Let's get to it:
JASON PRASTER FROM SAN ANTONIO, TX: How often can a player under contract have his current contract restructured? For example: Stephon Tuitt. Could the Steelers restructure his contract to open up more cap space?
ANSWER: As long as the player isn't going into the final season of his existing contract, that contract can be restructured in the way the Steelers typically restructure contracts. Stephon Tuitt is signed through the 2022 season, so he is a possible candidate for a restructuring to save cap space in 2021.
JOE MONROE FROM AUSTIN, TX: With Ben Roethlisberger's new contract, will the Steelers be able to sign JuJu Smith-Schuster or Bud Dupree?
PATRICK FLYNN FROM OAKDALE, PA: Is there any conceivable way the Steelers re-sign JuJu?
ANSWER: In the real world? No. It just makes no sense to me why JuJu Smith-Schuster would accept a lesser deal from the Steelers than he could get on the open market. And Smith-Schuster is a good enough player, and there are enough teams with salary cap space who need what he can add to an offense for this to end any other way except Smith-Schuster leaving for a big-money offer from another team.
JARRET FUREY FROM SALEM, OH: With Maurkice Pouncey retired, any chance we can afford to go after center David Andrews in free agency?
ANSWER: Any chance David Andrews will be willing to sign for less money than he could get elsewhere?
FRITZ RODRIGUEZ FROM ORLANDO, FL: Can you see the Steelers trading down to pick up more draft picks to compensate for losses during free agency?
ANSWER: It's possible, but remember this: Players lost via free agency are guys who have established themselves as legitimate NFL players who have had at least enough success to attract interest from other teams around the league. You don't replace those kinds of players with third-day draft picks.
BOB WITKOWSKY FROM HATBORO, PA: What do you consider the Steelers No. 1 need in the draft, without any guarantees we will draft that position?
ANSWER: Offensive line, followed very closely by running back.
THOMAS SNIDER FROM CHICAGO, IL: Is there any chance we go after Indianapolis running Marlon Mack during free agency? I think he would be a cheaper option at running back with a lot of potential. Or do you think we're most likely to draft Najee Harris?
ANSWER: A draft pick is always cheaper than an unrestricted free agent, and assigning Najee Harris to the Steelers in the first round is way premature.
DAVID ANDERSON FROM IDAHO FALLS, ID: With Ben Roethlisberger signed and Maurkice Pouncey and Vance McDonald retired, have we saved enough money to maybe sign Zach Banner and Matt Feiler? And does that, with new offensive line coach Adrian Klemm, help fix the issues with the line?
ANSWER: The signing of Ben Roethlisberger and the retirements of Maurkice Pouncey and Vance McDonald only save enough money for the Steelers to be able to be cap compliant on March 17. And even if more moves are made, and the team finds a way to re-sign both Zach Banner and Matt Feiler, that doesn't address the effect the retirement of Pouncey had on the center position.
RAY GREHOFSKY FROM BLACKSBURG, VA: While I don't doubt your assessment of what other teams might be willing to spend on Bud Dupree, (something/someone) is worth what somebody is willing to pay for that item or service. That being said, Dupree surely did not show the same skill set as T.J. did early in his career. He only truly blossomed in his final two years, one cut short by a serious knee injury. Would you, in a GM role, be willing to pay Dupree $17 plus million a year with a bunch of guaranteed money on a four-year plus deal when he cannot even be evaluated physically?
ANSWER: If the Steelers had the salary cap space, which they don't, and I was in charge of the decision, which I'm not, I wouldn't hesitate to use the franchise tag on Bud Dupree for a second straight offseason. And because he was tagged last offseason, the number would be in the neighborhood of $19 million. Just because it took Dupree some time to get comfortable with what the Steelers seek in a 3-4 outside linebacker shouldn't be held against him now. And let's not forget that in college he played in a three-point stance as a defensive lineman, never was used in coverage, and he played his rookie season in the NFL as a 22-year-old. Today, he is a 6-foot-4, 269-pound ball of speed and strength and power who understands the demands of the position and has the physical tools to execute all of those demands. Looking back on what Dupree wasn't as an NFL rookie and judging what he should be paid now is like judging Terry Bradshaw by the 24 interceptions and 30.4 passer rating he authored as a rookie. The Steelers have some great players on defense, but if there was a poll of opposing offensive players about which of those players on defense who scared them, Dupree would get a lot of votes.
JAMES GROSS FROM ROSWELL, NM: If unrestricted free agents cannot sign until the new league year begins later this month, how could J.J. Watt sign a new contract with the Arizona Cardinals?
ANSWER: J.J. Watt was released by the Houston Texans, which means he can sign a contract with whatever team would have him at whatever salary the two sides cared to negotiate. With unrestricted free agents, their contracts expire at the start of the new league year, which is March 17. That's the difference. And also, because he was released instead of having his contract expire, Watt will not be a part of the formula that will determine compensatory draft picks in 2022.
CARLOS ARVIZU FROM CDMX, MÉXICO: When can we expect the 2021 edition of the Official NFL Record and Fact Book?
ANSWER: Close to the opening of training camps.
BRAD DYLL FROM HERMITAGE, PA: Who do you think is better: B.J. Finney or J.C. Hassenauer? Do you think the Steelers will try to sign Finney, or lock up one of our current free agent linemen?
ANSWER: If I was in charge of making the decision as to which of those two players is the better option as the starting center going into the 2021 season, I would choose B.J. Finney. I would think the Steelers at least would make a call to gauge Finney's interest/price, but that shouldn't preclude the team from also investigating the possibility of re-signing Matt Feiler, as an example.
CARLTON HUEY FROM HOUSTON, TX: How in the world did Jacksonville get $80 million under the cap?
ANSWER: In 2017, the Jaguars advanced to the AFC Championship Game and had six of their defensive players make the Pro Bowl. Those six were: Calais Campbell, Yannick Ngakoue, Malik Jackson, Jaylen Ramsey, A.J. Bouye, and Telvin Smith. Three seasons later, none of those players are on the Jaguars roster anymore – cut, traded, or allowed to leave as unrestricted free agents. When a team unloads its stars, or allows them to leave, the rookies who end up taking those roster spots end up being paid a pittance by comparison. Today, the Jaguars have only four players who will have a base salary in excess of $5 million for 2021.
DAVID VILENICA FROM RICES LANDING, PA: I acknowledge the draft is a fluid entity, and so if the Steelers' targeted players aren't available at the 24th overall pick would it make sense to trade back to the late first or early second round? They would more than likely receive an additional top 75 draft selection.
ANSWER: First of all, it's important to understand that the Steelers will go into the first day of the 2021 NFL Draft with 24 players on their board they would be comfortable picking with their first-round selection. That's just standard draft procedure for the Steelers. As for trading back, that's a possibility, but don't be so sure about what the compensation might be, because for any trade back to be possible there has to be a player(s) at 24th overall attractive enough to entice a team to want to trade up. And if there is such a player available at No. 24 overall, why wouldn't the Steelers pick him?
DONALD DRAKE FROM JACKSONVILLE, FL: Is there anything in the collective bargaining agreement that keeps a player from accepting the NFL minimum salary for his years of service? Then having a contract that pays him an agreed-to amount yearly after he retires?
ANSWER: If there isn't a provision in the Collective Bargaining Agreement prohibiting such a tactic, I am fairly certain owners of teams would have very little interest in paying a player – and having him count on the salary cap – for years after that player retires. Especially doing that on purpose.
NICK MITCHELL FROM GLEN-LYON, PA: If the Steelers go by their traditional draft values, would their first pick in the 2021 NFL Draft be a center?
ANSWER: If the Steelers go by their traditional draft procedure, their first-round pick will be the best player on their board.
JAY DRAGERT FROM WEST DES MOINES, IA: I know Alejandro Villanueva served with the 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry) out of Fort Drum, NY. As a fellow veteran from the 10th Mountain Division, I was wanting to thank him for his service, sacrifice, and for honoring and representing the military community. Would it be possible for you to relay a thank you message for me? Or if not, do you know how I could send him a letter or something as a thank you for being a veteran and a member of the Steelers? He has been one of my favorite offensive linemen of all time.
ANSWER: Correspondence to players can be mailed to: 3400 South Water Street; Pittsburgh, PA; 15203.