Let's get to it:
SCOTT DAVES FROM BESSEMER CITY, NC: How much will T.J. Watt's salary cost us in 2023 when it comes to the salary cap? How does it compare to other top players on other teams?
ANSWER: T.J. Watt is due to count $29.37 million against the Steelers 2023 salary cap, but I can almost guarantee you that will be restructured this offseason in a way where Watt loses no money, and the team gets some cap relief. According to Spotrac.com, Watt's cap hit of $29.37 million is No. 19 among all players for the 2023 season. Here are the players, and their cap hits, ranked above him. Cleveland's Deshaun Watson $54.99 million; Dak Prescott $49.1 million; Patrick Mahomes $46.8 million; Josh Allen $39.77 million; Ryan Tannehill $36.6 million; Kirk Cousins $36.3 million; Jake Matthews $35.4 million; Laremy Tunsil $35.2 million; Matt Ryan $35.2 million; Tom Brady $35.1 million; Derek Carr $34.9 million; Leonard Williams $32.3 million; Aaron Rodgers $31.6 million; Tyreek Hill $31.5 million; Frank Clark $31.1 million; Joey Bosa $31 million; DeAndre Hopkins $30.8 million; and Jared Goff $30.7 million.
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LARRY LAFFERTY FROM ATHENS, OH: Never a big player in free agency, the Steelers nonetheless have made some important/significant signings since the advent of modern free agency in 1993. Do you mind sharing your personal favorites?
ANSWER: Here is my top half-dozen:
The best UFA signing in franchise history, and it never even happens if Earl Holmes' agent hadn't said "no" one too many times. Farrior entered the league as the New York Jets' No. 1 pick (eighth overall) in 1997, and it was Coach Bill Parcells who made the choice and then installed him as an outside linebacker. But during his five seasons with the Jets, Farrior played for three different head coaches, and by the time 2001 ended he was something of an afterthought in New York. Meanwhile, the Steelers were in negotiations with Holmes, their first pick in the fourth round of the 1996 draft who had grown into a run-stuffing starting inside linebacker.
As the 2002 offseason progressed, Steelers President Dan Rooney went as far with Holmes as he was going to go on a new contract, and when the answer from the agent still was "no," Rooney instructed Kevin Colbert and Bill Cowher to move on to another player. That player turned out to be James Farrior. During his 10 seasons with the Steelers, Farrior was voted first-team All-Pro in 2004 as well as to the Pro Bowl in 2004 and 2008. He finished with 8 interceptions, 53 passes defensed, 12 forced fumbles, 13 fumble recoveries, and 30 sacks. In 2010, Coach Mike Tomlin said, "Our unquestioned leader is James Farrior. If you polled anybody, player or coach, equipment man or receptionist, they realize he sets the tone for this outfit."
Mike Webster's Hall of Fame career had ended after the 1988 season, and he had been replaced capably by another future Canton inductee by the name of Dermontti Dawson. But by the middle of the 2000 season, it became apparent that Dawson's body wasn't going to allow him to play anymore, and so the search was on to find a successor.
Jeff Hartings entered the NFL as a first-round draft pick of a Detroit Lions team that employed Kevin Colbert in its player personnel department at the time, and even though he was an unrestricted free agent, Hartings was an unrestricted free agent guard. He had not played any center either for the Lions or during his college career at Penn State. But the Steelers believed Hartings was capable of making the difficult transformation, and so they signed him to replace Dawson. Hartings would play six seasons for the Steelers, and during that time he would be voted first-team All-Pro at center, which means for that season he was the best center in the NFL.
The second UFA ever signed by the Steelers, Greene never would have been pursued by the Steelers if the San Diego Chargers hadn't signed Jerrol Williams to an offer sheet the Steelers declined to match. The reason they declined to match was because it was only a one-year contract and for guaranteed money, and at that time Dan Rooney didn't allow one-year contracts. As a starting outside linebacker for the Steelers in 1991 and 1992, Williams had 13.5 sacks over the two seasons. Greene posted 12.5 in 1993 alone, and he finished his three seasons in Pittsburgh with 35.5 sacks.
Talk about under the radar, Ray Seals was under the radar. First of all, he didn't play college football, and then he graduated from playing for the Syracuse Express of the Empire Football League to a spot on the defensive line for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a team that never bettered 6-10 in any of his four seasons there. But it didn't take Seals long to establish himself as a 3-4 rarity - a defensive end who was a dangerous pass rusher. Using a combination of nimble feet and quick hands, Seals posted 15.5 sacks in 1994-95 before tearing a rotator cuff in the 1996 preseason and landing on injured reserve. He would finish his career with the Carolina Panthers.
JOHN L. WILLIAMS
During Bill Cowher's first two seasons as the Steelers coach, the team's offense was heavily dependent on the run. In 1992, Neil O'Donnell and Bubby Brister combined to attempt 429 passes, while halfback Barry Foster had 390 carries himself. In 1993, even though Foster missed almost half the season with an ankle injury, the Steelers ran it 491 times. Looking for a way to diversify without becoming a high-wire act on offense, the Steelers decided on Williams, a fullback known for his receiving skills. Williams averaged 4.7 yards a carry and led the team with 51 catches in 1994. His role as a receiver diminished in 1995 with the emergence of Yancey Thigpen, Andre Hastings, Ernie Mills, and Kordell "Slash" Stewart, and Williams retired after Super Bowl XXX.
A kicker? Really? Yes indeed, because Armageddon had been forecast by the local media in 1995 when the Steelers refused to cater to the contract demands of veteran Gary Anderson, who would sign with the Philadelphia Eagles, and it was Johnson to the rescue. After Anderson led the team with 104 points in 1994, Johnson came on to set franchise records for points (141) and field goals made (34) the very next season. During his four seasons in Pittsburgh, Johnson converted 105-of-127 field goal attempts (.827).
BRIAN DORNSBACH FROM GRIMES, IA: When will the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year be announced?
ANSWER: The 2022 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year presented by Nationwide will be announced during NFL Honors, a prime-time awards special to air nationally on Feb. 9 (the Thursday before Super Bowl LVII) on NBC.
FRANK FOGGIA FROM SAULT STE.MARIE, ONTARIO, CANADA: Is there a max to the size of a team's coaching staff besides budget concerns?
ANSWER: There is no limit to the size of a team's coaching staff, and the salaries of coaches do not count against the salary cap.
TERRY VOWELS FROM EKRON, KY: I think Robin Cole was one of the most underrated linebackers of all the great ones the Steelers have had through the years. Can you tell me what year and in what round he was drafted and his career statistics?
ANSWER: When Andy Russell retired after the 1976 season, Robin Cole was the team's first-round pick in the 1977 NFL Draft, the 21st overall selection, from New Mexico. In 11 seasons with the Steelers, Cole played in 150 games, with 127 starts, and he finished his career with 5 interceptions, 14 fumble recoveries, and 26 sacks. Cole was a starter in Super Bowl XIV against the Los Angeles Rams, and he had a sack in that 30-19 victory.
DEREK LAKE FROM WEBSTER, FL: The Steelers are one of the best well-traveled teams for road games. I attended the preseason game in Jacksonville, and the crowd was 2-to-1 Steelers fans. That being said, why haven't the Steelers done a season of Hard Knocks, or at least had a movie made about them?
ANSWER: I have no doubt the makers of Hard Knocks would love to have the Steelers as the subject for one of their seasons, and while fans might view that as an honor, I can assure you Coach Mike Tomlin would not be interested in allowing cameras access to the inner workings of a training camp. Tomlin is a believer in keeping a lot of the interactions between players and coaches "in-house," and cutting players on camera - as has happened in previous seasons of Hard Knocks - is not something he would do willingly.
ROB WEST FROM HERMITAGE, TN: I saw that Master Teague was signed to a futures contract. I thought he looked promising during the last preseason before being waived/injured. Can you update us on his health and potential contribution to next year's Steelers team?
ANSWER: Since Master Teague signed a futures contract with the Steelers, he had to have passed a physical, which would indicate he is healthy enough to resume normal football activities once the offseason program gets underway in mid-April. As for his potential contribution to the 2023 Steelers, Teague is going to have to earn a spot on the roster, and it shouldn't be assumed that will be an easy task.
SCOTT GRANNAS FROM DUNCANSVILLE, PA: When can teams begin negotiating with their soon to be unrestricted free agent players? Is it any different for teams to begin negotiations with their existing players, as opposed to outside teams contacting pending unrestricted free agents?
ANSWER: It is different. Since the contracts of pending free agents don't expire officially until the start of the new league year, which in 2023 is March 15, and teams can negotiate with their own players at any time, there is no restriction on a team working out a new contract or a contract extension with one of its own players. As an example, the Baltimore Ravens did just that with linebacker Roquan Smith, who agreed to terms on a 5-year, $100 million deal with the team on Jan. 10.
COREY BATES FROM KEUKA LAKE, NY: What are your thoughts on Devin Bush? Do you think the Steelers will retain him?
ANSWER: I think Devin Bush will be looking for a change of scenery once he officially becomes an unrestricted free agent on March 15.
ROGER PACELLA FROM BERLIN, MD: As a soon to be 73-year-old life-long Steelers fan, I was fortunate to attend two AFC Championship Games: against the Raiders in 1975 and against the Oilers in 1979. I remember how Three Rivers Stadium literally shook from the cheers before kickoff. Now the NFL may be considering neutral sites for conference championship games. What are your feelings on that?
ANSWER: I think it's unfair to the fans of the team that earned the right to host a Conference Championship Game, and I also believe it's nothing but a cash-grab by the NFL. During a media session on Jan. 26, Steelers President Art Rooney II was asked if he was in favor of the idea of neutral site Conference Championship Games. He said, "No, I hate the idea. I wouldn't like that at all. My sense is that if you put that up (before NFL ownership) for a vote it wouldn't pass today, but who knows?"
DEREK LAKE FROM WEBSTER, FL: We know the Steelers build through the draft. We also know they had a draft of a lifetime in 1974, but everyone has an off day. What do you think was the Steelers worst draft mistake. Passing on Dan Marino, trading the pick to Dallas that turned out to be Emmitt Smith to move down in the first round, or picking Tim Worley, which maybe led to us not picking Smith? Or is there a bigger mistake that's comes to mind?
ANSWER: It's important to remember that the Steelers entered the NFL in 1933, which means they have participated in every draft in NFL history, since the inaugural draft was staged in 1936. Historically, the Steelers made a lot of mistakes during the draft, really up until Chuck Noll was hired in 1969 and the personnel department was manned by the likes of Bill Nunn and Art Rooney Jr. In 1936, the first-ever Steelers draft pick was a single-wing tailback named Bill Shakespeare from Notre Dame, and he never even wanted to play professional football. From 1937 through 1952, the Steelers passed on the following Hall of Fame players just in the first round: quarterback Sammy Baugh, center Clyde "Bulldog" Turner, end Elroy "Crazy Legs" Hirsch, offensive tackle George Connor, defensive tackle Leo Nomellini, and halfbacks Hugh McElhenny and Frank Gifford. In 1965, Buddy Parker traded the Steelers' No. 1 pick to the Chicago Bears, and that No. 1 could've been used to select either Dick Butkus or Gale Sayers, but the Bears got them both. In 1956, the Steelers were awarded the NFL's "bonus pick," which meant they got to select a player before the regular draft began, and instead of going with Hall of Famers Lenny Moore or Forrest Gregg, they opted for Gary Glick. Your focus on just one era really doesn't do justice to the things that have happened over the course of the entirety of franchise history.