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Asked and Answered

Asked and Answered: March 21

Let's get to it:

MICHAEL TORSIELLO FROM SUMMIT, NJ: In the March 19 installment of Asked and Answered, you noted that the Steelers will have to make a decision regarding Justin Fields' fifth-year option at the beginning of May. Don't they also have the same situation with Najee Harris?
ANSWER: Yes, and the date is May 2. As a first-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft – selected 13 spots after Justin Fields – Najee Harris is entering his fourth NFL season in 2024, which makes him eligible for the fifth-year option provision of the contract he signed as the 24th overall pick. According to the formula for determining the amount of the fifth-year option, which includes such things as playing time and Pro Bowl appearances, the cost of exercising Harris' fifth-year option would be $6.79 million.

ROB BEBOUT FROM SPRINGFIELD, OH: The Steelers haven't been the type of team to go all-in in free agency. They've been conservative as seen by this fan. This year, it seems to have flip-flopped. Do you think it's because of General Manager Omar Khan, Steelers President Art Rooney II, or simply because the opportunities were in the right place at the right time?
ANSWER: In my opinion, the definition of "going all-in on free agency" would be trading a bunch of future draft picks for veteran players, kind of a similar strategy to the one Buddy Parker employed as the team's coach during his tenure from 1957-64 when the Steelers traded their No. 1 pick four times, their No. 2 pick five times, their No. 3 pick five times, and their No. 4 pick six times. This year, the Steelers have 7 picks in a seven-round draft, including five within the first 119 overall. How I would characterize what the Steelers have done so far during this offseason is a very nice job of taking advantage of some circumstances and opportunities to improve their roster in advance of the NFL Draft. 

MK BOBBITT CONWAY, SC: Has anyone considered Hunter Renfrow, as a possibility to add to our corps of wide receivers?
ANSWER: As an unrestricted free agent, Hunter Renfrow certainly has been considered by the Steelers in the sense that the team routinely does its due diligence on all players who fall into that category during a specific offseason. I cannot tell you whether that has gotten past the due diligence stage.

PAUL SOMERVILLE FROM HAMILTON, ONTARIO, CANADA: Since Russell Wilson signed for $1.2 million to play for the Steelers in 2024, if he plays lights-out and the Steelers want to retain him for the 2025 season would he still be getting paid by the Broncos?
ANSWER: While Denver still will have to absorb some dead cap money in 2025 associated with the contract it negotiated with Russell Wilson, the Broncos have no more financial obligations to him beyond 2024. If the Steelers decide to try to come to an agreement with Wilson to retain him for the 2025 season and possibly beyond, they're going to be on their own.

TJ WHITE FROM PRESCOTT, AZ: I know the Broncos are paying Russell Wilson $39 million of his salary for 2024, but I also saw where they owe him a total of $85 million over the next 2 years. In that case, will that allow the Steelers to get another significant discount on his salary in 2025 if they so desire?
ANSWER: What you saw was that the Broncos will be carrying $85 million on their salary cap over the next two years because of the contract they negotiated with Russell Wilson. As I explained in the previous answer, the Broncos won't actually owe him any new money in 2025.

GROVER McINTYRE FROM NEWPORT NEWS, VA: Is Justin Fields being considered the possible Steelers franchise quarterback?
ANSWER: Considered by whom? I believe the Steelers are willing to wait and see how things unfold on a season-to-season basis. There is no need to make any such determinations less than a fortnight after acquiring Justin Fields in a trade.

RICHARD SNYDER FROM SAN PEDRO, CA: I was surprised the Steelers released Patrick Peterson, I thought he had a good year on the field, was helpful in the development of young talent like Joey Porter Jr., and was slated to make a Rod Woodson-esque transition to safety. I'm curious to hear your insights about this roster move.
ANSWER: According to the two-year contract the Steelers negotiated with Patrick Peterson a year ago, he was due to count $9.78 million against the salary cap in 2024, with the Steelers able to save $6.85 million by releasing him. I interpret the decision to release Peterson as a cap-related move, rather than an indication the Steelers have no interest in doing business with him in 2024. 

JAMES CRAWFORD FROM WILLIFORD, AR: How does the "system" work in regard to teams and potential player trades? How does one team know which players another team is interested in trading, or vice versa? And is it the general manager who does the inquiring or addresses the inquiries from other teams?
ANSWER: There can be several stages to the process that ends in a trade in the NFL. Typically, there is someone from the personnel department assigned to make calls to other teams around the league to gauge whether there is any interest in becoming a trading partner, and at this "gauging interest" stage of the process everything is very preliminary. The general manager may be involved at this stage in the sense that he could be approving the preliminary calls, but then he wouldn't get more intimately involved until it was time to pursue and then attempt to complete the transaction.

JOE ASHER FROM TAMPA, FL: Our inside linebackers really suffered from a rash of injuries last year. I thought General Manager Omar Kahn did an admirable job of addressing that group last offseason. From the initial starters in 2023, who do the Steelers still have under contract? With the addition of Pro Bowl inside linebacker Patrick Queen, do you view that group as strength for 2024?
ANSWER: The re-making of the inside linebacker position during the 2023 offseason included the additions of veterans Colt Holcomb, Elandon Roberts, and Kwon Alexander. Holcomb is under contract to the Steelers through the 2025 season, but he is coming off a significant knee injury sustained during the 2023 regular season and so his timetable for a return to play is unknown. Roberts is signed through the 2024 season, and Alexander is an unrestricted free agent who sustained a torn Achilles in the Nov. 12 game against Green Bay. The proof will be in the pudding, but right now I see the signing of Patrick Queen as being a move that adds the best player at the position in Pittsburgh since Ryan Shazier. As for calling the unit now a strength, on the eve of the 2023 regular season opener I believed the unit had been made significantly better by the offseason additions. But then, as you pointed out, a rash of injuries struck. If that doesn't happen again, I believe the inside linebackers as a unit are better at the top of the depth chart than in September 2023. Beyond that, we'll have to see.

ERIC WEAVER FROM CHARDON, OH: The Steelers currently have the 20th, 51st, 84th, 98th, and 119th overall picks in the upcoming draft. If General Manager Omar Khan and company are as successful this year as last year, the players selected with these picks should contribute during the upcoming season as starters, like Broderick Jones, Joey Porter Jr, and Keeanu Benton, to quality rotational players like Darnell Washington and Nick Herbig. Can you rank the Steelers positions of need that you would like to see these 5 picks fill?
ANSWER: What you expect the Steelers 2024 draft class "should" yield certainly would be helpful, but there are a lot of variables to the shopping that's done during a three-day draft, with good luck in the way the picks unfold being a significant one. As of this writing, that draft is 5 weeks away, which means there could be more happenings in free agency. And perusing the Steelers roster at this point, I would contend the only areas that don't "need" the injection of a starting-caliber player are quarterback, running back, and outside linebacker. The center position is obvious, because there is only one on the field at a time and last year's center was released, but every other one would be better with the addition of NFL-caliber talent. If the Steelers get three starters and two quality rotational players from their 2024 class, it will have been a significantly successful draft, regardless of the players' positions.

ANTHONY FANELLI FROM SYRACUSE, NY: Serious questions; silly topic. The person with the giant orange mittens who stands on the sideline during games, seemingly until TV is ready to go: Is that person a stadium employee, network employee, other? What else do they do? Are there hand-signals that necessitate the mittens? I held-off with this question until the offseason thinking things would be slow. So much for that.
ANSWER: There actually are two such individuals on the sideline during games, and they stand next to each other and collaborate on the job of synchronizing the telecast of the NFL broadcast. One is wearing "orange mittens" as you describe, and the other is wearing a fluorescent green cap bearing the NFL logo. They are in communication with both NFL headquarters and the television truck outside the stadium being manned by the network broadcasting that particular game. From there, television timeouts and the length of those timeouts are determined and fit into the broadcast according to the contract the league negotiated with the networks. Often, the person in the green hat gets the directive to go to commercial, and relays the info to the person with the orange mittens, who signals the on-field referee that it's time either for a commercial-stoppage (arms crossed across his chest), or to keep the game moving (rotating hands in the manner of a false start penalty.)

GINO CALDERONE FROM HOUSTON, TX: I got paired up on a golf course down here some years ago with a massive gentleman named Dick Arndt. He said he played for the Steelers under Chuck Noll. Do you have any career information on Mr. Arndt?
ANSWER: Dick Arndt was a 6-foot-5, 265 pound defensive tackle who played 34 regular season games for the Steelers over 4 NFL seasons (1967-70). He started every game in both 1967 and 1970. Arndt played his college football at Stanford and Idaho, and he survived the coaching change from Bill Austin to Chuck Noll. In that era, the NFL didn't recognize statistics for tackles and sacks, and so I have no other individual stats to pass along.