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Asked and Answered

Asked and Answered: May 10

Let's get to it:

BRIAN BOYCE FROM SPRINGBORO, PA: You are often hit with scenarios from readers asking to change a player from one position to another. Generally, your response is a gentle kick to the reader's backside. Connor Heyward is listed on the Steelers website as a TE/FB. Isn't it unfair or unreasonable to expect a rookie to learn two positions, including one he hasn't played?
ANSWER: While fullback and tight end are two distinct positions by literal definition, there is a version of those positions in the NFL that the Steelers believe Connor Heyward will be able to play. Heyward is effective as a blocker when he is on the move and he can find and attack defensive players in space, where athletic ability is a factor in getting the job done as much as raw size and strength. Heyward also has the soft hands that run in the family (see: Cam Heyward's two career interceptions, one in each of the previous two seasons), and that makes him a potential threat as a receiver. For Connor Heyward to be successful and an asset, he has to be utilized in a rather specific way, and because the Steelers picked him, there has to be a sense that Heyward will be a fit in what offensive coordinator Matt Canada wants/likes to do. In a way, rather than asking Connor Hayward to switch positions, I believe it's going to turn out to be more of a situation where the Steelers tailor a role around his skill set. And there also will be a heavy dose of special teams on his to-do list as well.

TIBOR OUYANG FROM NORTH LAS VEGAS, NV: How come the Steelers don't try to get players like Jalen Ramsey on their roster? It seems like poor secondary play always burns them in critical situations and limits their opportunities to progress as an organization, and they have not had nearly the same success drafting defensive backs like they have receivers. I know they added Levi Wallace from Buffalo, which is a step in the right direction, but do you think they need to do more by way of free agency or trades?
ANSWER: Acquiring cornerbacks the caliber of Jalen Ramsey via free agency or trades is prohibitively expensive, and finding them in the draft usually can be done only in the top half of the first round. Since you brought up Ramsey, let's use him as an example. He originally entered the NFL as the fifth overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, and when his relationship with the Jacksonville Jaguars soured, he was traded to the Los Angeles Rams. To acquire him in that midseason trade in 2019, the Rams sent two first-round picks, plus a fourth-round pick to the Jaguars, and then to keep Ramsey happy, the Rams signed him to a 5-year, $100 million contract that included a $25 million signing bonus and $71.2 million guaranteed.

As for drafting cornerbacks, I contend Kevin Colbert has gotten somewhat of a bad rap for his "inability" to identify top talent at the position. Including the 2022 NFL Draft, the Steelers have drafted 18 cornerbacks during Colbert's tenure. Of those 18, 10 were third-day picks – fourth round or later – only Artie Burns was a first-round pick (25th overall), and only Burns and Ricardo Colclough (38th overall) were top 50 picks. Outside of the top 50 players in a draft class over a couple of decades is not the place to shop for Jalen Ramseys.

DOUG BRACHO JR FROM JOMTIEN, CHONBURI, THAILAND: Years ago, NFL Drafts lasted for 30 rounds. Can you explain how and when it morphed to seven rounds and the benefits to both players and owners?
ANSWER: The initial NFL Draft – officially referred to by the NFL as the Annual Selection Meeting – came in 1936, and by 1939 the Annual Selection Meeting was expanded to 20 rounds. In 1943, likely as a result of World War II, the draft was expanded to 30 rounds. The draft shrunk to 20 rounds in 1960, then to 17 rounds in 1967, and to 12 rounds in 1977. When the NFL and the NFLPA negotiated the system of free agency tied to a salary cap, one of the agreed upon items was a provision that made the draft a 7-round exercise beginning in 1994. The idea behind that was to provide more opportunities for experienced players to utilize free agency for more and better paying jobs.

CULLEN ROBISON FROM SUFFOLK, VA: At what point during the year will the Steelers have to update the league on the status of Stephon Tuitt? I understand that no explanation is owed to the fans, and I fully support Tuitt taking the time to get healthy both mentally and physically. But I assume the league requires some sort of information regarding players in this unique situation?
ANSWER: The Steelers are carrying Stephon Tuitt on their 90-man offseason roster, and he counts on the team's salary cap now based on him having one of the top-51 cap numbers on that 90-man offseason roster. The next mile marker is the start of training camp, at which time if Tuitt is able to practice, he would be on the 90-man roster. If he is unable to practice the Steelers would place him on the physically unable to perform list in order to maintain his rights without him counting on the training camp 90-man roster. My advice would be not to expect many, if any, detailed announcements until mid-to-late summer.

DANNY FAIR FROM READING, PA: Is a seventh-round draft pick assured of a better contract and/or more money than if he was signed as an undrafted free agent, or is it just a prestige thing?
ANSWER: There isn't a pat answer for whether a seventh-round draft pick will sign a more lucrative rookie contract than an undrafted free agent. The seventh-round contracts come in as part of the slotting system, which calls for the amount of the contract to decrease with each subsequent player over the course of the entire three-day lottery, while undrafted free agents can get whatever they can convince a team to pay. Sometimes that amount could be more than a seventh-round pick's contract, and sometimes it could be much less. The big difference, and the major issue between being a draft pick and an undrafted rookie, is the draft pick must sign with the team that selected him or not play at all. The undrafted rookie if free to sign with whatever team will have him and for whatever that team is willing to pay as long as the value conforms to the minimums established in the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

WILLIAM PALAICH FROM CLERMONT, PA: With the draft over and undrafted rookies signed, what is your opinion on the possible return of Joe Haden? Any word from either side one way or the other?
ANSWER: No word. Reading the tea leaves based on the way the offseason has unfolded, my guess would be that the Steelers have moved on from Joe Haden both in terms of a primary role in their defense and in their willingness to pay him what a player with a primary role in their defense typically would earn. I just have my doubts whether an arrangement can be negotiated that would satisfy both parties.

WALTER HARDY FROM SAN LUIS POTOSÍ, MÉXICO: Is there a cap for undrafted free agents or can they sign a lucrative contract like a first-round pick? (Even though I know this is never happening.)
ANSWER: Undrafted rookies are free agents able to sign with the highest bidder. Their cap numbers are computed under the same guidelines governing all other players, and teams must be incompliance with the salary cap.

LOU MANN FROM ASHKELON, ISRAEL: I have been busy looking at all film I can of our undrafted free agents. I must say they all look promising. My favorite past undrafted free agents are Carlton Haselrig and his incredible wrestling story that got him the opportunity in the NFL, and Terry Long who was very short but could drive block with his power. Did you have a favorite underdog?
ANSWER: Hate to burst your bubble, but Carlton Haselrig was a 12th-round pick in the 1989 NFL Draft, and Terry Long was a fourth-round pick in the 1984 NFL Draft. Recently, the undrafted rookie who caught my eye immediately was Willie Parker (1994, from North Carolina), and while his speed was blatantly and immediately obvious, his toughness and willingness to block was what sent me seeking more information on a guy who had only 48 carries for 181 yards as a college senior.

MARK WAKELEY FROM DENTON, TX: Please add my name to the long list of fans who want to thank GM Kevin Colbert for his years of fantastic service. I've been a Steelers fan since the early 1960s during the end of the Dark Ages before Dan Rooney assumed more control over football operations. Growing up in Northeast Ohio, my family and friends thought I was nuts, but as it turns out I picked a pretty good team. Kevin did a fantastic job helping the Steelers to three Super Bowls, winning two, and finding numerous Pro Bowl and All-Pro players. Thank-you Mr. Colbert, for a job well done.
ANSWER: I agree.

DUANE GEORGE FROM BREDA, NETHERLANDS: Just curious, what are your thoughts on Mike Tomlin becoming the next general manager and Brian Flores becoming the next head coach?
ANSWER: From watching Mike Tomlin's Steelers career unfold, I believe he sees himself as a coach, loves to coach, and is one of the best in the NFL at his job. He isn't remotely interested in a general manager's job.

NICK MOSES FROM SIMI VALLEY, CA: Obviously there is no way to know at this point whether George Pickens or Skyy Moore was the player the Steelers should have taken in the second round, but I'm curious, were you rooting for the team to take one over the other at that point?
ANSWER: Leading up to the pick, I figured it could be a wide receiver, but I didn't know enough about either one of those players to be able to have an intelligent opinion on which might be better. Since the pick was made on April 29, some superficial research and having a chance to see some highlights on the web, George Pickens' height advantage (6-foot-3 vs. 5-10) and the fact Pickens was highly productive in the Southeastern Conference are enough to have me believe the Steelers made the wise choice. Now we wait and see how it turns out.

DILLON FISCHER GREENVILLE, PA: One of the biggest questions heading into next season is who will end up being the starting quarterback for the majority of the 2022 regular season? Mitch Trubisky has talent and experience, but Kenny Pickett was the touted as the most NFL-ready quarterback in the draft. Plus, over the last 5 years, Pickett probably has gotten the chance to talk to Mike Tomlin about the game of football, given that Pickett played at Pitt. What are your thoughts on the quarterback competition?
ANSWER: My only thoughts on the quarterback competition today, which is some two-plus months before the start of training camp, is that there will be one. Who will win that competition, how it will be staged, who all will be included in it (you left out Mason Rudolph in your submission) all are to be determined. I'm not interested in guessing, or trying to predict the future, if you prefer.

TIM RICHARD FROM SULPHUR, LA: What's with everyone thinking Chris Oladokun is nothing more than a "camp arm?" And christening Kenny Pickett as the savior of the Steelers? From the tape I've seen, Oladokun is a pretty good quarterback in his own right, with a stronger arm and better accuracy, and just as athletic, if not more. While I don't follow the vast majority of college games/programs, and I am by no means a pro talent evaluator, I'm by no means blind. What is your opinion of Oladokun? And what am I missing in his game?
ANSWER: I have no opinion of Chris Oladokun as a player because I have not seen him take a snap in a game, not even take a snap in a highlight of a game, and as I indicated in the answer above, I believe that anointing anyone as anything today doesn't even qualify as an educated guess. It's a blind guess, no more meaningful than flipping a coin. You admit to not being a professional evaluator of football talent, and neither am I, but I know this: Kenny Pickett was a first-round pick and the first quarterback drafted in 2022, and Oladokun was a late-seventh-round pick, the seventh of nine quarterbacks drafted, and there are football-related reasons for that. Maybe it all plays out differently once practice and preseason games begin, but as I have written and will continue to write: training camp doesn't open until late July.

NELSON GILBERT FROM WEST LIBERTY, WV: Of the undrafted free agents who do you think has the best chance to make the team?
ANSWER: Tsk-Tsk. Somebody isn't paying attention to the most recent episodes of Asked and Answered, because I answered this very question on May 5. But because I'm in a charitable mood, likely because it's not raining for the first time in several days, and thanks to the wonders of cut-and-paste, I will repeat it here.

Here are three names to watch once training camp starts: Mataeo Durant, a running back from Duke; Tyree Johnson, a 240-pound defensive end at Texas A&M who projects to outside linebacker for the Steelers; and Jake Dixon, an offensive tackle from Duquesne who offers the most interesting story among the group.

•Durant, who ran a 4.38 at his Pro Day, played in 42 games at Duke, and he finished with 2,562 yards rushing (5.2 average) and 18 touchdowns to go along with 55 catches for 480 yards (8.7 average) and four touchdowns.

•As a senior at Texas A&M, Johnson had 31 tackles, including nine for loss, 8.5 sacks, one forced fumble, and one fumble recovery. In his final three seasons at College Station, Johnson had 16.5 sacks.

•Dixon attended Bethel Park High School, south of Pittsburgh, where he played football, basketball, and volleyball. Dixon (6-foot-6, 290 pounds) first went to Lewis College to play volleyball, but he missed football so much that he transferred to Duquesne, where he first played tight end before being switched to tackle.

KEITH MILLER FROM CANTON, OH: Two new, fast, versatile receivers; two new mobile quarterbacks; an improved offensive line; an excellent tight end; and an outstanding running back. Is offensive coordinator Matt Canada on the hot seat?
ANSWER: When I looked up the seating chart for the hot seat, I didn't see any coaches' names, but under "Asked and Answered," I did see a Keith Miller.

DAVID SIMPSON FROM BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND: The elephant in the room: Can Mitch Trubisky throw to his left?
ANSWER: Only when the elephant isn't double-covered. Gotta be able to read whether the giraffe moves over from the middle to take away the deep-third, because a starting-caliber giraffe has a lot of length.