Asked and Answered

Asked and Answered: March 25

Let's get to it:

STEFAN PISOCKI FROM WILMINGTON, DE: Marcus Allen is now listed on the roster as a linebacker, after being drafted as a safety, and playing his first few NFL seasons at that position. Does this not fly in the face of your assertion that it is not realistic to change a player's position at this level of the game?
ANSWER: To clarify, Marcus Allen was a fifth-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, and he has appeared in three NFL games while listed as a safety (during which he played only 18 defensive snaps) and 14 games as a hybrid linebacker. So your assertion that he played "his first few seasons at safety" in incorrect and misleading. Anyway, beyond that, the way the game at both the college and professional levels has evolved, what used to be a position described as in-the-box safety is now referred to as hybrid linebacker. It's virtually the same position but it only goes by a different name. Looking for a player to make this kind of a switch is much different than moving a 3-4 outside linebacker to inside linebacker, or moving a tight end to fullback, or moving a defensive back to wide receiver, as other examples. And another factor is that Allen was a fifth-round pick who probably had to make the move to hold onto his roster spot, as opposed to a No. 1 draft pick who was selected in the top half of the round to a position he never had played previously, even at the college level.

JONATHAN ROTHSCHILD FROM NEW YORK, NY: If Alabama quarterback Mac Jones is available at No. 24 overall, do you pick him, or would you rather try to trade up for North Dakota State's Trey Lance or one of the other quarterbacks?
ANSWER: I'm not picking Mac Jones at No. 24 overall, and I'm definitely not trading up in the first round of the upcoming draft for a quarterback. I'm also not trading back in the first round of the upcoming draft for a quarterback. I am not using a first-round pick in the upcoming draft on a quarterback. That is, if it was my decision to make, which it decidedly is not.

BRIAN BINGHAM FROM KAYSVILLE, UT: As fans, how do we make sense of the Steelers giving contracts to a receiver who only caught 35 passes in four years in college, and to a defensive lineman who had virtually no impact on the defense last year, while also releasing arguably the best cornerback on the team? Money aside, these decisions seem to make little sense. Also, what is the status of the Miles Killebrew signing?
ANSWER: The signing of Tyler Simmons was essentially the same thing as signing a player to a futures contract, and because players who sign futures contracts most often earn only the NFL minimum salary – but only if they make the final roster – they don't even count on the salary cap at this time, because league rules mandate that the salary cap at this stage of the offseason includes only the salaries of the top 51 players on the roster. And if Simmons ends up making the final 53-man roster and therefore start counting on the salary cap, I would imagine he would do so because of his work on special teams and not because of his receiving prowess in college.

I don't have the intimate details on the decision behind re-signing Chris Wormley, but if you're trying to "make sense" of the decision, consider this: If Tyson Alualu didn't make a Mike Munchak-type decision to leave the Steelers for family seasons, I don't know whether the Steelers would have had the same level of interest in re-signing Wormley. Alualu signed with the Jaguars because his family is in Jacksonville, which is where his NFL career started, and Alualu and his wife have six children. So with Alualu gone, the Steelers turned to Wormley, who was a disappointment last season, to be sure, but is a former third-round pick of the Ravens – historically a competent drafting organization – and wasn't helped by no offseason program after a switch to a new defensive scheme, and then an injury early in training camp set him back further. Lastly on Wormley, he is scheduled to count only $1.6 million on the 2021 salary cap, which is a relative pittance for a rotational defensive lineman with over 1,000 NFL regular season snaps on his resume who won't turn 28 until October. I'm not trying to make Worley sound like a reincarnation of Joe Greene, but he's the kind of relatively young but somewhat experienced free agent who was a bargain, which is exactly what the Steelers were limited to shopping for this offseason.

Finally, while I'm not here to bash Steven Nelson, by all accounts a competent player, a hard worker, and a respected teammate, but puh-leeze stop with this label of him being the Steelers best cornerback. Just not true. Not only is Joe Haden the Steelers' best cornerback and has been from the minute the ink dried on the first contract he signed with the team back in August 2017, but keeping Haden over Nelson also saved the Steelers more on their 2021 salary cap.

As for Miles Killebrew, the team and player have agreed on a contract but the papers had yet to be signed as of your submission. Signings are not announced on Steelers.com until the papers are signed. While that can be termed an old-fashioned way of approaching such business, that's the team's policy, and it has been for some time. (EDITOR'S NOTE: The signing of Miles Killebrew was announced by the Steelers yesterday afternoon, after the papers had been signed and filed with the league office.)

STEVEN LINDSEY FROM MATTESON, IL: I firmly believe that we need, in order of precedence, a feature running back, a center, and finally a left tackle as our top picks in the upcoming draft. Followed of course, by other positions. Do you agree?
ANSWER: For the most part. But I will always believe that it's more about the who than it is about the what, which means the guy playing the position is more important than the position itself. As an example, a top inside linebacker would be a better addition to the roster than a middling center. Don't lock yourself into positions so much, because the Steelers don't approach the draft that way.

MARK DIGIOVANNA FROM SAN JOSE, CA: In your opinion, is drafting a running back important enough that the Steelers would trade up in order to get the guy they're after? Or do you believe there are multiple options so that if their first choice is gone, they go with the next best at the position?
ANSWER: Just as I do not believe the team will trade up to pick a quarterback, I do not believe it will trade up for a running back.

ERIC SMITH FROM WOODBRIDGE, CT: Unless another team signs him, do you know if there is mutual interest in the Steelers re-signing James Connor to an affordable contract?
ANSWER: I believe the Steelers need to add a feature back this offseason, and from what I have seen of James Conner through the four seasons of his NFL career, he isn't quite to that level. If the Steelers don't or cannot get what I believe they need in the draft, and if Conner doesn't get what he's seeking on the open market, maybe the sides comes to some arrangement. I wouldn't rule it out completely, but I don't believe it's what either side wants at this point, or what either side needs for the future.

MICHAEL RAINWATER FROM ACWORTH, GA: Given we lost Maurkice Pouncey to retirement and will lose Alejandro Villanueva in free agency, do you think we need to draft a center and a left tackle in the first two rounds since the offensive line is paramount to getting our run game back on track?
ANSWER: With each passing day where there's no scuttlebutt regarding a team or teams making a move on Alejandro Villanueva, it indicates that the market that was predicted for him hasn't materialized. Or maybe he's not interested in the teams that are interested. Or maybe he feels he's had enough of professional football and wants to get on with his life's work, as Chuck Noll used to say, and with his background and intelligence there would seem to be opportunities in the real world that he could find appealing and fulfilling. Or maybe all that changes and he signs tomorrow. But the bottom line to me is that there is no absolute urgency to spend the first two picks of the upcoming draft on offensive linemen. The bottom line is to pick good players with the first two picks of the upcoming draft, because there are enough needs/wants to accommodate a growing number of positions.

GREG IVAN FROM GREENVILLE, NC: Why didn't the Steelers just try to trade Steven Nelson so we could get something out of it? Like a draft pick.
ANSWER: They did try. In fact, they even granted Steven Nelson and his agent permission to seek a trade, but that didn't turn up any nibbles. I'm guessing the reason there weren't any nibbles is because there weren't any other teams interested in paying his $8.25 million salary for 2021.

JAMES BOWEN FROM BURLINGTON, NC: What if Najee Harris gets drafted before the Steelers pick at No. 24 overall? Do we draft Javonte Williams or even Travis Etienne? Or do we try to target a linebacker or a lineman? This is assuming the Steelers are really committed to Najee Harris.
ANSWER: First of all, assuming the Steelers are "really committed" to Najee Harris is a mistake, just as it would be a mistake that the team is totally focused on using its first-round pick on a running back.

WADE GODFREY FROM NEW YORK, NY: Assuming we don't draft someone, who will be our third cornerback: Justin Layne or James Pierre?
ANSWER: Your question is another reason why training camp and the preseason are going to be so important this summer.

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