Let’s get to it:
CHUCK CARTER FROM MESA, AZ: Is there a factor making it difficult to release Donte Moncrief? Seems to me that the Steelers need a much more productive wide receiver.
ANSWER: This offseason the Steelers signed Donte Moncrief to a two-year, $9 million contract that included a $3.5 million signing bonus. With Antonio Brown being traded to Oakland, that contract makes Moncrief the highest paid receiver on the Steelers roster. I make that point only to illustrate that the Steelers brought him to Pittsburgh because they thought he would be a contributing veteran at a position currently manned by a bunch of young guys. Moncrief injured a finger after training camp began at Saint Vincent College and missed a fairly significant amount of time, and because it was his first season with the team it put him behind in learning and adapting to the offense and his teammates, including Ben Roethlisberger. Moncrief did not have a good game against the Patriots, but if everyone who played poorly in that game was released the Steelers might not have enough bodies to fill out an 11-man offense and an 11-man defense. Moncrief is not getting released one week into the regular season.
JP BERG FROM GARWOOD, NJ: That game against the Patriots was horrible. I know Ben Roethlisberger usually takes a couple of games to get in rhythm with the wide receivers, but the defense looked lost. Please tell us things are going to get better.
ANSWER: That’s the hope, but there wasn’t much evidence to support the hope that things are going to get better. The Patriots ran 67 offensive plays, including 37 called passes, and the Steelers defense finished with one sack, one pass defensed, and no takeaways. The offense had five possessions in the first half – not counting a one-play possession at the end of the half – and those five ended this way: punt, punt, punt, punt, turnover on downs. The longest gain by a Steelers running back was 5 yards. Donte Moncrief, signed during free agency to be a starter, was targeted 10 times and caught three passes for 7 yards. Vance McDonald was held without a catch until late in the fourth quarter. It was a complete and decisive defeat. Yes, it was only one game, and it was played at a difficult venue under tough circumstances, but that doesn’t excuse the performance.
JOE WERNER FROM WEST HENRIETTA, NY: After Antonio Brown was signed by New England, it was reported that he was not eligible to be on their roster until Monday. Could you please explain the specifics of that rule? Does it prevent a hypothetical scenario where a guy plays in a Thursday night game, gets released on Friday, signs with a new team, and then plays for that team on Sunday or Monday of the same week?
ANSWER: Antonio Brown was released by Oakland on Saturday, and he could not sign with another team until the next business day, which in the NFL during the regular season is Monday. Sundays during the regular season are not considered a business day for transactions in the NFL, which is why the Steelers’ decision to waive Tuzar Skipper last Saturday meant his 24-hour waiver period wouldn’t expire until 4 p.m. on Monday. Now, in today’s media world, it was reported on Saturday that Brown signed with the Patriots, but in reality he had simply agreed to the contract and couldn’t sign it until Monday. And finally, it is possible for a player to play in a Thursday night game, get released by his team on Friday, sign with another team on Saturday, and then play for his new team on Sunday.
SEAN EVANS FROM DALE CITY, VA: Please explain how Antonio Brown did not have to go through the waiver process and could sign with any team he wanted, which happened to be the New England Patriots.
ANSWER: At this time of the NFL calendar, the only players who must go through waivers are those with fewer than four accrued seasons in the league. Antonio Brown was drafted in 2010, which means he began the 2019 season as a nine-year veteran, and as such is free to sign with any team of his choosing if the team to which he is under contract voids that contract. When the Raiders released Brown, he was free to sign with any team that would have him. As annother example, if JuJu Smith-Schuster were the player in Brown’s shoes, he would have had to go through waivers, because 2019 is just his third season in the NFL. That’s why some transactions are labeled as a player being waived, and other transactions are labeled as a player being released. It all has to do with years of service.
JASON VANGILDER FROM BERLIN, OH: After the game vs. the Patriots got out of hand, why not let Mason Rudolph, who was a quarterback who actually played some meaningful snaps during the preseason have a chance because it couldn't have looked any worse.
ANSWER: For Ben Roethlisberger to get in sync with his receivers, he needs game reps with his receivers. That was an opportunity to allow that to happen.
SEAN DELANEY FROM UPTON, MA: Another road game in New England, another embarrassing performance. Coach Mike Tomlin admitted the team wasn't ready for primetime, but why does this keep happening? The Steelers stand toe-to-toe against the Patriots at home, but every game in Foxborough is over at halftime. Any explanation why the team is unrecognizable when they play at New England?
ANSWER: During his NFL career, Tom Brady is now 136-21 as a starting quarterback in Gillette Stadium, which works out to a winning percentage of .866. The guy is a really, really good player, and he makes a lot of opponents look foolish. That doesn’t excuse the Steelers’ performance on Sunday night, but it’s not as if Brady is some ham-and-egger, to use a Rocky Balboa term.
JEFF DAVENJAY FROM PURCELLVILLE, VA: The season opener was a bust and was one of the ugliest loses in recent years. The Steelers could not stop the run or pass and could not run or pass on offense. How can a team be this unprepared for an opening game?
ANSWER: I do not disagree with any of the points you made, but I also want to explain that this is not the first time this has happened to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Super Bowl era. Fans often choose to criticize Coach Mike Tomlin by invoking the accomplishments of Chuck Noll and Bill Cowher, but both of those men were in charge of teams that looked every bit as awful as the current team did on Sunday night. In 1986, Noll took a team to Seattle for the opener and lost, 30-0, and then three seasons later, in 1989, his team lost at home to Cleveland, 51-0, in the opener. In the four-season span from 1994-97, Cowher’s teams lost openers at home to Dallas twice, by a 26-9 margin in 1994 and by 37-7 in 1997. And if that 26-9 loss to the Cowboys doesn’t seem so bad, in that game Dallas’ defense had nine sacks to none for the Steelers, and its offense finished with 442 yards of net offense to 126 for the Steelers.