Let's get to it:
RAYMOND GATTER FROM SAN ANTONIO, TX:
With the obvious need in the secondary I am left to wonder, was Brice McCain's price too high or did he just not fit the team's chemistry?
Brice McCain's price was too high, but not necessarily in terms of overall dollars, because his contract was for two years and a reported $5.5 million total. The deal included a $2 million signing bonus, and a total of $3 million in guaranteed money. For the Steelers, those numbers became too rich because they don't view McCain as a guy capable of being a full-time starter. Good for McCain to get that kind of a deal, though. He came to the Steelers by accepting the one-year minimum salary, worked hard, and performed well enough to cash in with the Dolphins. Personally, I wish McCain had stayed, but he would have been foolish to turn down those numbers and the Steelers would have been foolish to better them.
HOWARD HARRISON FROM WILMINGTON, DE:
Do you think the Steelers will sign Santonio Holmes again? And will he be a good fit for our team?
I would not bring Santonio Holmes back. When the Steelers traded him after the 2009 season, he had become a player who no longer was worth the aggravation. It's five years later, he's 31 years old, he hasn't been able to play a full season since 2011, and his skills must have eroded. I cannot see how this is worth it. The 2008 version of Santonio Holmes I bet you had in your head when you typed this question doesn't exist anymore.
KALEB BRIGMAN FROM TOMBALL, TX:
With such great veterans moving on and/or being released on defense, and the Steelers' offense being one of the top units in the NFL last season, who do you draft in the first three rounds of the draft?
I long have been a proponent of best athlete available, but it's also wise to accept the reality that there are versions of best athlete available. In this particular draft for me, I would be looking hard at defensive playmakers in every round, certainly with each of the first four picks. And I mean playmakers. A guy who holds the point of attack against the run so a teammate can make a tackle, as an example, is not what I mean by playmaker. The Steelers are far from being a finished product on offense, but I believe what that unit needs can be developed from within, while the defense remains in transition and needs an injection of talent.
BILL RUSSELL FROM JOHNSBURG, NY:
Do you believe Howard Jones will make the 53-man roster this season?
He's going to get a chance, and there is real opportunity for him. As far as "certainties" at outside linebacker as the position is assessed right now, there is James Harrison, Jarvis Jones, and Arthur Moats. The rest is wide open, and "certainties" in March can develop into something less come September. Howard Jones did get a lot of tough love from the coaches last summer at training camp, which usually is a sign they're liking some of what they are seeing, and the Steelers believe in opportunities for guys they bring up through the ranks. Willie Parker. James Harrison. Chris Hoke. Overall, I'd say his chances are better this year than they were last year.
ROBERT JENKINS FROM FRESNO, CA:
I believe Vince Williams is the most underrated linebacker on our depth chart, but I didn't think he got enough playing time last season, really only in the nickel package. Do you think it would make sense to give him a chance on the outside, at least during preseason, to see what he can bring to the table?
I cannot understand why people assume that someone who has honed his craft to the level where he literally is one-in-a-million as an NFL player can develop a new skill-set in a matter of weeks and hone that to the degree he's able to remain a one-in-a-million as an NFL player. Vince Williams is capable of making the team as an inside linebacker, and moving him to another position does nothing but hurt his chances to make the team, while also serving to weaken the team he's trying to make. Williams deserves a legitimate chance to continue his NFL career and help the Steelers compete for a championship. His best chance at doing that is by working to get better at what he does best, which is play inside linebacker and special teams.
JEFFREY CARNES FROM PAGELAND, SC:
During the regular season, I know the scouts are keeping a eye on the upcoming class of college players. What are some of the key things the scouts are looking for in up-and-coming NFL players?
This is a complex question, and I'll try to simplify it so it's not overly technical. There are levels of athletic ability required to play in the NFL, and scouts are separating guys who have the minimum required from those who don't. There also is the understanding that the NFL game is different from the one played in college, and so scouts look for guys capable of making NFL-type plays or throws or catches, etc. Another area of evaluation comes from watching practice and talking to people at the college associated with the program and then the school in general to try to learn as much as is possible about whether football is important enough to him, and if he's a good teammate, and is he accountable, and does he accept coaching. Then a team might send additional scouts or coaches to re-check the original findings. And with all of that, it's still largely guesswork.
TOM MUSSO FROM WOODBRIDGE, VA:
If a player retires with salary cap dead money, does his dead money remain?
Yes. For purposes of the salary cap, there is no difference whether a player is cut, traded, or retires. It all counts the same way.
GEORGE FARR FROM SHAMOKIN, PA:
Are the Steelers looking at Shamarko Thomas to take over for Troy Polamalu when he retires, or are they still looking for Polamalu's successor?
Shamarko Thomas is next in line at that position, but it's neither a guarantee nor a birthright. The best players will play, but it is true the Steelers will be looking first to Thomas to fill that position.
NICK VACCA FROM ELKRIDGE, MD:
Can you confirm for me some details concerning the practice squad. A draft pick this year signs a rookie contract and does not make the 53-man roster out of camp but ends up on the practice squad. Is he still being paid what he signed for originally? If not, does that amount then change again if he gets called up during the year?
The draft pick in your example would have received his signing bonus whenever he first signed his rookie contract. Being cut at the end of training camp then voids the rest of that contract. Getting signed to the practice squad is a completely different contract with a drastically reduced pay scale. Then yes, being added to the 53-man roster during the season would require a completely different contract as well, with the player qualifying for nothing less than the rookie minimum salary, which is $435,000 for the season, which works out to a prorated $25,588.24 per week, including the bye. Practice squad players make a minimum of $6,300 per week, including the bye. A big difference.