Let's get to it:
MARK ROBERTS FROM PITTSBURGH, PA: What are all the options that the Steelers have in the Le'Veon Bell matter, and would they entertain the idea of franchising him again next year even though they would have to pay him probably $19 million?
ANSWER: You asked for all of the options, and I'll do my best to list them for you, as long as everyone understands that I'm listing options according to the rules of the Collective Bargaining Agreement and not predicting what the team will/should do:
- If the Steelers rescind the franchise tag on Le'Veon Bell, he would become a free agent who is able to sign with any other team, and that team then would be permitted to negotiate a long-term deal with him.
- Bell cannot be traded until he signs the franchise tender, but when he does sign it, the Steelers could trade him to another team, but that team would have to pay him the franchise tag number of $14.5 million for the 2018 season – or the prorated version of that number – and that team could not negotiate a long-term deal with him because that deadline passed on July 16. In this scenario, Bell could become an unrestricted free agent again next March.
- Once Bell signs the franchise tender, the Steelers can request up to a two-week roster exemption from the league office for him. If granted, it would then be the team's option whether to pay his salary for the one or two games of the roster exemption.
- As for next year, if the Steelers would opt to place the franchise tag on Bell for a third straight season, his salary would become the average of the five highest salaries in the NFL, regardless of position.
JASON ADAMS FROM MT. LEBANON, PA: Would the Steelers entertain any thought or offers to trade Le'Veon Bell after he signs his tender, especially if James Conner comes out of the gate with two or three good games? It seems like it would be a shame to lose Bell for nothing after the season.
ANSWER: As explained in the previous answer, a team looking to acquire Le'Veon Bell in a trade after he signs his franchise tender would have to pay him $14.5 million – or whatever prorated amount it might be based on how many games into the 2018 season the deal was made – and could not sign him to a long-term extension until after the season ended. Under those parameters, what team would make a trade for what essentially would be a one-year rental, and what could the Steelers expect to get in return? One other thing to consider: If Bell indeed leaves the Steelers as an unrestricted free agent, his departure would weigh into the equation the NFL uses to determine compensatory draft picks.
TOM DIPASE FROM PITTSBURGH, PA: What are the salary cap implications for the Steelers if Le'Veon Bell is a no-show?
ANSWER: In the scenario you describe, for every game for which Le'Veon Bell is a "no-show," the Steelers would have the equivalent of one of his game checks – approximately $855,000 – added to their available total under the salary cap.
JOHN CARLSON FROM WEST MIDDLESEX, PA: Can you explain what the roster exemption is? Does a player get paid if he is on the exempt list?
ANSWER: As explained above, once Le'Veon Bell reports to sign the franchise tender, the Steelers can request a two-week roster exemption from the league office, and if granted, then it becomes the team's choice whether to pay the player for the week(s) of the exemption.
NATE GEISLER FROM SLIPPERY ROCK, PA: The Le'Veon Bell holdout reminded me a little about Rod Woodson's holdout in 1987, which was his rookie season. Do you know if that was about money, because I heard at the time Woodson was training for the 1988 Summer Olympics? And has that been the longest holdout in Steelers history?
ANSWER: Rod Woodson was the Steelers' No. 1 pick in the 1987 NFL Draft, and he didn't sign his rookie contract until Oct. 28 of that year, which means he didn't sign until the Steelers already had played seven regular season games. But the longest holdout I can remember was Mike Merriweather's, and he missed the entire 1988 season. And I don't care what anyone says – holdouts are always about money.
JIM CARNES FROM ATWOOD LAKE, OH: Do you believe that Mason Rudolph is really the No. 2 quarterback at this point? James Washington certainly isn't the No. 5 receiver as listed.
ANSWER: Joshua Dobbs is the backup quarterback, and James Washington is listed behind starter JuJu Smith-Schuster at one of the wide receiver spots on the Steelers' most recent depth chart. I don't know how you would come to the conclusion that makes him the No. 5 receiver, but it's not correct.
JORGE FLORES FROM GUADALAJARA, JALISCO, MEXICO: Jon Bostic or Tyler Matakevich as the starter at inside linebacker alongside Vince Williams?
ANSWER: Jon Bostic.
RICK PADILLA FROM SAN ANTONIO, TX: I have been seeing some reports that the Steelers restructured Cam Heyward's contract to create some salary cap room for this year. Why would you do this? Roster is pretty much set, you have some funds to possibly cover movements from the practice squad to the roster. Next year, the Steelers will need to sign or negotiate new contracts for Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, along with Jesse James, Joe Haden, Ramon Foster and I'm pretty sure Marcus Gilbert will want a new contract, too. Why would you sacrifice future cap money for nothing, unless you are going to extend some of the above mentioned players?
ANSWER: You say the Steelers have enough cap room in reserve for moves that might have to be made this year, but I don't know that they agree with you. As for next year, Ben Roethlisberger, Joe Haden, and Marcus Gilbert all are signed through the 2019 season, and Antonio Brown is signed through the 2021 season, and so it's possible the team could be interested in doing something with Roethlisberger, Harden, and/or Gilbert. One other thing to remember: extra cap room can be carried over to the following season, and so if the team doesn't need to use whatever cap room is created by this bit of bookkeeping it won't be "sacrificed," to use your word.
DENISE LACICH FROM TAMPA, FL: Could you please share with everyone anything you know about Josh Dobbs' performance as a student at the University of Tennessee? I understand that he is highly accomplished in the classroom, and I'm very impressed with an athlete who excels both on the field and in the classroom.
ANSWER: Joshua Dobbs majored in aerospace engineering during his time at the University of Tennessee, and the university presented him with the 2017 Torchbearer Award, which is the highest honor for an undergraduate student and one that recognizes accomplishments in the community and academics. Dobbs had a 4.0 GPA and was named to the Southeastern Conference Academic Honor Roll. He graduated with a degree in aerospace engineering, and during one spring semester his course load included classes in thermodynamics, circuit components, and matrix computations.