Let's get to it:
JACK BISH FROM FROGTOWN, PA: I wonder if the journalists who are posting rumors of the Steelers acquiring premier veteran quarterbacks are just chasing readership. This seems so out of character for the franchise. Am I correct that Jerome Bettis and Minkah Fitzgerald are the only significant position players we've acquired in this manner since the 1990s?
ANSWER: From your submission I cannot be sure whether you're referring to acquiring players via trades or signing them during free agency. The two players you reference – Jerome Bettis and Minkah Fitzpatrick – both were acquired by trades, and you are correct in pointing out there are few examples of recent instances of the Steelers acquiring significant players via trade. But that's not necessarily true of acquiring players via free agency. Over the course of free agency, which corresponds to the general time frame outlined in your submission, the Steelers have made some significant acquisitions, and I will refer to three of them now: James Farrior, Jeff Hartings, and Kevin Greene. There is an interesting story associated with the signing of Farrior, and I'll share that now with you here:
Farrior entered the league as the New York Jets' No. 1 pick (eighth overall) in 1997, and it was Bill Parcells who made the choice and then installed him as an outside linebacker. But during his five seasons with the Jets, Farrior played for three different head coaches, and by the time 2001 ended he was something of an afterthought in New York. Meanwhile, the Steelers were in negotiations with Earl Holmes, their first pick in the fourth round of the 1996 draft who had grown into a run-stuffing starting inside linebacker.
As the 2002 offseason progressed, Steelers President Dan Rooney went as far with Holmes as he was going to go on a new contract, and when the answer from the agent still was "no," Rooney instructed Kevin Colbert and Bill Cowher to move on to another player. That player turned out to be James Farrior. Nine seasons later, in 2010, Coach Mike Tomlin said, "Our unquestioned leader is James Farrior. If you polled anybody, player or coach, equipment man or receptionist, they realize he sets the tone for this outfit."
SAM MIKHAIL FROM BETHESDA, MD: How many times have the Steelers used either the exclusive franchise tag, the non-exclusive franchise tag, or the transition tag? When using these tags, have the Steelers ever lost a free agent to another team?
ANSWER: The Steelers have utilized the tags made available by the Collective Bargaining Agreement 11 times since 1994. The team never has lost a player to another team while that player was under the tag. Here is that list in chronological order: 1994 – TE Eric Green, franchise tag; 1995 – SS Carnell Lake, franchise tag; 2002 – OLB Jason Gildon, franchise tag; 2008 – OT Max Starks, transition tag; 2009 – OT Max Starks, franchise tag; 2010 – PK Jeff Reed, transition tag; 2014 – OLB Jason Worilds, transition tag; 2017 – RB Le'Veon Bell, exclusive franchise tag; 2018 – RB Le'Veon Bell, franchise tag; 2020 – OLB Bud Dupree, franchise tag.
HAROLD WELCH FROM YUKON, OK: What's your opinion of the Steelers signing Raheem Mostert to be a backup to Najee Harris?
ANSWER: What would concern me about Raheem Mostert is his age – he will turn 30 in early April – and a recent injury history where he ended the 2020 season on injured reserve and then went back onto injured reserve after the 2021 opener and spent the rest of that season there.
LEON KULINSKI FROM OIL CITY, PA: If the Steelers sign most of their own free agents, do they have enough cap space to sign a couple of significant free agents? Maybe a starting right guard and either an inside linebacker or a defensive tackle?
ANSWER: No way. The Steelers currently have 17 unrestricted free agents, and included in that group are Terrell Edmunds, Joe Haden, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and Chuks Okorafor, all of whom were starters last season. There is enough salary cap space for the Steelers to be active in free agency, certainly more active than normal for them, but re-signing close to 17 of their own unrestricted free agents and then adding a starting right guard and "either an inside linebacker or a defensive tackle" is too big of a wish-list in my opinion.
JACK KINCAID FROM MASSILLON, OH: From the following list of four quarterbacks – Jameis Winston, Mitchell Trubisky, Marcus Mariota, and Jimmy Garoppolo – if you were to pursue bringing one of them to the Steelers, who would you target and why?
ANSWER: I personally would rule out Jameis Winston and Jimmy Garoppolo because of injury. Winston tore an ACL and also sustained MCL damage in the same knee during a game on Oct. 31 of last season. He might not be back on the field until summer, or later, and having to learn a new offense and get acclimated to new teammates is too much for me. Garoppolo is going to need surgery on his left shoulder and will not be throwing a football for 16 weeks, plus he tore the UCL and sustained a fracture to his right thumb late last season. Those two injuries plus the fact he would have to be acquired via trade eliminates him from your list of four. That leaves Mitchell Trubisky and Marcus Mariota. I don't know a great deal about either, but things I would consider is making sure both understood they were being acquired to compete for a job and I would want a two-year contract at a salary more commensurate with being a backup than a starter. I know all of that is a big ask, but that's what I would require.
BRANDON STERLING FROM CHARLESTON, SC: With the Steelers having the cap room this year, how likely is it that they redo Minkah Fitzpatrick's contract?
ANSWER: When he was speaking to the media at the Combine and was asked about that, General Manager Kevin Colbert said the procedure for a negotiation with a player who's one-year away from free agency – like Minkah Fitzpatrick – is an item of business that would be broached after free agency, after the draft, after signing college free agents. That's the period when the team considers matters such as the one you describe.
DANNY DOUGLAS FROM CASPER, WY: We know that the Steelers are going into training camp with four quarterbacks. Will the other two quarterbacks either be a big-name free agent signing and a mid-round draft pick, or a small name free agent signing and a top draft pick?
ANSWER: I have no idea and let me clue you in on a secret: the Steelers have no idea at this point either.
ROD KEEFER FROM EDMOND, OK: I'm wondering if discussions around improving overtime rules will get any traction this offseason? One proposal that sounds intriguing is to replace the 10-minute in-season overtime period with two 5-minute periods, so that each team has a chance to both kick off and possess the ball. With some tweaks I think that model could work, especially if teams are required to go for two after a touchdown. What do you think?
ANSWER: I totally understand my opinion won't be popular and has no chance of being implemented, but you asked and so here it is: Play defense! If you can't, or don't, then you don't deserve to win.
SCOTT SHILEY FROM BRICK, NJ: I wanted to sing the praises of Max Starks. Steelers fans always appreciated his play and leadership while he was in uniform. I just watched his interview with Kevin Colbert, and I was really impressed with his interview skills. Obviously, some huge shoes to fill, but could they have found the next Tunch Ilkin?
ANSWER: Max Starks is insightful; he has sound knowledge of the game and also the ability to communicate it clearly and within the parameters of sound bites. I think Starks is a nice partner for Craig Wolfley on the five-days-a-week "In the Locker Room with Wolf and Starks" that airs on Steelers Nation Radio from the start of training camp until the end of the season. I enjoy listening to him and learn something every time I talk to him off the air. The only thing that would frighten me would be having to pick up the tab after having dinner with Max and Wolf.