Asked and Answered

Asked and Answered: March 23

Let's get to it:

RAFAEL SUERO FROM TUCSON, AZ: Don't you think re-signing Steven Nelson instead of keeping Joe Haden would have been a better decision? I like Haden and what he has done for the Steelers, but it seems he has lost a step or two.
ANSWER: Joe Haden is the Steelers' best cornerback, and so what you suggest would have been more about the arithmetic of the salary cap instead of making a move to better the team in my opinion. In 2020, opposing quarterbacks targeted Haden 79 times and completed 40 (50.6 percent) for 559 yards (14.0 average) with three touchdowns and a passer rating of 75.9. In 2020, opposing quarterbacks targeted Nelson 98 times and completed 57 (58.2 percent) for 732 yards (12.8 average) with seven touchdowns and a passer rating of 97.0. This wasn't about Nelson being a bad player, because coming off a non-COVID regular season accompanied by the typical increase in the salary cap, I believe the Steelers would've kept both players. But the NFL isn't coming off a non-COVID regular season, and instead of the cap 2021 being around $210 million per team – following what has been the typical year-to-year increase – it was at $180 million and change.

AARON BREEZE FROM FRESNO, CA: What's going on in regards to Steven Nelson? There are a lot of reports stating that the Steelers have given him permission to request a trade. I didn't even know he wanted at trade.
ANSWER: My impression of this is that the Steelers were looking to create salary cap space by choosing between Steven Nelson and Joe Haden, and that the decision was made that Haden is the better player. With Cam Sutton signed, Sutton becomes a prime candidate to be a starting cornerback in 2021, and so the Steelers gave Nelson permission to seek a trade so that he would have a chance to pick his next team and still earn the $8.25 million in base salary he was due in the final season of his existing contract. If Nelson and his representatives are unable to come up with a suitable trading partner, my belief is the Steelers will release Nelson at some point relatively soon.

GIO CALABRO FROM EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP, NJ: I believe Joe Haden and Steven Nelson have similar salary cap numbers, but Nelson is much younger. If one has to be a cap casualty, I thought it would be Haden. Can you provide some insight into what's happening here?
ANSWER: As I've tried to explain, it's more than a simple arithmetic problem. Yes, Steven Nelson (28) is younger than Joe Haden (32 in early April), but parting ways with Nelson will save more cap space than parting ways with Haden ($8.25 million vs. $7 million). And this is the most significant issue: Haden is the better player, and has been the better player all along.

VINNY LOBONO FROM PITTSBURGH, PA: While I am happy to have Ju-Ju Smith-Schuster re-sign with Steelers, I am puzzled why such a top level wide receiver didn't get much interest? Can you provide some detail as to why that was? He was the best wide receiver available in free agency, yet far lesser talent was signed instead of him.
ANSWER: Your assessment of JuJu Smith-Schuster's ranking among the available free agent wide receivers is your opinion, and evidently that opinion wasn't shared by the teams scanning the open market for help at the position this offseason. I cannot speak for teams that decided to sign other free agent receivers instead of Smith-Schuster, but as is usually a factor in things such as this money undoubtedly was a factor.

DANTRELL BUTLER FROM FORT WORTH, TX: Everybody seems to think that B.J. Finney was brought in to be our starting center. Do you think that Pittsburgh could have possibly brought Finney in for depth at guard? Could Pittsburgh still take a center in the draft?
ANSWER: In my view, the signing of B.J. Finney removes the urgency for the Steelers to use a high pick on a center who will prepared for the transition to the NFL and capable of playing immediately as a rookie. I still believe the Steelers will address the position at some point in the upcoming draft, and in the event that individual proves capable of playing as a rookie, Finney certainly would provide depth at all three interior offensive line positions. Otherwise, Finney can start at center.

GAVIN WHITLEY FROM DAVENPORT, IA: With Chris Wormley returning to Pittsburgh next season, do you think we'll draft a nose tackle at all or do you think Henry Mondeaux is good enough to move into that depth role alongside Isaiah Buggs and Carlos Davis?
ANSWER: I think it would behoove Carlos Davis and/or Isaiah Buggs to take a significant step forward in their development and show themselves capable of contributing in the interior of the defensive line this season. Both Davis and Buggs were draft picks, both have gone through at least one complete NFL season with the Steelers, and so they are getting to the point in their respective careers where a player either starts producing or finds himself looking for a job. Henry Mondeaux is built physically more along the lines of Brett Keisel, and as a result would be better on one end of the defensive line.

MIKE HENRY FROM HAGERSTOWN, MD: How did Joshua Dobbs fall so far from grace? He is never mentioned anywhere.
ANSWER: Apparently, Joshua Dobbs' seasons with both the Steelers and the Jaguars didn't convince NFL teams that he's an up-and-coming quarterback talent. I do believe that Dobbs has sufficient talent, and certainly the intelligence, to get himself onto a training camp roster when teams typically carry four quarterbacks. Once that happens, it all will come down to competition on the field, and hopefully for players such as Dobbs looking to make an impression and win a spot, there will be a full preseason this summer.

RICK PIETROLUNGO FROM GREENCASTLE, PA: Is it realistic to think that Ben Roethlisberger would play beyond 2021, and if so how would they handle Mason Rudolph's contract as he would be a free agent and could possibly garner interest from other teams next year? Would they give Rudolph a multi-year contract, or try and trade him this year and get some value for him?
ANSWER: First of all, remember the golden rule: Never make a move until it's time to make a move. That applies to the last part of your submission about Mason Rudolph, specifically the question about whether to sign him to a multi-year deal or try to trade him. Those two things don't have to happen until 2022, and so I could not imagine the Steelers even considering either of those possibilities until them. As for Ben Roethlisberger, I don't know that I would characterize him playing beyond 2021 as "realistic," but I don't believe it's out of the question, either. Again, that's something to be determined based on the outcome of 2021.

BRENT BONAR FROM ATLASBURGH, PA: When will the Steelers bring back a running back who can get it done all the time?
ANSWER: I imagine that's part of the plan for one of the first two days of the upcoming NFL Draft.

DEBORAH SILOS FROM BURLINGTON, NC: What happens if a free agent does not sign with a team? Are he considered out of the NFL? Or retired?
ANSWER: A player must file retirement papers with the league before he is considered retired, and I guess anyone who isn't currently under contract to an NFL team can be considered "out of the NFL." But as we've seen countless times, "out of the NFL" is not necessarily a permanent status.

JUSTIN WINNEG FROM MONTREAL, QUEBEC, CANADA: Why would the Steelers allow Steven Nelson to seek a trade if we still have $3.3 million in cap space?
ANSWER: For the purposes of this discussion, let's assume the $3.3 million figure you cite is accurate. That number reflects how far the Steelers are under the salary cap counting only their top 51 player salaries, because that's the NFL rule for this stage of the offseason. But the reality is that teams play a regular season with 53 players on the roster, and once we get to that stage of the calendar, there not only will be two more players to get under the cap but also practice squad salaries and guys on injured reserve who will count against the cap. Also, that $3.3 million figure doesn't account for the draft picks, and the Steelers currently have eight of those. Finally, General Manager Kevin Colbert has said the team's preference is to go into a regular season with a cap cushion of at least $5 million to be used potentially on injury replacements during a season, which happened in 2020 and the Steelers were able to trade for Avery Williamson and add Matthew Wright. The Steelers may be compliant with the 2021 salary cap as of this moment, but that's much different than them not having issues with the salary cap.

JOE GAGE FROM ATLANTA, GA: Could the Steelers sign one of these players: Mitchell Schwartz, Adoree Jackson, Richard Sherman, or Kyle Fuller?
ANSWER: There is no rule against it, except in the case of Kyle Fuller, who reportedly has agreed to a one-year contract with Denver for $9.5 million. But the other guys you mention: Mitchell Schwartz will be 32 in early June and will be coming off back surgery; Richard Sherman will be 33 at the end of the month and currently is reported to be the subject of a bidding war among as many as three teams; and Adoree Jackson is being courted by the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles. Based on those circumstances, I would put the chances of any of them signing with the Steelers as highly unlikely.

TAYLOR JAMES FROM JACKSONVILLE, FL: The Steelers signing Richard Sherman. How does that sound?
ANSWER: Like wishful thinking on your part.

GREG SMITH FROM DETROIT, MI: Could the Steelers sign Geno Atkins to replace Tyson Alualu, or would he be too expensive?
ANSWER: I don't know about expensive, but Geno Atkins will celebrate his 33rd birthday at the end of the week, and his missed most of the 2020 season with what was described as a "mysterious shoulder injury" that eventually landed him on injured reserve in mid-December and required surgery.

ANDREW IVAN FROM BOZRAH, CT: Looking at the roster on, I don't see James Conner on it. What gives?
ANSWER: At 4 p.m. EST on March 17, James Conner's contract expired and he became an unrestricted free agent. That means he is not under contract to any team and thus free to sign with whatever team might be interested in his services. That's why he's not listed on the Steelers roster.

LUCA VALENTINI FROM MILANO, ITALIA: Since we have several roster holes to fill, wouldn't it have been wiser to sign a free agent running back to be able to focus the higher draft picks on other positions?
ANSWER: I believe that adding a feature back is one of the most significant needs the Steelers must address this offseason, and because of that, the draft is the best way to do that. Where the Steelers are drafting in the first round, they should have a chance to choose from among the top players available at that position.

GEORGE BROWN FROM VISTA, CA: Now that the Steelers have re-signed JuJu Smith-Schuster for one year, do you believe a promise was made that they would offer him a long-term contract starting with the 2022 season?
ANSWER: Absolutely not. Why would either side have any interest in committing now to a long-term agreement starting in 2022? Makes no sense either for the team or the player.

JIM HASH FROM CASA GRANDE, AZ: If there is a concern about Alejandro Villanueva losing a step, why not re-sign him and move him to an interior offensive line position?
ANSWER: I've read a ton of position-switch suggestions, and a number of those even have included Alejandro Villanueva, but your idea of taking a man who will be 33 in mid-September and never has played a position on the offensive line full-time except left tackle and moving him to the interior is ridiculous. And who would you bench? David DeCastro? Kevin Dotson? Or is the grand plan to go with a 6-foot-9 center?