Let’s get to it:
NICK ARDIZZONE FROM ALTOONA, PA: After a bye week, have the Steelers won or lost more games?
ANSWER: The NFL reinstituted the concept of the bye week in 1990, and in 1993 there were two bye weeks. In the games immediately following a bye, the Steelers are 17-12 (.586). By coach, it breaks down this way: Chuck Noll was 1-1 (.500); Bill Cowher was 9-7 (.563); and Mike Tomlin is 7-4 (.636).
BRAD SOMMER FROM PITTSBURGH, PA: At a local watering hole, a debate came up among us regulars about all-time great Steelers. The question was: Who is the "greatest" Steelers player whom the team did not draft? The general opinion was Jerome Bettis, but after that the conversation was more contested. I made an argument for James Farrior. You know this team and this franchise as well as anyone; who would your pick be?
ANSWER: There are different categories of players who were not drafted – players acquired via trade, players who join the team as undrafted rookies, players who were cut by another team and then sign with the Steelers, and players who are signed as unrestricted free agents. In the players acquired via trade, I would go with Jerome Bettis and Bobby Layne, both in the Hall of Fame, with Bettis spending more of his career in Pittsburgh than Layne. The list of undrafted rookies has to include Donnie Shell, James Harrison, and Willie Parker. Examples of players signed after being cut by another team are Gary Anderson and Al Villanueva. And in the category of unrestricted free agents signings, there is James Farrior, Kevin Greene, and Jeff Hartings. Since I’m not sure how you’re categorizing the debate, I’ll go with Bettis via trade, Harrison as the undrafted rookie, Anderson as the guy cut by a previous team; and Farrior as the top UFA signing.
BRYAN WINKLER FROM MIDDLETOWN, PA: If a team opts to go for either a PAT or a 2-point conversion, and there is a penalty on the resulting play that causes it to be tried again, can they switch from one to the other?
STEVEN DONER FROM EAST PALO-ALTO, CA: In my opinion, Jack Lambert was the greatest linebacker ever. A friend of mine says Lawrence Taylor was the greatest linebacker ever. What do you think?
ANSWER: Since we’re dealing in opinion, mine is that Jack Ham was the greatest linebacker in Steelers history. Ham finished his career with 53 takeaways (32 interceptions and 21 fumble recoveries) to Lambert’s 45 takeaways (28 interceptions and 17 fumble recoveries). Each player was voted first-team All-Pro six times. One thing I see in Ham’s favor is that in 2013, the Pro Football Hall of Fame selected its 50th Anniversary All-Time Team, and the outside linebackers were Ham and Lawrence Taylor, and the middle linebacker was Dick Butkus. The following was written in support of Ham’s selection: “Smart, instinctive, great football IQ. Ham was a sure tackler who could diagnose plays very quickly, and he was also able to handle the quickest of backs in coverage. The 1970s was the decade when running backs really started to get involved in the passing game, eventually giving rise to the third-down back. Ham could handle them all. It is said that, from zero to 10 yards, Ham was faster than any other Steeler. There were those within the organization who felt that he was the club's best player. Ham certainly belonged in that conversation with "Mean" Joe Greene, as he also played an integral role on the four Super Bowl-winning teams of the 1970s. Ham's 53 career takeaways remain the highest figure ever by a non-defensive back.” With that point made, I would rate Taylor over Ham, which automatically puts him above Lambert.
ERIK THOMPSON FROM EDMONTON, ALBERTA, CANADA: I've heard a lot of players are offered incentives. Do those count against the salary cap? If not, what is to stop a team from giving achievable incentives to allow over-paying under the table?
ANSWER: Incentives indeed count against the salary cap, and in some instances incentives can count against a team’s salary cap before they’ve even been earned. Here’s how: Let’s pretend that Antonio Brown signs a new contract tomorrow, and one of the clauses calls for a $250,000 incentive for being voted first-team All-Pro. Since Brown already has been voted first-team All-Pro, this $250,000 bonus is classified as “likely to be earned,” and so it automatically counts against the salary cap even before voting for the All-Pro team happens. If Brown doesn’t make first-team All-Pro, the $250,000 would come off the cap, but until he didn’t make it, the whole $250,000 would count on the cap.
MIKE CLAPPER FROM BEDFORD, PA: If Le’Veon Bell does sign the franchise tender and the Steelers wanted to trade him, is that decision Mike Tomlin's or do Art Rooney II and Kevin Colbert have to agree as well? Can one person's decision be overridden by another?
ANSWER: This kind of a decision certainly would not be made unilaterally, but it is important to remember that Art Rooney II is the Steelers President, and as such he can be the final word on any decision the franchise makes.
RICHARD YOUNGBLOOD FROM PITTSBURGH, PA: Can a player from college who won the Heisman Trophy not enter the draft, but instead try out/walk on to a team?
ANSWER: No. College players, even Heisman Trophy winners, are subjected to the same system of entering the NFL as everyone else.
MICHAEL ZAPPA FROM GREELEY, CO: Since the Steelers were off on Sunday, which game did you enjoy watching more: the Bengals getting hammered by the Chiefs, or the Ravens losing to the Saints in a heartbreaker?
ANSWER: New Orleans vs. Baltimore was a better game to watch, because it was closely contested throughout, and the ending was delicious.
MICHAEL JAKUBOWSKI FROM BURLINGTON, ONTARIO, CANADA: This may be a stupid question, because I don't really know much about football, but has a team ever used a running back as a punter? I would think that it would really confuse a defense if someone like Le'Veon Bell dropped back to punt. Dallas used to use quarterback Danny White as its punter, which automatically made it a threat of a pass.
ANSWER: I don’t believe teams pick a punter based on the possibility of executing a fake, because those happen rarely. In fact, a team could go years without even attempting a fake punt, regardless of the position the guy might play when he’s not punting. Back in the olden days, NFL teams didn’t carry specialists to do the punting, placekicking, or long-snapping for that matter, and the primary reason was because the size of the rosters didn’t allow for that. In the mid-to-late 1960s, for example, Green Bay’s punter was running back Donny Anderson, and when he entered the NFL in 1966, the roster limit was 40 players per team. Earlier in that decade, the Packers’ placekicker was halfback Paul Hornung, and long-snappers at the time typically were one of the team’s offensive linemen.