Best of Asked and Answered: Friday, August 7

Let's get to it:

DENNIS NEVINSKY FROM ERIE, PA: How would you rank the need to sign the following players: Cam Heyward, Matt Feiler, Mike Hilton, Cam Sutton, Alejandro Villanueva?
ANSWER: First, allow me to clarify that I'm only answering your question and therefore using the list you presented. OK, starting with most important, it would be: Cam Heyward, Matt Feiler, Alejandro Villanueva, Mike Hilton, and Cam Sutton. Listing Heyward No. 1 is a no-brainer to me, and I offer this single fact as my argument: In all of Steelers history, there have been only two interior defensive linemen to be voted first-team Associated Press All-Pro more than once – Joe Greene and Heyward – and Heyward's recognition has come in two of the previous three seasons so it's clear his skills are not eroding. Feiler is No. 2 because he is a legitimate NFL starter at both guard and tackle. Villanueva is No. 3, because even though he's the team's starting left tackle, he'll be 32 years old in September. Hilton is No. 4 as the starting nickel cornerback; and Sutton is No. 5 because right now his career still is more about potential than production. Sutton could move up based on how 2020 unfolds, but right now he is at No. 5.

JESPER JACOBSEN FROM RINGSTED, DENMARK: Do you think teams will/should keep a punter/placekicker on their practice squad this year?
ANSWER: That might not be a bad idea, especially since practice squads are being expanded to 16 players for the 2020 season. Losing a placekicker or a punter to a positive test for coronavirus could create a significant problem and result in a loss or two.

JOE CARUSONE FROM CAVE CREEK, AZ: Will players show up daily or are they physically staying at Heinz Field?
ANSWER: Players are not sleeping at Heinz Field. They are provided three meals a day there, but sleeping arrangements are not provided on site.

JAMES COWAN FROM ATLANTA, GA: Will players who opt out of the 2020 NFL regular season have their salaries still count toward their team's salary cap?
ANSWER: This is a complicated issue, and I'm going to try to simplify it as much as possible. If a player voluntarily opts-out, he will receive a $150,000 advance against his 2020 base salary, and his contract will toll. As for the impact on the salary cap, any roster bonuses paid before the opt-out would count on his team's 2020 cap, but the $150,000 advance would not.

ZEKE ZUCCO FROM GARDEN GROVE, CA: Can any player who opts-out because of COVID-19, opt back in at any point during the season?
ANSWER: No. Once a player opts-out, he's out until 2021.

RICHARD FABER FROM JACKSON, MI: Will the 16 players on the practice squad be protected with contracts, and do their salaries count towards the team cap?
ANSWER: Players on the practice squad count on their team's salary cap, and their contract status allows them to be signed away by a different team and added to that team's active roster. Players on the practice squad are not required to go to another team, but it really wouldn't make any sense for them to decline such an offer.

DILLON GLASS FROM DES MOINES, IA: With the drafting of Anthony McFarland and the signing of Wendell Smallwood, do you see any threat to Jaylen Samuels' job? Also do you think Diontae Johnson could emerge as a bonafide No. 1 receiver in this league?
ANSWER: This is the NFL, and players' jobs are going to be threatened by competition from younger, cheaper, and possibly better players every year. No disrespect to Samuels, but the only running back whose job could be described as secure is James Conner, and even he is in a situation where if he doesn't produce he could lose playing time to someone who is. As for Diontae Johnson, my opinion is that he has the skill-set to become a quality NFL starter and possibly a Pro Bowl-caliber receiver, and whether that makes him a "bonafide No. 1" is up to the plethora of talking heads whose opinions really don't matter all that much. What I was told about Johnson last year – by someone whose opinion certainly does matter – is that he is sufficiently talented to be able to line up on the weak side of the offensive formation and consistently win the one-on-one matchup with the cornerback typically assigned to cover him. As it was described to me, that ability was one that Antonio Brown possessed and it helped allow him to become the kind of player he would become. I'm not implying that Johnson will be putting up similar statistics, but I'm only making the point that he has the skill-set to become special.

TONY ADAIR FROM ROCK HILL, SC: My question is about Jack Lambert, in my view one of the best players ever. I really regret that the NFL Ticket was not around then. Whatever happened to Lambert after his Steelers career? I never see him interviewed, or in the press box during any of these recent games.
ANSWER: Jack Lambert is a family man. He is a private man. He gave everything he had to Steelers fans during his career, and he's entitled to live his post-football life as he sees fit.

RAYMOND CHASON FROM CONNEAUTVILLE, PA: Who was our coach in the era after Chuck Noll and before Bill Cowher?
ANSWER: Chuck Noll retired from the Steelers and the NFL on Dec. 26, 1991, and Bill Cowher was hired by Dan Rooney on Jan. 22, 1992. There was nobody in between them.

DAVID HORCHAK FROM CHERRY TREE, PA: I keep reading stories about Steelers players loving Coach Mike Tomlin because he's real with them and tells them how it is. Do you think more fans would like him if he treated us the same way?
ANSWER: Please don't take this as being disrespectful, because that is not my intent, but there may be some parts of this answer you or some other fans might not like. It's a coach's job to be real with his players and speak the raw truth to them, because that's conducive to winning and team success. Telling the unvarnished truth to fans is not conducive to winning and team success, and no successful coaches have taken that approach with fans. You mention Mike Tomlin, and I'll add Chuck Noll, Bill Belichick, and Bill Cowher who handled disseminating information to the public in a similar way. A coach being honest with his players, in terms of accountability and calling out mistakes and demanding an appropriate level of professionalism help the team improve and quite possibly lead to more wins. But a coach being honest with the public when it comes to who wasn't accountable, who was responsible for mistakes, who didn't live up to the required level of professionalism might satisfy fans' curiosity and allow them to direct their ire at specific individuals, but it does nothing to further the only cause that matters in professional sports, which is winning.