Asked and Answered

Asked and Answered: Oct. 14

Let's get to it:

WILLIAM WALKER FROM CHARLOTTE, NC: I read that Mark Gilbert was "poached" off the Steelers practice squad. How can another team sign a player off another team's practice squad?
ANSWER: It's a very straightforward transaction. The interested team contacts the practice squad player's agent, they work something out contractually, and the player then is free to sign with the other team with the only contingency being that the player must be added to his new team's 53-man roster. And it usually happens so easily because of the difference in weekly salary between the practice squad and the active roster ($14,000 per week for the practice squad compared to $36,704 per week on the active roster), and because the player only earns time toward free agency when he is on an active roster. Those salary figures can vary a bit based on the player's experience, but that should give you a general idea of the incentive for the player to make that move. A practice squad player is not required to accept an overture from another team, as is the case when being claimed on waivers. Oh, and based on the way the system works, I would suggest that "lured" would be a more accurate verb than "poached" for what happened with Gilbert.

JOHN PUHALA FROM SPRINGFIELD, VA: With Najee Harris getting his first 100-yard game rushing, you can see why he was a No. 1 pick, and props to the offensive line that was much more effective in that area vs. Denver. The big problem to me, is that Benny Snell and Kalen Ballage don't look like reliable backups. Do you think that Anthony McFarland Jr. would be that better change of pace back to give Harris a breather?
ANSWER: That certainly was the plan all through training camp, but then Anthony McFarland was injured and ended up on injured reserve, which has caused him to miss the first five games of the regular season. I expect Anthony McFarland to be added to the 53-man roster in time for the game against Seattle, but even if the move happens that's not a guarantee he'll be active and be entrusted with being Najee Harris' complement against the Seahawks.

KEITH CLARK FROM BROOKLYN, NY: For the eight games played at 1 p.m. for Week 5, there were four AFC road teams, and four NFC road teams. Normally CBS would broadcast the games containing the AFC road teams, and FOX would televise the games containing NFC road teams. But last Sunday, the Broncos-Steelers game was broadcasted by FOX, and the Saints-Washington game was broadcast by CBS. Was there a broadcast issue in regard to CBS in the Denver/Pittsburgh area, and with FOX in the New Orleans/Washington area?
ANSWER: This began with the previous contract the NFL negotiated with its broadcast partners, and it will remain in effect through the recently negotiated contract the NFL has with its broadcast partners. There will be instances when games not only are flexed with respect to kickoff time, but they also can be flexed in terms of which network will handle the broadcast. That's why Broncos-Steelers was on FOX and New Orleans-Washington was on CBS.

MIKE DAVITCH FROM JOHNSTOWN, PA: I know business is business in the NFL and in life as a whole, but how do you see Ju-Ju Smith-Schuster's future as a member of the Steelers playing out? Assuming he has successful shoulder surgery, and assuming he wants to stay in Pittsburgh, I truly believe the Steelers will make him a reasonable and fair offer next season. Am I crazy for thinking this way?
ANSWER: What's crazy is you're looking for an answer to a scenario that includes way too many assumptions at this point. Since you seem to like/want to assume, I'm going to assume JuJu Smith-Schuster is going to want to test free agency, which means rug-cutting time could be as much as five months from now. My advice to you would be two-fold: First, don't believe and/or react to anything you see/read on social media, and then wait until after the Super Bowl before revisiting this issue. Everything between now and then is a guess, and your guess is as good as anyone else's. Including mine.

RON WILLIAMS FROM ASTORIA, OR: In your opinion do you see the progress that the offense made against Denver last Sunday continue on the same course, or do you think that offensive coordinator Matt Canada will change it up and add more wrinkles to the offense so as to not become predictable?
ANSWER: My personal opinion is that I wouldn't be adding or "wrinkling" until I had allowed the young offensive linemen a little bit more time to build the muscle memory with respect to some of the things that have started to work consistently.

CHARLES GOLLMAR FROM KENNESAW, GA: I'm reading lots of comments on fan sites about how JuJu Smith-Schuster hasn't really made that big of an impact in 2021, so his loss for the season shouldn't hurt the team too badly. In part, I agree that the team should be fine at wide receiver given the depth of talent there, but one of the aspects of JuJu's game that people don't seem to be talking about is his blocking ability and the impact that will have on our burgeoning run game. Of the other receivers who will step in to pick up the slack, is there one who stands out to you as having the most potential in that area?
ANSWER: I'll take a stab at answering this. I believe James Washington brings a physical presence as a wide receiver, as does Chase Claypool. Whether that means they're the players most likely to be called upon to handle JuJu Smith-Schuster's blocking assignments, or even if they're the ones most capable to handle those assignments will be determined over time, but what I do understand is the importance of the wide receivers' blocking when it comes to a team having a consistently effective running game in the NFL.

JASON PRASTER FROM SAN ANTONIO, TX: I know you've posted the mailing address a million times, but can you please do it one more time? JuJu Smith-Schuster is my son's favorite player, and he wants to send him a get-well card.
ANSWER: The mailing address is: UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, 3400 S. Water Street, Pittsburgh, PA, 15203.

CHRISTOPHER GIBSON FROM MANALAPAN, NJ: Tight end Zach Gentry got some kudos for his blocking during the Denver game. Do the tight ends work on blocking skills with the offensive line and the offensive line coach, or do they work on that with the wide receivers and the wide receivers coach?
ANSWER: This submission puzzles me. Tight ends are not offensive linemen, and they are not wide receivers. In the NFL, tight end is a unique position with its own set of demands and a unique skill-set required to excel there. Tight ends have their own position coach, and in Pittsburgh his name is Alfredo Roberts. Whatever progress Zach Gentry has made as a blocker over the past year has happened under Roberts' tutelage.

KURT CARMEL FROM BALTIMORE, MD: When is Travis Fulgham replacing JuJu Smith-Schuster? When is Sam Darnold signing? Does that mean we get Aaron Rodgers and Cam Newton, too? Can't we just sign J.J. Watt and put him on the practice squad for $50? How do we reserve the right to draft Arch Manning today? Should we jump on the sword now, since we are 1-2, 1-3? When do we jump on the sword? Where is the sword? Can we sign the sword to the practice squad? Holy cannoli… It is a wonder your head doesn't pop off. Keep 'em coming, and thanks for what you do.
ANSWER: There you go mentioning Sam Darnold and Aaron Rodgers and Cam Newton, and now Deshaun Watson is going to feel left out. And if J.J. Watt goes on the practice squad for $50, will there be any money left for Geno Atkins?

BOB KERSHEY FROM CLEVELAND, OH: Cam Newton, a good fit for the Steelers. Why no interest?
ANSWER: Because adding Cam Newton would violate the NFL rule for having too many players on the roster with the first name of "Cam." The Steelers already have Cam Heyward and Cam Sutton, and so adding Newton would violate the "too many players named Cam" rule.