Let's get to it:
STEVE KEISTER FROM KINNELON, NJ: What are some examples of Steelers who have turned down bigger money elsewhere to stay in Pittsburgh?
ANSWER: There could be situations where specifics of a negotiation aren't known, and so I don't believe there's such a thing as a complete list of players who have accepted less money to remain with the Steelers. There is one example of a player taking less that I am comfortable with mentioning and that is Jerome Bettis. The system of free agency tied to a salary cap went into effect in 1993, and the Steelers acquired Bettis via trade in 1996. Bettis could have gotten more when he was an unrestricted free agent following the 1996 season, but he accepted the Steelers offer because he felt comfortable with the organization and how he was being treated in Pittsburgh. My memory of that situation is Jerome's mom, Gladys, was influential in him staying with the Steelers because of the mutual respect between player and the franchise, in light of how her son was treated by the Rams and Coach Rich Brooks. Later in his career, Bettis took salary cuts on his existing contract to stay with the Steelers. And then just last offseason, there were the examples of Ben Roethlisberger accepting a salary cut, and there were reports that JuJu Smith-Schuster could have signed with the Ravens for more money than he ended up accepting from the Steelers on a one-year contract.
PAUL THOMAS FROM PENN HILLS, PA: Could you please explain the new Wild Card playoff scenario? Is it possible for all four teams in a division to make the playoffs with one as the division winner and the other three as Wild Cards?
ANSWER: There really is no difference between the old playoff format and the "new" playoff format, with the exception of the addition of one team per conference. The way the playoff teams are identified is the same – in each conference, all of the division winners qualify for the playoffs, and then the three Wild Card teams per conference will be determined by best record, subject to the same tiebreakers that have been in use previously for teams with the same won-loss records. There is no limit on how many teams in a particular division can qualify for the playoffs. Based on that, there would be no rule prohibiting all four teams in the AFC North from making the playoffs, as an example.
ZACH RAVES FROM SCOTTSDALE, AZ: I don't understand why a team wanting to sign a released player has to absorb their previous contract. If the money isn't guaranteed and the player is released for cause wouldn't that void the contract allowing a different team to negotiate a new deal?
ANSWER: When it comes to a team having to assume a player's existing contract vs. when a team can negotiate its own deal with a player has to do with the category through which the team acquires the player. When a player is acquired by a team via a trade or claims a player on waivers, the team must assume the player's existing contract. If a player is released, or if a player is waived and then clears waivers to become a free agent, the player and any interested team are free to negotiate a new deal, as long as it conforms to the conditions of the Collective Bargaining Agreement.
JOE ASHER FROM TAMPA, FL: I'm even hearing the announcers praise our young offensive line now. I know that synchronization is a key element for any offensive line, and that's hard to do if there are injuries. How many games have our current starters been injury-free (not including Zack Banner)?
ANSWER: For each of the team's seven regular season games so far, the Steelers have started the same five offensive linemen. From left: Dan Moore, Jr., Kevin Dotson, Kendrick Green, Trai Turner, and Chuks Okorafor.
RON WILLIAMS FROM ASTORIA, OR: In your opinion is Zach Banner not currently starting on game days because Coach Mike Tomlin doesn't want to affect the way the current offensive line is beginning to come together and operate at a high level?
ANSWER: During his news conference on Tuesday, Coach Mike Tomlin was asked that specific question, and he said cohesion had nothing to do with Zach Banner's status. I believe the development of rookie Dan Moore Jr. is the most significant factor in Banner not being returned to the starting lineup.
GUILLERMO DIAZ FROM CERRO AZUL, VERACRUZ, MEXICO: I saw your explanation of the Melvin Ingram trade. Would you mind elaborating on the case of LeGarrette Blount? Have the Steelers lost playoff opportunities/games due to locker room problems?
ANSWER: Le'Veon Bell was a rookie in 2013, and he missed three games because of injury and averaged 3.5 yards per rush and 8.9 yards on 45 catches. It was an unremarkable start to his NFL career, and the other running backs on the depth chart that season behind Bell were Jonathan Dwyer, Felix Jones, and Isaac Redman. Not surprisingly, the Steelers entered the 2014 offseason figuring they needed to upgrade the depth chart behind Bell. The Steelers settled on LeGarrette Blount, then a 28-year-old, 6-foot, 247-pound running back who was coming off a season in New England where he had rushed for 772 yards, with a 5.0 average and seven touchdowns. It didn't take long into the 2014 training camp for Blount to learn how good Bell actually was. During the 2014 regular season, on the way to being voted first-team All-Pro, Bell rushed for 1,361 yards (4.7 average), caught 83 passes for another 854 yards and scored 11 total touchdowns. But for his part, Blount saw his playing time decrease as Bell was on the way to establishing himself as maybe the top young running back in the NFL. Things came to a head on Monday, Nov. 17, during the fourth quarter of a game against the Titans. Blount walked off the Steelers sideline and into the locker room with a couple of minutes left in what ended up being a 27-24 victory over the Titans, essentially quitting on the team. The Steelers waived him shortly after and went on to win four of their last five to finish 11-5 and win the AFC North, but in the regular season finale vs. the Bengals – a game the Steelers had to win to clinch the division title over the 10-6 Ravens – Vontaze Burfict rolled up Bell's knee along the sideline and knocked him out of the game. The following week, with Bell still dealing with that knee injury, and with Josh Harris and Ben Tate at running back, the Steelers lost to the Ravens in the Wild Card Round, 30-17. Maybe had Blount not quit on the Steelers, he would have proven to be a better option in the playoffs than Harris and Tate.
SAM MIKHAIL FROM BETHESDA, MD: With the Bears game coming up tonight, how often have the Steelers played on Monday night and what is their record? Which player(s) had the most memorable performance?
ANSWER: The Steelers are 49-25 (.662) on Monday Night Football, including a record of 27-6 (.818) in Pittsburgh. This will be the first time the Steelers have faced the Bears on Monday night. The most spectacular performance by a Steelers player I ever saw on a Monday night was turned in by James Harrison against the Ravens at Heinz Field in 2007. In that 38-7 victory, Harrison finished with nine tackles, 3.5 sacks, six hits on the quarterback, an interception, two forced fumbles, and one fumble recovery. And on special teams, Harrison forced another fumble that Lawrence Timmons recovered. The Steelers scored a touchdown after each of the four takeaways Harrison forced.
DAVE KITLAK FROM UHRICHSVILLE, OH: I know you are not a fan of instant replay, and neither am I in most situations. The fact is it's not going away. My main issue with it is how long it can take for them to review a play from all angles, slow it down, look at it again. In my opinion, if it takes more than two minutes to review, then there is not enough evidence to overturn a call and it should stand. Would you be in favor of, or has a rule been proposed, to implement a time limit on video review?
ANSWER: Once upon a time, there was supposed to be a time limit attached to instant replay reviews, but that rule/guideline never was enforced.
KEITH MILLER FROM WAYNESVILLE, NC: I saw that Chicago signed a former Steelers outside linebacker, Cassius Marsh. Is that a "tell-us-whatever-you-can-to-help-beat-your-previous-team" signing and how often is that done in the league? It'll be interesting to see how long he stays with them.
ANSWER: The old "sign a former Steelers player to the practice squad right before a game and then cut him right after it" was Tom Coughlin's favorite move when he was the Jaguars coach and Jacksonville was in the AFC Central Division.
DAVID BOGNAR FROM GERMANTOWN, WI: If you had to put together an all-time Steelers front four, who would you put next to Joe Greene at tackle? Would it be Ernie Stautner, Casey Hampton, or Cam Heyward?
ANSWER: I never saw Ernie Stautner play, but I do believe his accomplishments – Hall of Fame inductee, and the first player in franchise history to have his jersey retired – speak to the excellence of his career, and those qualifications would make him a solid selection as a tackle on the Steelers all-time front four. Maybe it's just my personal preference, but I have a lot of respect for the way Cam Heyward plays and what he brings to the team as a leader and in terms of his playing demeanor. In addition to my personal preference, there is one significant historical fact in Heyward's favor: In the history of the Steelers franchise, only two interior defensive linemen have been voted first-team All-Pro more than once: Joe Greene and Cam Heyward. So, I would go with Heyward next to Joe Greene because I don't believe there would be too many offensive lines willing to get down and dirty, if necessary, with those two.
SAMUEL BAYNES FROM VANCOUVER, WA: For which team is our former first-round pick Artie Burns playing?
ANSWER: Artie Burns is on the Bears 53-man roster, and he only has played on special teams so far this season.
JASON GODFREY FROM ENOREE, SC: Najee Harris wins Offensive Rookie of the Month. Are there bonuses for these types of recognition? Like the Steelers Digest Player of the Week and so on?
ANSWER: There are no financial considerations attached to winning the Offensive Rookie of the Month Award, as an example. I once considered having the Steelers Digest Player of the Week awarded with a guest slot of doing Asked and Answered, but the NFLPA stepped in and threatened me with an unfair labor practice charge in violation of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).
BRIAN HENDERSON FROM MURRELLS INLET, SC: Is Joshua Dobbs still on injured reserve with a toe injury, or is he out for the 2021 season?
ANSWER: Actually, it's both. Joshua Dobbs is on the Steelers injured reserve list, but because he was placed on the list without ever being a part of the 53-man roster, he is not eligible to come off IR at any point during the 2021 season.