Let's get to it:
JAMES ADAMS FROM QUANTICO, VA: Is there an ability to sign JuJu Smith-Schuster or Bud Dupree to a contract extensions of 5-6 years, with the first year being team friendly and subsequent years being more in their range of expected worth? Maybe a scenario where the contracts have performance or results-based bonuses?
ANSWER: No, there is not. There are rules about contracts built into the Collective Bargaining Agreement that would prohibit some of what you're describing, and there's also not going to be any reason why JuJu Smith-Schuster and Bud Dupree would have to accept anything except a long-term, big-money contract with a lot of guaranteed cash, because there are going to be teams (plural) willing to offer each of them that kind of deal.
JIM ANDERSON FROM TOLEDO, OH: What are the teams that would have enough money to steal Bud Dupree and JuJu Smith-Schuster from the Steelers?
ANSWER: I would suggest you change the verb in your question from "steal" to "lure," and it's almost half the teams in the league that could fall into that category. According to overthecamp.com, Jacksonville leads with over $80 million in cap space; New England and the Jets are both over $60 million in cap space; Indianapolis and Denver are over $40 million in cap space; Washington, Cincinnati, and Miami all are over $30 million in cap space; and Carolina, Cleveland, and the Chargers all are over $20 million in cap space.
FRED CALLAWAY FROM HELENA, MT: Could the Steelers franchise tag Juju Smith-Schuster or Bud Dupree? And if we would how much would that cost us?
ANSWER: If you're asking whether it would be against the rules for the Steelers to use the franchise tag on Bud Dupree and/or JuJu Smith-Schuster, no, it's not against the rules. If you're asking whether there is a realistic scenario in which that could happen, no, it's not going to happen. The franchise tag figure for wide receivers in 2021 is $16.43 million, and the franchise tag for Bud Dupree is $18.8 million, because he played under the franchise tag in 2020. To utilize a tag, the team must have the amount of money available on its salary cap at the moment the tag is applied. The Steelers still have to trim a relatively significant amount just to become compliant with the salary cap by March 17, and to expect them to clear an additional $17-20 million to tag one of those players is a fantasy.
ANDRE BUNCH FROM POWELLSVILLE, NC: I have liked tight end Kyle Rudolph ever since he was drafted, and now that he was cut by the Vikings do you see us signing him?
ANSWER: The Steelers don't typically go after unrestricted free agents who are on the far-side of 30 years old. Kyle Rudolph will be 32 in November.
TROY STATEN FROM NORTH LAS VEGAS, NV: How did the Steelers get into this situation with their salary cap, and have they ever had an issue similar to this season as far as their cap situation?
ANSWER: The salary cap has been life in the NFL since 1993, and there is no way I possibly can remember the team's salary cap situation every year going back 27 years. The Steelers always spend to the cap each season, and so they rarely are in a position at the start of a free agency period where they have a lot of money to spend, and that's OK with them because they have an organizational philosophy that the way to build a championship roster is through the draft. The unknown factor this time around was the global pandemic, because the lack of fans in stadiums led to a loss in revenue at the heart of the drop of the salary cap from $198 million per team in 2020 to $180 million in 2021. Rarely, if ever, has there been an offseason where the salary cap decreased by such a significant amount.
ADAM JONES FROM AUSTIN, TX: Is there any way we could cut Steven Nelson so we save some cap room? Maybe even try to keep Cam Sutton and Mike Hilton with the money that's saved, because I think they both have potential futures as good cornerbacks.
ANSWER: Sure, there is a way to cut Steven Nelson, but I would argue that it's not the smartest approach to the issue of becoming compliant with the salary cap. Of the three players you mention in your question, Steven Nelson is the best player right now. I'm not arguing against trying to re-sign Cam Sutton and/or Mike Hilton, but it doesn't make sense to me to approach the job of roster building by cutting the best player at a position in order to TRY to sign two lesser talents at the same position. I wrote TRY in all caps because Sutton and Hilton can become unrestricted free agents on March 17, and my opinion is they both will see what's available on the open market before signing anything.
SAM STIER FROM CRESTWOOD, IL: I am pretty much sold on the idea that the Steelers will select Alabama running back Najee Harris in the first round. If this doesn't happen, who do you think the Steelers' target would be in the draft or free agency? As much as I would like to see Aaron Jones in black and gold, I imagine he would be too pricey.
ANSWER: You may be sold on the Steelers using their No. 1 pick in the upcoming draft on Najee Harris, and I might agree with you, but what we think doesn't matter once the team is on the clock on Thursday, April 29. By your question, I'm going to assume you're referring specifically to running backs, and all I can tell you is that in the search for a feature back, the Steelers will look to the draft instead of free agency.
CHASE WILLIAMS FROM DALLAS, TX: If Javonte Williams falls to the Steelers second round draft pick, and the Steelers didn't draft a running back with their first pick, would we take him?
ANSWER: Could happen.
RON PROLEIKA FROM CHARLOTTE, NC: I wonder if there's a Coach Noll quote or saying you think most relevant to the 2021 Steelers at this moment in time?
ANSWER: Whatever it takes.
TODD HALL FROM HAMPTON, VA: What are your thoughts on making veterans with more than 15 years in the league exempt from the salary cap? I realize that the cap is a measure to keep salaries somewhat in check, but it seems a little crazy that veterans can price themselves out of the league.
ANSWER: The NFL's system of free agency tied to a hard salary cap is the best in all of professional sports, because it allows teams in Green Bay and Jacksonville and Pittsburgh to compete and win championships just as easily and regularly as teams from Boston and New York and Chicago. And veterans aren't priced out of the league as often as their skills diminish to a level where roster limits dictate they be replaced by younger and better players. That's how professional sports work.
DONALD WAYBRIGHT FROM NEW ORLEANS, LA: Do teams get awarded compensatory draft picks when a player retires?
ANSWER: No. Compensatory draft picks are awarded only in the event of players lost as unrestricted free agents. Players who are cut and then signed by another team do not factor into the formula.
TOMMY RICHARDS FROM TORONTO, ONTARIO, CANADA: If the Steelers were to lose Bud Dupree, Mike Hilton, Alejandro Villanueva, James Conner and JuJu Smith-Schuster as unrestricted free agents, in what rounds and how many compensatory picks would we end up receiving?
ANSWER: That cannot be calculated without knowing the size of the contracts those players would receive to sign with other teams, along with the unrestricted free agents the Steelers might add and the amount of the contracts those players would receive. Also understand that those losses/gains will apply to the 2022 NFL Draft, which is a loonngg way away.
KEVIN DOYLE FROM SALINAS, CA: Do you think there's a running back in this draft the Steelers would find hard to pass up as their No. 1 pick assuming none of them had been picked by the time the Steelers are on the clock?
ANSWER: I would imagine there would be, but that also would be determined by which players at other positions are still available to No. 24 overall, too. The Steelers are not going to go into the 2021 NFL Draft looking to pick a running back on the first round. It's possible they could go in that direction, but it won't be the plan going into it.
DAREN POSEY FROM OKLAHOMA CITY, OK: What is the status of Ryan Shazier? Do the doctors think he will ever be able to return to the playing field?
ANSWER: Ryan Shazier retired from the game of football.
THOMAS SMITH FROM WILLIAMSPORT, PA: Does it make sense to pick up Sam Darnold, and then trade Mason Rudolph for another position that we need, or use him in the trade for Darnold.
ANSWER: There is no "picking up" of Sam Darnold, because he is under contract to the New York Jets. Darnold would have to be acquired in a trade, and that would cost significant draft capital that the Steelers need to use to fix/fortify other areas of their roster. There are other positions on a team besides quarterback, and as it now seems as though Ben Roethlisberger will be back for the 2021 season, what "makes sense" is to go into training camp with him, Mason Rudolph, and Dwayne Haskins as the top three players on the depth chart at the position. That's what I believe is going to happen.
SAM STIER FROM LEXINGTON, KY: I read that the Steelers could hypothetically trade up in the 2021 NFL Draft to select quarterback Trey Lance. What I read stated that in order to do this the Steelers would trade their first-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, plus another pick or two to the Cowboys for the 10th pick in the 2021 draft. This would give the Steelers the 10th overall pick along with pick No. 24 overall. I get that this is unlikely, assuming Ben Roethlisberger will be back in 2021, but do you see any possibility of trading up for Trey Lance?
ANSWER: No chance. None.
RICHARD MILLER FROM RAINBOW CITY, AL: What is the very minimum salary a player can play for in the NFL? Can/has a player ever said "I want to play with THIS team only, and I only want this much money?" I realize everybody wants more money, but as we old timers know, money doesn't buy everything.
ANSWER: The minimum salary for NFL players is part of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, and the amount is set based on the number of years the players has in the league. Players only are allowed to pick their team under two circumstances – if they enter the draft and go undrafted, at which point they can sign with any team offering a contract; or if they play long enough to earn unrestricted free agency. And for a young athlete who is staring at a future in a sport where careers historically aren't overly long, getting paid when the opportunity arises is a significant event in that individual's life. The human body cannot survive professional football as long as it could survive a career as an accountant, as an example. Professional football is a sport, a diversion, a source of pride and entertainment for fans, but for the men inside those uniforms it's a business.