Wed, 14 Apr 2021

Asked and Answered: March 2

The Steelers
03 Mar 2021, 05:30 GMT+10

Bob Labriola

Let's get to it:

JOE CONTRERAS FROM EL PASO, TX: When the draft comes around, if a top offensive lineman is available and Alabama running back Najee Harris is also available, do you go with the offensive lineman? Having had a chance to take J.K. Dobbins or Clyde Edwards-Helaire last season and how they did as rookies, would you take Harris?

ANSWER: If Najee Harris is available at No. 24 overall, I'm picking him, and it has nothing to do with what happened last year. By the way, the Steelers never had an opportunity to pick Clyde Edwards-Helaire because he was the 32nd overall pick, by the Kansas City Chiefs, and the Steelers' first pick in 2020 wasn't until 49th overall because of the trade for Minkah Fitzpatrick. Anyway, I believe Harris is a difference-maker as a running back, which in my mind makes him better than J.K. Dobbins, who is a fine running back but in my estimation not the kind of difference-maker Harris can become. I also believed that the Steelers needed to use the 2020 NFL Draft to add dynamic offensive weapons to the unit to support the return of Ben Roethlisberger from elbow surgery, and the team did that by picking wide receiver Chase Claypool. In making a list strictly of dynamic offensive rookies from 2020, Claypool would rank higher than Dobbins. But what's also apparent at this point is the Steelers overestimated James Conner, and so they now must correct that mistake and find themselves that "bell cow" that Conner is not.

BRIAN MORELLA FROM POLAND, OH: I understand that Dwayne Haskins struggled with Washington, but he's only 23 years old. If you go back and watch NFL draft analysts like Mel Kiper during the run-up to 2019 NFL Draft, he compared him to Ben Roethlisberger, and only two years later, people are writing him off. I don't believe the Steelers need to draft a quarterback this year. Do you believe the Steelers will wait until next year to address the quarterback situation?

ANSWER: Based on what Steelers President Art Rooney II told me last Thursday, there can be a level of optimism that the team and Ben Roethlisberger will be able to come to an agreement to bring him back for the 2021 season at a lower salary cap charge. If that happens, the Steelers depth chart at quarterback would contain Roethlisberger, Mason Rudolph, and Dwayne Haskins. The point can be made that the team needs a fourth quarterback for training camp, but that fourth quarterback doesn't need to be a draft pick. A side note: Haskins turns 24 on May 3. Another side note: stop taking what Mel Kiper says as gospel.

CHRISTOPHER GIBSON FROM MANALAPAN, NJ: How does medical coverage for players work in the NFL? For someone like Bud Dupree, is his knee surgery and rehab covered by insurance provided by the team or league, or does he foot the bill himself?

ANSWER: Without getting too far into the details, I can virtually guarantee you that the medical insurance NFL players get is better than the medical insurance you have at your job, and that's not meant to be a disparaging comment about you or your job. Rather, it's meant to explain that NFL players have a very nice health insurance plan, and just to go one step further, the cost of that is paid by the team and it counts on the salary cap.

AARON BREEZE FROM FRESNO, CA: In the Feb. 25 edition of Asked and Answered you received a question about Casey Hampton as it pertains to a deserving Steelers player who will never be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Immediately my mind went to Heath Miller as being that player. Do you agree, or do you have another player that you feel is deserving, but will never get the knock?

ANSWER: You're misinterpreting my answer. I disagreed with the individual who named Casey Hampton as a player deserving of election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and I disagree with you about Heath Miller being deserving. Both Hampton and Miller were great Steelers who contributed significantly to the team's success during their careers here, but that doesn't make either of them Hall of Fame worthy. Please don't put words into my mouth. I'm more than capable of looking foolish without any help.

DON PINE FROM ALBUQUERQUE, NM: What do you think about transitioning Terrell Edmunds to inside linebacker? He seems to play far better in the box than he does in coverage.

ANSWER: Not a totally ridiculous suggestion, but I believe if that was going to happen, it would've happened last year on the heels of the Steelers cutting ties with Mark Barron. In 2021, the roster is thinner at safety than it is at inside linebacker. With Devin Bush saying last week, "Rehab is going good. I'm on schedule. I'm feeling stronger week by week. I'm trying to get ready physically for next year, especially for camp. I'm just staying positive about things and doing everything I can possible to make myself one of the best players next year," plus the emergence of Robert Spillane and the conversion of Marcus Allen from safety to inside linebacker, and Vince Williams, the Steelers have some depth there.

JESSIE MAYFIELD FROM AUGUSTA, GA: How much did the retirements of Vance McDonald and Maurkice Pouncey and the restructuring of Cam Heyward's contract save us in cap space?

ANSWER: Not enough to be active in free agency, or to be able to make a competitive offer to try to keep Bud Dupree.

DON McCANON FROM JACKSONVILLE, FL: Let's say Justin Fields or Mac Jones fall to the 24th overall pick. Could there be a chance that the Steelers draft one of them?

ANSWER: The only world in which Justin Fields falls to No. 24 in the first round is an imaginary one, and Mac Jones is this year's version of A.J. McCarron. In other words, his NFL future is most likely as a backup.

TREVOR OWENS FROM RENO, NV: If you were General Manager Kevin Colbert, would you consider bringing back Jesse James to replace Vance McDonald assuming he gets cut by the Lions?

ANSWER: Jesse James wasn't a No. 1 tight end in his first stint with the Steelers, and the Lions discovered he was nothing more than a complementary piece after they threw way too much money at him to sign him as an unrestricted free agent. If the Lions decide to cut James instead of paying him $4.29 million in base salary in 2021 and carrying his cap number of $6.43 million, there wouldn't be anything inherently wrong with the Steelers signing him. But the contract would have to reflect what James actually is as a player and what role he would be able to fill. My impression for some time has been that a group of Steelers fans just cannot come to grips with the reality that Jesse James is not Heath Miller.

JOE DANIELS FROM DENVER, CO: Are we going to let go of Bud Dupree and Juju Smith-Schuster? I think they are amazing talents we need on the team. We are in a bad salary cap situation, but if we restructure Ben's contract and maybe cut Steven Nelson or Vince Williams, we will have money to get these young players.

ANSWER: The Steelers are absolutely not going to "let go" of Bud Dupree and JuJu Smith-Schuster. What's going to happen is that both Dupree and Smith-Schuster are going to leave of their own free will according to the rules of the Collective Bargaining Agreement for more lucrative offers with other teams. As is their right. There is no realistic scenario in which things don't end that way.

CASEY McDONALD FROM HOUSTON, TX: Am I the only one who believes Ben Roethlisberger is getting too much blame for how the season ended? I understand he is at the end of his career, but if the Steelers had some sort of run game I think the season ends differently.

ANSWER: I don't disagree with your overall assessment, but I made the point when it happened and I will reiterate it here: In the Wild Card Round loss to the Browns, Ben Roethlisberger's three interceptions in the first half contributed significantly to a deficit that reached 35-7 in the first half and essentially extinguished any realistic chance the Steelers had to win that game.

MEMET SRATT FROM NEW YORK, NY: Is it worth the Steelers exploring a trade for Tennessee Titans offensive tackle Isaiah Wilson? Clearly, he is a huge risk, but what if Titans were stuck and would take a third- or fourth-round pick?

ANSWER: There have been reports that the Titans are shopping the 6-foot-6, 350-pound player they made the 29th overall pick of the 2020 NFL Draft, and the belief is that the team is going to have to be willing to settle for a third-day pick if it decides it's necessary to unload a guy who was a first-round pick less than a calendar year ago. But I also believe it's warranted to expand on why "clearly, (Wilson) is a huge risk."

The following is a detailed account by 247 Sports of Wilson's issues:

"The former University of Georgia star was a dominant offensive lineman in the SEC during his tenure between the hedges, but the transition to the NFL has been troublesome. Wilson spent most of his rookie season away from the field, appearing in one game during the 2020 campaign - three offensive snaps against the Indianapolis Colts on Nov. 29.

"In July 2020, Wilson was placed on the team's Reserve/COVID-19 list. Shortly after, he reportedly attended an off-campus party at Tennessee State University where he reportedly jumped off a second-floor balcony in an attempt to evade police. He was then designated for the reserve list a second time in September.

"One week after being placed on the list for the second time, he was arrested for DUI. A few months later in December, Wilson was suspended by the team ahead of their Week 13 game. After being activated from the reserve/suspended list, he was placed on the Reserve/Non-football Illness list two days later, as general manager Jon Robinson said he was dealing with some personal issues."

JULIE GALEA FROM TORONTO, ONTARIO, CANADA: I just read that the Texans released center Nick Martin. Should Steelers try and pick him up?

ANSWER: As with just about every question regarding the Steelers signing players during this offseason, the main issue is going to be the cost, because the team has no space under its salary cap. Nick Martin entered the NFL as a second-round draft choice, and then the Texans signed him to a three-year, $33 million contract extension in 2019. The move to cut him saved Houston $8.75 million on its salary cap. Based on the kind of money Martin was making, and the fact he will only be 28 in late April, I don't know that his asking price would be in the Steelers' price range. It might be worth a phone call to Martin's agent, but I would be shocked if anything came of it.

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