Let's get to it:
REED FITZSIMMONS FROM MONACA, PA: Where do you think the Steelers will go to replace Ramon Foster? Any players/prospects who come to mind?
ANSWER: If the Steelers had a game at the end of this week, which they don't, I believe they would move Matt Feiler from right tackle to left guard, and with all due respect to Ramon Foster, that would be an upgrade at the position.
JOHN ROEBUCK FROM ALTOONA, PA: Can you compare Javon Hargrave's play compared to Casey Hampton's? It seemed like Hargrave could be run against and couldn't handle double-teams at all.
ANSWER: Casey Hampton and Javon Hargrave both may have been listed as nose tackles, but they were completely different in style and in the way the Steelers utilized them. Hampton played in an era when opposing offenses still believed in the value of running the football, and so his ability to be an immovable object in the middle of the line of scrimmage made him very valuable, and his work inside was commendable, as evidenced by his five trips to the Pro Bowl. But Hampton finished his NFL career with nine sacks in 173 regular season games. Hargrave was a third-round pick because he provided value as an interior pass-rusher, and he was a good fit for the style of offense being played in the NFL when he came into the league as a third-round pick in 2016. And Hargrave produced to the tune of 14.5 sacks in his first 63 NFL games, which is why the Philadelphia signed him to that big contract. Different players for different eras.
MATTHEW MCMULLEN FROM HASTINGS, PA: With the franchise tag already placed on Bud Dupree, will the Steelers now work on T.J. Watt's contract extension?
ANSWER: The Steelers want to keep T.J. Watt, and they want to do it via a long-term contract extension, or maybe even two because he is young enough to play that long. But it seems as though your question is about timing, and so I offer this: Watt is entering the fourth year of his rookie contract, and the Steelers can keep him for the 2021 season by exercising the fifth-year option that exists on all contracts of first-round draft picks. So it's not as though the Steelers would have to clear some cap space to get an extension negotiated with Watt over the next few months. There is time. That's not to say they won't attempt to do something with Watt this offseason, but there is still time.
KEVIN MARSDEN FROM GREENVILLE, SC: Since Ramon Foster has retired, would the Steelers consider moving Maurkice Pouncey to left guard and drafting somebody like LSU's Lloyd Cushenberry or sign a free agent to become their future center?
ANSWER: The Steelers are not moving Maurkice Pouncey to a different position on the offensive line.
TIM WHEELER FROM MELTON MOWBRAY, UK: What impact does Ramon Foster's retirement have on the team's salary cap situation?
ANSWER: The Steelers will save $2.4 million on their 2020 salary cap as a result of Ramon Foster's decision to retire. It's the same amount they would have saved had they decided to cut him.
LANCE BOOMHOWER FROM ANGLETON, TX: Ryan Shazier has been placed on the reserve/retired list. Last year he was on the reserve/PUP list. Can you please explain the difference between those two lists, and what it actually means to the Steelers and Ryan moving forward?
ANSWER: The reserve/PUP list meant that Ryan Shazier was still considered a player. While he didn't count on the roster because he was listed as physically unable to perform (PUP), his salary still counted on the salary cap. Here is what Steelers President Art Rooney II said about the reserve/retired designation: "No. 1, Ryan continues to be a remarkable person and just an inspiration for the whole organization, and really for the whole community, in terms of his perseverance, overcoming what he overcame. Ryan is going to make some decisions about his future at this point. I don't want to speak for him, but I think from our side of it we would be happy to have him continue to be a part of the Steelers organization in some capacity. We would love to be able to do that. Ryan is at the point where he's making those kinds of decisions about his future. He has been told by a number of people in the organization (that we want him to continue to be a part of us), including me."
ITHAN ZIMMER FROM EAST BRUNSWICK, NJ: The Steelers released Mark Barron and Anthony Chickillo. Javon Hargrave left as an unrestricted free agent as expected. Do you think their replacements are already on the roster? By replacements, I mean players who may reasonably be expected to play at or near their level in their typical role by the start of the season.
ANSWER: My opinion is that Mark Barron was signed as an unrestricted free agent last year as a hedge against being able to add a three-down linebacker in the 2019 draft. It didn't take General Manager Kevin Colbert and Coach Mike Tomlin long to know that Devin Bush was everything they wanted in a three-down linebacker, but then it became a matter of being able to get a deal done on draft day to get into a position to be able to pick him. Once Bush was drafted by the Steelers and then showed everyone he was as advertised, Barron became something of a redundancy. So in that case, the Steelers have, and have had, a better version of the player they cut recently. As for Anthony Chickillo and Javon Hargrave, I'm less certain about having young players on the roster "who may reasonably be expected to play at or near their level in their typical role by the start of the season." On the defensive line, I would expect some combination of the return of Stephon Tuitt added to an increased workload for both Tyson Alualu and Isaiah Buggs would compensate for Hargrave's departure, and it's still possible a player could be added to the defensive line either through free agency or the draft. At outside linebacker, the Steelers have a depth issue to be addressed, but Chickillo was eating up too much cap space for the role he would've filled in 2020.
ROBERT STANKAY FROM AVONMORE. PA: I'm missing the logic with letting Tyler Matakevich go to the Bills and picking up Derek Watt. It sounds on paper that Watt will be used for special teams as well, but the financial difference seems minimal.
ANSWER: The Steelers didn't let Tyler Matakevich go to the Bills. He was an unrestricted free agent and able to negotiate with any team in the league and then accept what he believed was the best offer. And you need to understand that the best offer isn't necessarily the highest-paying one every time, even though money plays a big role in these kinds of decisions. Matakevich never was going to crack the starting lineup here on defense, and so it's likely that part of his decision to leave, and again, it was his decision to leave, was based on at least being able to compete for a starting spot on defense in Buffalo. As Mike Tomlin always says about free agency, "It's free for the players, and free for the teams."
GREGOR HACKMACK FROM KARLSRUHE, GERMANY: Why did the Steelers not retain B.J. Finney? He signed a contract with the Seahawks worth $4 million a year while the Steelers spent a similar amount on a special teamer in Derek Watt. Wouldn't it have been smarter to sign the starting-caliber offensive lineman instead, who could've stepped in for Ramon Foster?
ANSWER: The answer to this question is similar to the answer to the previous question. You should not assume that the Steelers didn't want to keep B.J. Finney and chose to sign Derek Watt instead. My feeling on Finney leaving is the same as my feeling on why Tyler Matakevich chose to leave for Buffalo: He had a better chance to start by leaving. Finney's situation with the Steelers was that he primarily served as the backup center to Maurkice Pouncey, and this was emphasized when Coach Mike Tomlin shuffled the offensive line for a game against the Los Angeles Rams last season and it was Matt Feiler who was moved inside to play left guard while Finney remained on the bench.
The Seahawks didn't go so far as to guarantee Finney a starting job, but they have had a fair amount of upheaval on their offensive line, and his chances of cracking their starting lineup must have seemed better to him than his chances of breaking out of the mold as the backup center here because I believe the way the Steelers will respond to the retirement of Ramon Foster will be by moving Feiler to left guard and then having Chuks Okorafor and Zach Banner compete for Feiler's old job at right tackle. As for the Seahawks, they lost tackle George Fant, who started seven games in 2019, to the Jets via free agency; two other full-time starting offensive linemen – guard/tackle Germain Ifedi and left guard Mike Iupati – both are unrestricted free agents; and starting center Justin Britt is coming back from a torn ACL. That's why Finney chose to leave, in my opinion.