Let's get to it:
ZARED HOLLABAUGH FROM JESSUP, MD:
I know the Steelers don't normally sign free agents to big-money contracts. What is the biggest contract they've ever given to an unrestricted free agent?
ANSWER: Since 1993 when free agency became a fact of life in the NFL, the Steelers have refrained from the NFL's unique version of March Madness. As one of the architects of the system that first tied free agency to a salary cap, Dan Rooney never believed in free agency as a consistent method of building a roster that can contend for a championship, and accumulating talent through the draft has been the Steelers' way dating back to January 1969 when the franchise hired Chuck Noll.
Still, the Steelers have dabbled in free agency periodically, usually in response to losing one of their own players, but also occasionally as a quick fix to fill a hole in their lineup so as to allow the team to go into a particular draft without being forced to pick a player at a specific position.
Because of the inflation of the salary cap and players' compensation amounts, the most lucrative free agent contracts would be the most recent ones – for example, Mike Mitchell signed a five-year contract for a reported $25 million in 2014. But rather than focus on the dollars, I choose to focus on the impact of the signings, and so here are my top 10 unrestricted free agent signings by the Steelers since 1993: James Farrior, Jeff Hartings, Kevin Greene, Ray Seals, Kimo von Oelhoffen, Will Wolford, Norm Johnson, Ryan Clark, John L. Williams, and Mike Mitchell.
Farrior, in my mind, is the best UFA signing in Steelers history, and his first contract with the Steelers – in 2002 – was for $5.125 million over three years, but that just gives you some idea of the difference in pay scale between 2002 and today. And as a point of clarification, Le'Veon Bell is among a group of players who don't qualify for this list, because he was released by Carolina before signing with the Steelers, and therefore was not an unrestricted free agent.
JODY MCMULLEN FROM HASTINGS, PA:
I was wondering about the difference between left outside linebacker and right outside linebacker. I know teams like blind-side pressure on the quarterback, and so is it a big deal to switch Bud Dupree – our best pass-rusher – to the right side to achieve this? I am not sure you can find a rookie who can do as well as Dupree in 2017, and it would be smart to save William Gay for the second half of the season.
ANSWER: The difference is that there is a preference for a bigger, stronger body on the left side, because with most NFL offenses being right-handed, more running plays go over the right side of the offense and against the left side of the defense. The left outside linebacker has to deal with setting the edge with tight ends lining up over him more than the guy on the right side.
ROOSEVELT DAY FROM TRENTON, NJ:
Do you think it's time to move on from Mike Mitchell being a starter? Drafting another safety appears to be wise to pair with Sean Davis.
ANSWER: I can assure you that your opinion of Mike Mitchell is not shared by the Steelers, so I don't see any realistic scenario in which the team "moves on" from him as a starter.
MARK ADAMS FROM CRESSON, PA:
After watching Eli Rogers play so well after losing Marcus Wheaton to injury, and also with the return of Martavis Bryant, do you think they'll keep both Rogers and Wheaton?
ANSWER: Signed through the 2017 season, after which he will become a restricted free agent, Rogers isn't going anywhere. Markus Wheaton can become an unrestricted free agent at 4 p.m. today, and there's nothing the Steelers can do to keep him if he wants to go elsewhere. As Coach Mike Tomlin has said about free agency, "It's free for them, and it's free for us."
DENNIS LOGAZEL FROM BOCA RATON, FL:
Did the great Jack Lambert win the NFL Defensive Player of the Year twice? I'm certain that he won it in 1976. However, I have seen publications that state he won it again later in his awesome career.
ANSWER: Joe Greene is the only Steelers player to win the Defensive Player of the Year Award twice, and he did it in 1972 and 1974. Jack Lambert won it in 1976. The other Steelers players to win the award, which originated in 1971, are Mel Blount in 1975, Rod Woodson in 1993, James Harrison in 2008, and Troy Polamalu in 2010.
TIM KING FROM WILLOW GROVE, PA:
Do you think the NFL ever will get rid of the opening kickoff, or kickoffs after scoring drives? I know most of the kickoffs go through the back of the end zone ,but how do you make it more exciting for a start of a game if you don't have a kickoff? Go the XFL route where you put the ball on the 50-yard line and have a player from each team fight for it?
ANSWER: I don't believe excitement is a real factor when we're talking about the kickoff in the NFL. It's player safety. And I also believe that if the NFL could figure out a way to keep the onside kick in the game – to give a trailing team the opportunity to regain possession of the ball after a score – the kickoff already would have been eliminated. Start the game with a coin toss, and the team electing to receive starts at its own 20-yard line.
KEITH CLARK FROM BROOKLYN, NY:
Who gets their home schedule first, the Steelers or the Pitt Panthers? Due to the stress that grass fields endure, is it possible not to have home games for both teams on back-to-back days?
ANSWERS: College schedules are made up many years in advance, and the NFL schedule is announced yearly sometime around the middle of April. The Steelers see Pitt as something of a partner at Heinz Field, and so they try to be as accommodating as possible. Because the Steelers re-sod the playing surface twice over the course of a season – at their own expense, by the way – the grass remains in good shape even when there are NFL playoff games held there in January. And the staff at Heinz Field has gotten so adept at turnaround that the facility has been able to stage a Pitt game on a Saturday night and a Steelers game the following afternoon.
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DOUG CAMERON FROM RICHMOND, VA:
You said the Steelers determine their draft board and then pick from it. My question is do they pick the best player available or the best position of need available? And not so much a question but comment: During our trip to Puerto Rico my wife and I received a lot of acknowledgement of our Steelers gear. Thanks for the entertainment! Haven't missed a segment of Asked and Answered since I found it.
ANSWER: When the draft board is set up, it's only natural that there are considerations made to positions of need. For example, if a cornerback and a guard both have a first-round grade, those two players' alignment on the draft board most likely would have the cornerback ranked ahead of the guard, based on the current configuration of the roster.
CLIFF MCAFEE FROM PITTSBURGH, PA:
Is Darrelle Revis supposed to work out for the Steelers? If so, when?
ANSWER: Steelers fans have way more interest in Darrelle Revis than the team does, I can assure you of that, and a player of his experience and pedigree doesn't work out. He has years of video that can be watched. The idea of Revis coming to Pittsburgh, or to any NFL city, and running a 40-yard dash isn't real.
MICHAEL RICKLEY FROM BRUNSWICK, MD:
In the interest of protecting Antonio Brown on punt returns, can the coaches wrap him in bubble wrap? Underneath the jersey and pants of course. Would that be an NFL uniform violation?
ANSWER: Maybe not if it had a Nike swoosh on it.