you suggest might be the better path to pursue? Just too many unknowns to predict a likely outcome. And I will conclude with this nugget from Dan Rooney: "The idea is not to try to win the draft. The idea is to try to win the Super Bowl."