Asked and Answered

Asked and Answered: March 9

Let's get to it:

ANDREW ROWLEY FROM PITTSBURGH, PA: It seems many of the Super Bowl caliber teams in recent years have exceptional, perhaps even Hall of Fame caliber tight ends, such as Travis Kelce and Rob Gronkowski. In your opinion, who was the best tight end who won a Super Bowl while playing for the Steelers?
ANSWER: With every question that has anything to do with accomplishments or excellence by Steelers tight ends, the answer is always Heath Miller. And this is no exception. When Miller retired after the 2015 season, he was third in franchise history in receptions behind Hines Ward and Antonio Brown; fourth in receiving yards behind Ward and Brown and John Stallworth; and fifth in receiving touchdowns behind Ward and Brown and Stallworth and Lynn Swann. In actual Super Bowls, while the Steelers are tied for the NFL lead with 6 Lombardi Trophies, tight ends weren't significant factors in any of those victories.

• Larry Brown won 4 Super Bowl rings, but two of those came after he had switched to offensive tackle. Brown did catch a 4-yard touchdown pass in Super Bowl IX that extended a 9-6 lead to 16-6 in the fourth quarter, but my sense of that game vs. Minnesota is that the teams could've played another four quarters and the Vikings weren't scoring any more points. Not against that defense that season.

• Randy Grossman also won 4 Super Bowl rings. His one catch in Super Bowl X was for a 7-yard touchdown that tied the game, 7-7, vs. Dallas in what would end up being a 21-17 victory. He had 3 catches for 39 yards in Super Bowl XIII, a 35-31 victory over the Cowboys.

• Bennie Cunningham has 2 Super Bowl rings, and his only statistics were 2 catches for 21 yards in the 31-19 win over the Rams in Super Bowl XIV.

• As mentioned earlier, Heath Miller retired as the most productive tight end in franchise history, but the Steelers of his era did not employ a tight-end-centric offense. In Super Bowl XL, a 21-10 win over Seattle, Miller had no receptions, but during the run through the AFC Playoffs that included successive wins in Cincinnati, Indianapolis, and Denver, he caught 7 passes for 107 yards, a 15.3 average, that produced 4 first downs and the first-quarter touchdown that upped the team's lead over the Colts to 14-0 in what ended up being a 21-18 victory. In the 27-23 win over Arizona in Super Bowl XLIII, Miller caught 5 passes for 57 yards.

Still, the answer to the question is Heath Miller.

BRENT PASSINO FROM COLDWATER, MI: I have some questions about the scouting department. Do scouts bring up potential players to scout, or are they assigned to scout certain personnel? Do scouts have a specific "specialty" such as wide receiver or defense, and who do the Steelers scouts report to?
ANSWER: A very general description of the scouting method employed by the Steelers is that scouts are assigned to colleges and/or areas of the country for school visits that begin in the late summer, nearly 8 months before the following April's draft. When visiting a particular school, the scout watches video, more often than not watches a practice, talks to some coaches and support personnel in the football office. Reports then have to be written on the school's worthy draft-eligible players. As the process continues, players get ranked and depending upon their ranking, they could be seen again by a different member of the personnel department, and then once the Senior Bowl rolls around Mike Tomlin and his staff join in the process. While a position coach could attend a Pro Day to get a first-hand look at a prospect and/or may have some on-field role when drills are conducted, the Steelers don't scout by individual positions. At the head of the Football Operations Department is General Manager Omar Khan.

RICHARD SNYDER FROM SAN PEDRO, CA: My dad used to love Dirt Winston, the former Steelers linebacker of the late 1970s-early-1980s. Being a young fan at the time, I don't remember much about him other than his jersey number and his nickname. Could you provide some background on when he joined the team, his career statistics, and how he came by his descriptive soubriquet?
ANSWER: Dennis Winston came to the Steelers from Arkansas via the fifth round of the 1977 NFL Draft. In 99 games with the Steelers, including 21 starts, Winston recorded 6 interceptions, 3.5 sacks, and 9 forced fumbles. Winston contributed 3 tackles and a fumble recovery in the 35-31 win over Dallas in Super Bowl XIII, and he started for the injured Jack Ham in Super Bowl XIV and was in on 10 tackles in the 31-19 win over the Rams. Winston played for the Steelers from 1977 through the 1981 seasons, and then he was shipped to New Orleans for the 1982 season. A couple of games into the 1985 season, Winston was back with the Steelers, where he played through 1986 and then retired. The following is an account of how he came to be nicknamed "Dirt:" Winston picked up the nickname soon after his arrival at the University of Arkansas as part of a group of 13 black players in the 1973 recruiting class, the largest signed by the Razorbacks to that point. "I got the nickname from Bruce Mitchell," Winston said of a freshman teammate. "It started out 'Dirty Dennis' and then he changed it to just 'Dirt.' I really didn't think about it at all, but when I got to the pros that's when it really came in and it just kind of stuck."

WES PLANTHABER FROM HUNTINGDON, PA: With the franchise tag being fully guaranteed, once offered if a player does not sign it can it be taken off the table? Or for that matter is there a clause with actions not conforming to team standards? What I mean by that is if a person prior or after signing goes into a club and trashes it or some other thing the team would not want to be associated with are they still on the hook for the full contract? Can they be cut without paying in full?
ANSWER: If a team places the franchise tag on a player, but he does not sign the tender, the team can withdraw the tag but then the player immediately becomes an unrestricted free agent. If a team places the franchise tag on a player, the amount of the tender is guaranteed to the player as soon as he signs it. The only way a player with a signed tender would not receive the full amount would be if the NFL levied some kind of league discipline on the individual. Outside of that, the guy gets his money.

GERRY MANDERING FROM SCALP LEVEL , PA: Free agency starts on March 15. Why was Derek Carr able to sign early?
ANSWER: Derek Carr was released by the Raiders on Feb. 14. Once that happened, Carr was permitted to sign with any team in the league.

BILL REID FROM ESTERO, FL: What has happened to Kendrick Green? He never dressed for a game last year. Do you see him in our plans for 2023?
ANSWER: Kendrick Green is entering the third year of the four-year contract he signed as a third-round draft pick in 2021, and he did not dress for a regular season game in 2022 as you noted. Cutting him now would not result in any appreciable cap savings, and so I imagine he will come to training camp and compete for a roster spot. What the Steelers do in free agency and then the draft in terms of addressing the offensive line, plus how Green fares in camp and during the preseason will determine his 2023.

BOB PURAT FROM NEWTOWN, PA: With the Titans releasing Bud Dupree, do you think there is a chance the Steelers might try to sign him? The move could bring in a player who could contribute immediately and would allow the Steelers to allocate premium draft capital in other areas.
ANSWER: Bud Dupree turned 30 in early April, and he made only 17 of a possible 33 regular season starts over the 2021-22 seasons because of injuries. To be a fit in Pittsburgh, I believe Dupree would have to be willing to accept a backup role at a salary far below what he earned with the Titans or in his final season with the Steelers.

VAUGHN MYERS FROM BEDFORD, PA: If the Steelers restructure the contract of T.J. Watt and save $12.6 million on their salary cap, how does that effect the salary cap later in his contract?
ANSWER: Typically, the way those kinds of restructures work is the bulk of his 2023 salary would be converted into a signing bonus, and then that bonus would be prorated over the rest of his contract. The player loses no money, and the team is granted some temporary cap relief. But the new annual prorated bonus will be added to the existing cap hits over the life of the player's contract, which serves to raise his salary cap hits over the rest of his original contract. It's like putting a purchase on a credit card – eventually the entire bill must be paid in full.

SAM MIKHAIL FROM BETHESDA, MD: With college Pro Days coming up, do the Steelers have a specific methodology to evaluate prospects from different schools who play the same position? For example, do they employ the same position drills for all defensive backs? If yes, then are you privy to examples of these drills?
ANSWER: When a school such as Alabama conducts its Pro Day, for example, all of the Tide's draft eligible players will go through drills for all of the teams assembled for that Pro Day. These are not conducted for individual teams one at a time.

MIKE FOSTER FROM EWA BEACH, HI: Do you think the Steelers have enough picks in the 2023 draft? Should they trade up and/or down to acquire more picks? A week or two from now, with free agency in full swing, I know this question may seem frivolous or irrelevant depending upon who stays or goes in the coming weeks, but I still value your opinion.
ANSWER: Ask me three years from now whether the Steelers had enough picks in the 2023 NFL Draft to address their needs, and I might have a shot at an answer that's something other than a guess. Trading up would cost picks, and trading down has to be evaluated in the moment with respect to the return on the trade and what the move might cost in terms of possibly missing out on players available at the original draft position. Right now, the Steelers have four of the top 80 overall picks, and if they hit on those their draft will be a success.

MARY FARR FROM WILLIAMSPORT, PA: Do you think the Steelers would be interested in Donovan Smith? Do you think his price tag would be too high?
ANSWER: Donovan Smith is 30, and he has 124 regular season games on his body, all starts, which means he has played 8,471 snaps as a left tackle. In 2022, he was paid $15.75 million, for his career he has earned $60.2 million in salary and bonuses, and he was a starter on the Buccaneers team that won the Super Bowl LV. My guess is any interest by the Steelers would come after free agency and the draft, it would come if the team wasn't able to add an offensive tackle, and it would be based on Smith being willing to accept a lower-level contract.