Let's get to it:
ISAAC GREEN FROM TISHOMINGO, OK: What do you think of the new offensive lineman the Steelers signed in comparison to B.J. Finney? Did we get the same thing at a cheaper cost?
ANSWER: Stefen Wisniewski entered the NFL as a second-round draft choice, while B.J. Finney signed with the Steelers as an undrafted rookie. During his nine seasons in the NFL, Wisniewski started 103 of the 134 games in which he played, and he has started at both center and left guard. He also has started in two Super Bowls, both as a left guard, and his team won both of those games. In his 134 career NFL games, Wisniewski has been flagged for 24 total penalties, 16 holds and eight false starts. Because Wisniewski will be entering his 10th NFL season one might assume he is considerably older than Finney, who will be entering his fifth NFL season, but that's not the case. Wisniewski will play the 2020 NFL season as a 31-year-old, while Finney will turn 29 in October. I liked B.J. Finney as a player, and a case can be made that he should've been the starting left guard in 2019, but Wisniewski is a pedigreed, veteran, versatile interior offensive lineman who will fit into the Steelers locker room culture seamlessly.
DONNIE BROWN FROM VAN BUREN, ME: Stefen Wisniewski seems to be a perfect example of how the Steelers navigate free agency. Do you think he has a chance to start at left guard this season?
ANSWER: Stefen Wisniewski will be given a chance to compete for a starting spot at left guard, but my belief is that he would be most valuable as the top backup along the interior of the offensive line, because he has considerable NFL starting experience as a center. Under the scenario of Wisniewski as the top backup, Matt Feiler would move to left guard with Zach Banner and Chuks Okorafor competing for the right tackle job. But this is something to be resolved on the practice fields at training camp.
KEVIN SIMONSON FROM CADIZ, OH: With Mark Barron gone, and besides Vince Williams, who will be playing alongside Devin Bush at inside linebacker?
ANSWER: In listing the inside linebackers no longer with the Steelers, you failed to mention Tyler Matakevich, so I will add him to those who have departed. As of today, the only inside linebackers on the roster besides Devin Bush are Robert Spillane and Ulysees Gilbert. Maybe it will be one of them as the primary backup to Bush and Williams, maybe the team reinforces the position during the remainder of free agency and/or in the draft, or maybe personnel packages are created to compensate. There is a lot of time to deal with this situation.
MIKE KOSTYACK FROM SEVEN HILLS, OH: Does ex-Penn State defensive back Marcus Allen have a chance for an increased role in the defense this coming season? Or do the Steelers view him as just a special teams/fringe player?
ANSWER: As a point of clarification, Coach Mike Tomlin doesn't, as he says, "put players in a box," which means each individual has an equal chance each season to improve his role or play himself off the roster. I believe this will be an important summer for Marcus Allen because he will be heading into his third NFL season and approaching free agency, which means the Steelers would be facing a potentially significant financial commitment to keep him. In answering the previous question, I mentioned the possibility the Steelers might create personnel packages to fortify the depth at inside linebacker. Marcus Allen is better suited to being an in-the-box safety, and so maybe he can transform himself and provide the defense with what Mark Barron provided in 2019. Maybe that is Allen's future. We'll see.
MATTHEW NEELEY FROM PENSACOLA, FL: For this year's draft, what do you think are the top three positions that need to be filled first?
ANSWER: The Steelers will not be drafting a quarterback this year, so that can be eliminated right off the bat. They certainly have areas to address in the draft, and what they've done thus far this offseason – signing Derek Watt and Stefen Wisniewski, and trading for Chris Wormley – will allow them to concentrate on the who instead of worrying about the what. By that I mean they can pick based on the caliber of the individual player as opposed to strictly worrying about what position he plays.
FRANK LAYFIELD FROM NEWARK, NJ: Now that Pittsburgh has signed Eric Ebron, do you think they will use their first pick on a wide receiver? You've repeatedly said they won't use it on a quarterback, and they are loaded with running backs right now, so isn't their next big need a wide receiver?
ANSWER: I addressed this to a degree in the previous answer, but allow me to elaborate. Based on how the Steelers have handled free agency to this point, they really don't have any "needs" in the strict sense of the term. Yes, they would be wise to add a dynamic wide receiver, and depth at outside linebacker, and quite possibly an up-and-coming offensive lineman, but if they had a game on Sunday, they could line up and play with the guys they already have. That's the difference between a "need" and a "want." So again, the Steelers have put themselves into a position where they can spend their draft capital on "who" instead of "what," meaning they are free to choose the best people in their areas of "want." And I believe one of those areas of "want" is a running back with the skill-set to be a three-down feature back in the NFL.
JOSEPH KING FROM LISBON, PORTUGAL: What do you think of the Steelers using their second-round pick in the draft on a running back, say Jonathan Taylor or D'Andre Swift?
ANSWER: If the Steelers choose to draft a running back, my opinion is that he should be someone special, a potentially dynamic player, someone clearly capable of being a feature back in the NFL. And I also believe that an NFL team's evaluation of a college running back should include the number of carries/touches the individual had for his college team. In other words, don't pick a tire with a good bit of the tread already gone.
TONY WOODS FROM PITTSBURGH, PA: With the addition of Derek Watt, do you think James Connor and our current running backs will be more durable and productive?
ANSWER: Having a fullback on the field has nothing to do with keeping the running back healthy. If it were that simple, every team would have a fullback on the field full-time.
CRYSTAL JAMES FROM WAPPINGERS FALLS, NY: I read an article about the Raiders signing Marcus Mariota. The contract is laden with a lot of "if" clauses, such as if he plays 60 percent of the offensive snaps, and if he gets so much playing time, etc. How do such contingency clauses count against the cap? If the Steelers offered an incentive laden contract to an outside linebacker that payed large amounts for certain milestones like sacks or pressures, could they use that as a way to manage the cap?
ANSWER: The kinds of incentives you describe are classified as either "likely to be earned" or "not likely to be earned." The difference is this: Let's say a player has a four-year contract with a team that includes a $100,000 bonus every year for being voted first-team All-Pro by the Associated Press. If he never has been voted first-team All-Pro by the Associated Press, that bonus is considered "not likely to be earned" and it doesn't count immediately on the salary cap. If the player then is voted first-team All-Pro by the Associated Press in his first year on that contract, the player is paid the money, which counts on the cap immediately, and then the bonus changes category into "likely to be earned" and each subsequent $100,000 incentive for making first-team All-Pro over the rest of that contract is added to the salary cap as well and counts whether he ever makes first-team All-Pro again or not. The thing with incentive clauses is that teams have to be careful about including them in contracts, because as soon as the player reaches the incentive, the money attached to the incentive is applied to the cap. And so while it might seem a good way to keep cap costs down, the team has to allow for the money to be earned anyway. This can work for a team like the Raiders, however, because Oakland has a lot of space under its cap.