Asked and Answered

Asked and Answered: March 29

Let's get to it:

BLAS GUZMAN FROM ATWATER, CA: Cam Heyward has been my absolute favorite Steelers player for the last 5 years. He gives it 110 percent in every game, and in my book, he is definitely Hall of Fame worthy. I have noticed that only this season has his name began to be mentioned with praise by NFL analysts. In your opinion, does Heyward have the credentials to be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame? Or will he need another season like 2021 to seal the deal?
ANSWER: As I have pointed out many times in this space when it comes to questions about players' chances at the Pro Football Hall of Fame, there is a difference between being worthy and getting elected. Cam Heyward would be in my Hall of Fame, but it's not my Hall of Fame and I don't have a vote for the real one in Canton. To me, it's meaningless to assess a player's chance to get elected to the Hall of Fame before his career is over, and Heyward's career is not over. I believe Heyward has more seasons of All-Pro-caliber play left in him, and so this topic can be revisited once he decides his playing career is over.

ZACH AARON FROM NEW YORK, NY: Why was JuJu Smith-Schuster allowed to walk and sign elsewhere for nothing when we are in need of a young, solid wide receiver?
ANSWER: JuJu Smith-Schuster was an unrestricted free agent, which means, in Coach Mike Tomlin's words, "It's free for them and free for us." The Steelers couldn't do anything to prevent Smith-Schuster from signing with another team, and all along I believed he was going to do what he believed was best for himself and his career. There is nothing wrong with Smith-Schuster making that decision, and he earned the right to make it.

PAT FLYNN FROM OAKDALE, PA: How certain were the Steelers that they got a franchise quarterback when they selected Ben Roethlisberger in 2004?
ANSWER: There are a lot of components that go into making a young player a "franchise quarterback," and so I would guess the realization that Ben Roethlisberger deserved that designation happened over time. He showed signs during his rookie training camp with a skill-set that clearly was better than the other quarterbacks at Saint Vincent College, and then posting a 13-0 regular season record after Tommy Maddox was injured was another indicator. I cannot speak for Steelers management, but I was absolutely convinced Roethlisberger was among the league's elite after the 2005 AFC Divisional Round game against Indianapolis when he out-played Peyton Manning and then got Nick Harper on the ground late in the fourth quarter to save one of the franchise's great upset playoff victories.

MATTHEW BARISH FROM LAKE HAVASU CITY, AZ: I agree with you that the Steelers should not spend a No. 1 pick on a quarterback in the upcoming draft unless they are confident he is a franchise quarterback. But I remember Bill Cowher wanted to pick an offensive lineman instead of Ben Roethlisberger in 2004, and thankfully that did not happen. I have seen several reports that Coach Mike Tomlin and the Steelers are doing their research on the quarterbacks in this draft class. Why are you so confident that they definitely will not take a quarterback at No. 20 overall?
ANSWER: I am not confident at all that the Steelers won't spend the 20th overall pick on a quarterback, and while we're on the topic, I'm also not confident at all they won't trade up in the first round to pick a quarterback. What I have written is that if I were making the decision, which we all know I am not, I would not pick a quarterback in the first round, and after the signing of Mitch Trubisky I wouldn't pick a quarterback at all in the upcoming draft. Trubisky has some pedigree as a former second overall pick of a draft, and he also arrives in Pittsburgh with a winning record as an NFL starter and with a Pro Bowl on his resume. Let's pretend Trubisky wins the upcoming competition in Pittsburgh and is the Steelers' starter in 2022, and let's carry the what-if scenario to include him completing 67 percent of his passes for 24 touchdowns, 12 interceptions, and a rating of 94.5, while also averaging 4.5 yards per rush/scramble and getting 29 first downs and three more touchdowns with his feet. And that's not a fantasy, because those are Trubisky's exact statistics from 2018 when he was voted to the Pro Bowl. What do you do then with the quarterback you drafted in 2022? What do you do with Trubisky, who would be entering the final season of the two-year contract he signed with the Steelers?

DENNIS SLEEGER FROM YORK, PA: I don't think we have a shot at quarterback Malik Willis. I think to get him we'd have to move up in the draft significantly. So why would Coach Tomlin have supper with him the night before his Pro Day?
ANSWER: What if you're wrong? What if Malik Willis is available when it's the Steelers' turn to make the No. 20 in the first round? It's not like Coach Mike Tomlin had a lot of other things to do that weeknight in Lynchburg, Virginia, he was going to eat dinner somewhere anyway, and it isn't as though buying Willis a meal counts on the salary cap. Plus, getting some time with Willis is valuable, because even if the Steelers don't end up drafting Willis or don't end up with a chance to draft Willis, Tomlin might have been able to gather some intel that could be used should the player become available during a later round of free agency, or maybe the information can come in handy in a game where Willis is the quarterback for the opposing team. Think big picture. Tomlin does.

JACK FOSTER FROM ROUNDUP, MT: I'm getting excited for the upcoming season. I love it when no one gives us a shot, and we are working quietly behind the scenes with some good additions during free agency. But I just read on that Myles Jack was not an unrestricted free agent and that Jacksonville had released him. Do you know why they may have? Was it injury or a cap issue for them?
ANSWER: In 2017, the Jaguars advanced to the AFC Championship Game with a defense that ended the regular season ranked second in the NFL in points allowed, second in yards allowed, and first in passing yards allowed, and after Myles Jack was released, there is only one player on the team remaining from that defense, a unit judged by some to be the best in franchise history. Money, salary cap space, was a factor. The release of Jack will save the Jaguars $8.35 million on the cap, while the team will take on $4.8 million in dead money. Jack, who was set to earn $10.5 million in 2022, was set to have the third-highest cap hit on the Jaguars' roster this season at $13.15 million, behind only Cam Robinson and Shaquill Griffin. And the coach who drafted Jack is now two coaches ago in Jaguars franchise history.

VINCENT CIANNI FROM PARAMUS, NJ: The Steelers have a massive need at strong safety, so why are they not going after Tyrann Mathieu? We need a great defense to stop all this great quarterback play in the AFC.
ANSWER: Speaking from the NFL Owners Meetings, General Manager Kevin Colbert was asked about the team's activity in free agency, and he said, "Our preference is always to add players coming off their first contract or close to their first contract. They still have more football to play, and we think that they'll not only be valuable additions in 2022, but they could be valuable additions down the road as well." Tyrann Mathieu will be 30 in May, and he already has signed four different NFL contracts, the most recent paying him an average of $14 million per year. If Mathieu is looking for something even relatively comparable, that would be too much money, in my opinion, for a team that's going to have to sign a 25-year-old, two-time first-team All-Pro free safety in the next 12 months or so. It's also worth noticing, I believe, that no other NFL team has yet to step up and offer Mathieu the kind of money he's seeking, because he was still on the open market as of March 28.

NATHAN McCLIMANS FROM FARMVILLE, VA: Would it have been wise to place the franchise tag on Terrell Edmunds, especially since the Steelers did not use it on someone like JuJu Smith-Schuster?
ANSWER: The franchise tag for safeties this year contained an automatic guaranteed one-year contract for $12.911 million. Since the Steelers already had declined to exercise the fifth-year option on Edmunds' rookie contract, which would have cost $6.75 million guaranteed, it's clear the franchise tag figure was way over budget.