Asked and Answered

Asked and Answered: May 31

Let's get to it:

VICTOR RAYGOZA FROM SOUTH GATE, CA: Do you think that with the extra money the Steelers have left on the salary cap, they will sign a free agent?
ANSWER: I wouldn't describe the money the Steelers currently have on their salary cap as "extra," and the best use of it would be on an extension for a pending free agent, specifically Minkah Fitzpatrick. The Steelers exercised the fifth-year option on the contract Fitzpatrick signed as a rookie with the Miami Dolphins, and he will earn $10.612 million in 2022 as a result. But if a contract extension is not forthcoming before the Sept. 11 regular season opener in Cincinnati against the Bengals, Fitzpatrick could become an unrestricted free agent in March 2023. I believe addressing that situation is where the Steelers will be looking to spend their money.

ROBERT WITKOWSKY FROM HATBORO, PA: Do you think there will be some grudges held by our quarterbacks due to how the roster was set? Mason Rudolph expected to be the starter after Ben Roethlisberger retired, but Mitch Trubisky was signed. Trubisky expected to be the Steelers quarterback for years, but Kenny Pickett was drafted.
ANSWER: Being that this is professional sports, a business, if there was any expectation by any of the individuals you cite of being anointed without winning a competition, then shame on them. This isn't a trip to the county fair midway where every kid gets a turn to ride the merry-go-round. Professional football is a highly competitive business, where, as Jerry Glanville often said, "It's the N-F-L, which stands for 'not-for-long.'" Feelings of entitlement or petty grudges are among the quickest ways to go from having a job on a team to being on the street looking for a job on a team. The better attitude, and the one I would anticipate seeing from the quarterbacks on the depth chart would be a version of the one verbalized by Bubby Brister when the Steelers drafted Neil O'Donnell in 1991 after Brister had been the starter in 1989-90: "Bring him on."

GEORGE BERNARDY FROM ANCHORAGE, AK: It was interesting to see Earl Morrall on your list of quarterbacks last week. I've always thought he was kind of underrated, as many forget it was Morrall who kept the Dolphins' perfect season on track when Bob Griese went down earlier that season. When did Earl Morrall play for the Steelers, and what was the story behind his departure?
ANSWER: In 1956, Earl Morrall entered the NFL as a No. 1 pick of the San Francisco 49ers, and in four starts as a rookie, he completed 48.7 percent of his passes for 621 yards, with one touchdown, six interceptions, and a rating of 48.1. On Sept. 16, 1957, Morrall and guard Mike Sandusky were acquired by the Steelers in a trade that sent linebacker Marv Matuszak and two No. 1 draft picks to the 49ers. In 14 games with the Steelers spread over a season-and-a-half, Morrall started 13 games and finished with a 6-7 record while completing 46.3 percent of his passes for 2,175 yards, with 12 touchdowns, 19 interceptions, and a rating of 56.0. Even though Coach Buddy Parker had sent a pair of first-round picks to San Francisco to acquire Morrall, he sent Morrall to the Detroit Lions a little over a year later in exchange for Bobby Layne. While it's accurate that Morrall came through for the Dolphins in 1972 by posting a 9-0 record as a starter to preserve what would end up as a 17-0 season in Miami, it's also fair to remember him as the goat of Super Bowl III when he completed 6-of-17 (35.3 percent) for 71 yards, with no touchdowns, three interceptions, and a rating of 9.3 in the Baltimore Colts' 16-7 loss to the New York Jets.

MATT WIBORG FROM WADSWORTH, OH: The Steelers have a rule about when they do contract negotiations. Is that a Rooney regulation? Or Kevin Colbert? Either way, do you see Omar Khan making large changes that might alter previous rules/regulations?
ANSWER: It was the 1993 regular season, and the NFL's system of free agency tied to a salary cap was in its infancy. During that 1993 regular season, the Steelers entered into contract negotiations with some of their players set to become free agents following the season, and some of their other players in a similar situation got jealous and it caused dissension in the locker room. The end result was that a team that had finished 1992 at 11-5 and as the top seed in the AFC Playoffs fell apart down the stretch of the 1993 season. After bludgeoning the defending AFC Champion Bills, 23-0, at Three Rivers Stadium to get to 6-3, the discord in the locker room took hold and the Steelers finished 3-4 over the final seven weeks of the regular season and then were eliminated by Kansas City in the Wild Card Round of the playoffs. On the heels of the on-field disappointment and the accompanying bickering that became a public issue, Dan Rooney decreed that there would be no more contract extensions negotiated during the regular season. So, that edict came from ownership. During the news conference announcing his hiring as general manager, Omar Khan confirmed a continuation of the franchise's collaborative approach when he referred to decisions about contracts and extensions being "Steelers decisions." He also said definitively that the long-standing principles of not negotiating contracts during the season and waiting until the final year of a player's existing contract before working on an extension "will stay in place."

DONNIE BROWN FROM VAN BUREN, ME: The quarterback room is stocked with plenty of variables in advance of training camp. Could it be one of the best quarterback competitions in Steelers history, and when was the last time the job was open to three or four candidates?
ANSWER: Never in my professional career has the Steelers starting quarterback job been at stake in a competition that contained four players. In 1996, it contained three – Mike Tomczak, Jim Miller, and Kordell Stewart – and this is how it unfolded. During training camp and a 2-3 preseason that ended for the Steelers with wins over St. Louis and Tampa Bay at Three Rivers Stadium and losses to San Diego in Tokyo, in Green Bay, and in Philadelphia, Coach Bill Cowher named second-year pro Jim Miller the starter and veteran Mike Tomczak the backup, while second-year pro Kordell Stewart went back to his role of Slash. In the opener against the Jaguars in Jacksonville, Miller finished 5-of-10 for 47 yards, with no touchdowns and no interceptions, but he did miss a wide-open Mark Bruener in the end zone on a third-and-9 from the Jaguars 11-yard line late in the half with the Steelers trailing, 7-3. Then in the first two series of the second half, Miller was sacked to force a punt, and on the second the Steelers again settled for a short red-zone field goal. Cowher pulled Miller at that point in the game and replaced him with Tomczak, and that effectively was the end of Miller's career in Pittsburgh. The Steelers lost that game, too.

NATE GEISLER FROM BOISE, ID: I understand that Hall of Fame quarterback Johnny Unitas was signed by the Steelers as an undrafted free agent in 1955 and never even played in any of the preseason games before being cut. My question is, are there any pictures of him in a Steelers uniform, and/or was he ever assigned a jersey number?
ANSWER: John Unitas was the Steelers' ninth-round pick in the 1955 NFL Draft, and even though he never was given a chance to play in a preseason game by Coach Walt Kiesling, there were photos taken of Unitas in a Steelers uniform during photo day at training camp at St. Bonaventure College. Unitas wore No. 14.

KEN KNECHT FROM PHNOM PENH, CAMBODIA: What were the stats and outcome of the Steelers inaugural NFL game?
ANSWER: The game was played on Sept. 20, 1933, at Forbes Field, and the Pittsburgh Pirates were defeated by the New York Football Giants, 23-2. The coaches were Forrest "Jap" Douds for the Pirates and Steve Owen for the Football Giants. The Pirates' only points came when center John Oehler blocked a punt by Ken Strong out of the end zone for a safety. The Football Giants' points came on a 33-yard interception return for a touchdown by Strong, a 5-yard run by Harry Newman, a 39-yard field goal by Newman, and a 37-yard pass from Newman to Dale Burnett. In that era of the NFL, individual game statistics were not compiled.

PATRICK FLYNN FROM OAKDALE, PA: Any chance the Steelers organizations plans on asking Bishop David Zubik for a dispensation from Mass on Christmas Eve so we can attend the Raiders game in good conscience?
ANSWER: Christmas Eve is not a Holy Day of Obligation. The following are the Holy Days of Obligation in the Catholic Church: Jan. 1, which is The Feast of Mary, the Mother of God; Ascension Thursday, which occurs 40 days after Easter Sunday; Aug. 15, which is the Feast of the Assumption of Mary into heaven; Nov. 1, which is All Saints' Day; Dec. 8, which is The Feast of the Immaculate Conception; and Dec. 25, which is Christmas, the Nativity of Our Lord.

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