Let’s get to it:
TIM HARSHBARGER FROM BLOOMINGTON, IL: Is the Steelers’ approach to building the team through the draft and not free agency something that dates back to when Chuck Noll was hired, or did it start some other way or with other people? I guess I am asking how did the Steelers approach to building the team get started and become a part of who the Steelers are?
ANSWER: I would maintain the seeds of the Steelers current philosophy of roster-building began with the hiring of Buddy Parker to be the team’s coach in 1957. During Parker’s eight seasons at the helm, the Steelers enjoyed the most successful era to that point in franchise history. They compiled a 51-47-6 record (.519), and at the end of the 1962 season they qualified for a game that matched the second-place teams in each conference, known at the time as the Playoff Bowl. But Parker had a serious aversion to rookies, and so he traded away draft picks in bunches for veteran players, who often were in the twilight of their careers.
During his eight seasons, Parker traded away four first-round picks, six second-round picks, five third-round picks, and seven fourth-round picks. In 1958, Parker traded away six of the first nine picks; in 1959, he traded away the first seven picks; in 1960, it was five of the first six picks; in 1961, it was five of the first six picks; in 1962, it was six of the first seven picks; and in 1963, it was the first seven picks.
By that point, Dan Rooney had enough, and he informed Parker that there would be no more trades or cutting of players without his approval. That prompted Parker to resign, and Dan Rooney began looking for a coach who shared his vision – that the way to build a contending team was through the draft. When Rooney found a coach with a similar set of beliefs, he hired him, and Chuck Noll began one of the most successful tenures in NFL history in 1969.
By the time real free agency came to the NFL in 1993, the Steelers were entrenched in their belief that the best way to build a roster was through the draft, and then the early failures by teams that tried to buy a championship via the free agent market simply affirmed to Dan Rooney what he long had believed. And that brings us to today.
JOSHUA CAMPBELL FROM CINCINNATI, OH: Out of curiosity more than anything, why is there a delay from the time the Steelers agree to a deal with a player to the time it is officially announced? I am asking because of the Mark Barron rumors over last weekend.
ANSWER: The lapse in time between hearing that the Steelers have agreed to terms on a contract either with a free agent or with one of their own players and when that news is announced officially has to do with the actual signing of the papers. The reason the Steelers do it this way was illustrated recently by the Anthony Barr fiasco. Barr, a free agent linebacker from the Vikings, agreed to a new deal with the New York Jets, and the deal was reported by many media outlets under the assumption that it was done. But before Barr was able to sign anything to make it official, he changed his mind and returned to the Vikings, where he re-signed. The Steelers’ preference is to wait until the papers are signed and the deal actually becomes official before making any announcement.
DEREK WHITE FROM BALLY, PA: I just read (from ESPN) that the Mark Barron signing would not count against us next year in the compensatory draft pick formula due to him being "cut" from the Rams. Could you confirm this report and possibly elaborate on that little nugget?
ANSWER: That report is true. The compensatory draft pick formula only takes into consideration a team’s unrestricted free agents signed vs. unrestricted free agents lost. Unrestricted free agents are players with at least four accrued seasons in the NFL whose contracts have expired. When a player is released, his contract is terminated, and players in that category are not part of the compensatory draft pick formula.
GEORGE WASHINGTON FROM RICHMOND, VA: Why did Jesse James leave the Steelers?
ANSWER: For more money and the chance to be a team’s No. 1 tight end.
HANS KOLLER FROM FREDONIA, PA: When Kevin Colbert says they are going to let a player test free agency like Jesse James, has the team already made its best offer to the player, or does his agent have to come back with an offer for the Steelers to match or better?
ANSWER: Often, these kinds of situations are mostly about playing time and a role within the team, and then what that role is worth to the respective teams. You bring up Jesse James, and so let’s use him as an example. The Steelers see James as a No. 2 tight end, and they were only going to be willing to pay him as a No. 2 tight end. James was able to hit the market and see if another team might see him as a No. 1 tight end and would be willing to pay him as a No. 1 tight end. For James, the Detroit Lions saw him as a No. 1, and extended him an offer suitable for a No. 1, and James accepted that offer. Had James been unable to find a team willing to do that, he could’ve come back to the Steelers and negotiated a contract commensurate with the market for No. 2 tight ends.
JOSEPH SMITLEY FROM PITTSBURGH, PA: During the NFL draft, do you think it’s important to possibly get the best wide receiver available? I think with JuJu Smith-Schuster and Eli Rogers, we will be just fine but I’m also worrying whether James Washington can step up.
ANSWER: I believe the Steelers will pick a wide receiver in the upcoming draft, but I wouldn’t think that would come in the first round. And I also believe the Steelers will be looking for a specific kind of receiver – first and foremost, a guy with difference-making speed. I also believe you and other Steelers fans are going to grow to like the kind of player James Washington becomes.
WYATT SHOLLEY FROM BILLINGS, MT: Any updates on the jersey numbers of our newly signed veterans?
ANSWER: I wouldn’t expect that kind of information until after the draft.
DAVID SARP FROM CLINTON, NC: What do you think was the problem with Chris Boswell – injury or mental? Do you think he will be kicking for the Steelers in 2019?
ANSWER: Chris Boswell wasn’t injured until the final week of the regular season, and as for 2019 – your guess is as good as mine.
LARRY GALLOWAY FROM YOUNGSTOWN, OH: In your opinion, what would be the best pick in the first round for the Steelers: edge rusher, inside linebacker, safety, or cornerback?
ANSWER: It’s more about the individual than the player. When the Steelers’ turn comes, I see their task as determining which individual best fits this description: defensive playmaker. Determine that, and then pick him.