Sat, 01 Apr 2023

Asked and Answered: Feb. 2

The Steelers
03 Feb 2023, 05:30 GMT+10

Bob Labriola

Let's get to it:

GREG WHARTON FROM BRIDGEVILLE, PA: The Steelers will take a $4.7 million dead cap hit in 2023 from Stephon Tuitt's contract? Is there any way of restructuring his contract because he retired and wasn't traded or released? Also, are there other ways of balancing out dead cap hits?

ANSWER: The cap hit to which you refer resulted from the restructuring of Tuitt's contract that took place during the 2021 offseason. The simple answer is that the Steelers are on the hook for that $4.7 million dead money hit to their 2023 salary cap, because there is no difference between a player retiring, being traded, or being released when it comes to that. And there is nothing for the Steelers to do except take the cap hit in 2023 and get it off the books.

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DAVE SARP FROM WILMINGTON, NC: In terms of rookie statistics, how does Kenny Pickett match up with Terry Bradshaw and Ben Roethlisberger?

ANSWER: During his rookie season of 1970, Terry Bradshaw appeared in 13 of the 14 regular season games, with 8 starts and a 3-5 record in those games. Bradshaw completed 83-of-218 (38.1 percent) for 1,410 yards, 6 touchdowns, 24 interceptions, and a rating of 30.4. Bradshaw also rushed 32 times for 233 yards (7.3 average) and 1 touchdown, and he was sacked 25 times. During his rookie season of 2004, Ben Roethlisberger appeared in 14 of the 16 games, with 13 starts and a 13-0 record in those games. Roethlisberger completed 196-of-295 (66.4 percent) for 2,261 yards, 17 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, and a rating of 98.1. He also rushed 56 times for 144 yards (2.6 average) and 1 touchdown, and he was sacked 30 times. During his rookie season of 2022, Kenny Pickett appeared in 13 of the 17 regular season games, with 12 starts and a 7-5 record in those games. Pickett completed 245-of-389 (63 percent) for 2,404 yards, 7 touchdowns, 9 interceptions, and a rating of 76.7. He also rushed 55 times for 237 yards (4.3 average) and 3 touchdowns, and he was sacked 27 times.

MICHAEL BOBRICK FROM NEWPORT NEWS, VA: In reading articles on, the NFL Draft used to be conducted in late January - 1969 when the team picked Joe Greene and also in 1974 for that famous draft class. When (and why) did the NFL switch to a Draft conducted a few months after the Super Bowl?

ANSWER: The NFL Draft has evolved into a franchise of its own, a separate money-making annual event that the league can market and sell because it attracts so much nationwide attention. The NFL is most interested in having a year-long presence, and so that goal eventually lent itself to pushing things back in the calendar. There were the college all-star games, and then the NFL Combine, and now NFL Network will broadcast college Pro Days. All of that occupies airtime and cyberspace, and NFL fans eat it up with a rusty spoon. So, there is really no benefit to holding the draft in the immediate aftermath of the season's conclusion as there once was, and should the draft become even more popular and lucrative, they might move it even father back on the calendar.

GRANT SPELLERBERG FROM CUTLER BAY, FL: Did the Steelers also pass on Johnny Unitas in the draft, or did they trade him to the Baltimore Colts?

ANSWER: The Steelers used their ninth-round pick in the 1955 NFL Draft on Louisville quarterback John Unitas (102nd overall), but Coach Walt Kiesling ultimately cut him without giving him so much as a chance to practice with the team during training camp or play in any exhibition games. After being cut, Unitas went back home to Pittsburgh and had signed to play semi-pro football with the Bloomfield Rams when he got a call from the Baltimore Colts in 1956, who invited him to a tryout and subsequently signed him before the Cleveland Browns, a team also interested in his services at the time.

CLINT SANCHEZ FROM ALEXANDRIA, VA: How would you rank the four quarterbacks drafted between Terry Bradshaw and Ben Roethlisberger who started at least three seasons - Mark Malone, Bubby Brister, Neil O' Donnell, and Kordell Stewart?

ANSWER: I would rank them this way (from the top): Bubby Brister, Kordell Stewart, Mark Malone, Neil O'Donnell. Brister is first because he wanted to win more than he cared about statistics and my suspicion is that attitude would've served the Steelers well in both the 1994 AFC Championship Game loss to San Diego and in the Super Bowl XXX loss to Dallas. Stewart is second because he was a dynamic two-way quarterback in an era when offensive coordinators wanted to turn those guys into pocket passers. Mark Malone is third because in his only season where he had a pair of dynamic receivers - rookie Louis Lipps and a still-spry 32-year-old John Stallworth - he threw 16 touchdown passes and led the NFL with a 14.5-yard average per completion on the way to an AFC Championship Game where he passed for 312 yards and 3 touchdowns in a shootout loss to Dan Marino's Miami Dolphins. That puts Neil O'Donnell fourth, because while he posted a 39-22 record as a regular season starter, he was 3-4 in seven starts in the playoffs. The 1995 Steelers had a great defense and enough offense to complement it, but in three games that postseason, O'Donnell threw for 3 touchdowns, 6 interceptions, and a rating of 61.6. It shouldn't be necessary to point out at this point that those are my own highly subjective rankings, so as the cool kids say, don't @ me.

MATTHIAS ELFGEN FROM OTTAWA, ONTARIO, CANADA: I recently saw the ESPN documentary "Year of The Scab." A very intriguing topic with the NFLPA vs. NFL owners. What was your experience of that whole scenario and the 1987 season? Also, what was the Steelers' stand at the time and how did it affect the relationship between players and management?

ANSWER: The 1987 season was strange from the start. After a normal training camp and preseason, the regular season opened before the Union called for a strike on the day after the second weekend of the schedule concluded. NFL owners quickly scrambled and began putting together teams of replacements to resume the season. The Steelers actually staged a second training camp - this one in Johnstown, Pa., about an hour east of Saint Vincent College - to put together a team that was to pick up the schedule on Oct. 4, which for the Steelers meant a game in Atlanta. The NFL conducted three weeks of what the league referred to as "replacement games," and the NFLPA called "scab games," and the Steelers went 2-1 during which veterans leaguewide crossed the picket line in increasing numbers as the weeks wore on. As for the relationship between management and the players, in Pittsburgh that meant the relationship between Art and Dan Rooney and the players. During the initial days of the strike, Dan Rooney left a key with his secretary that would open the gate at the grass practice field adjacent to Three Rivers Stadium, and then he got word to player rep Tunch Ilkin that whenever the players wanted to gather for a workout, she would give him the key.

LARRY BARNES FROM SHELBY, OH: I have been watching old highlights of the 1998 season and saw how good Hines Ward was when he touched the ball. Then I noticed Courtney Hawkins. Can you fill us in on how the Steelers acquired him and his stats?

ANSWER: Courtney Hawkins played college football at Michigan State and entered the NFL as a No. 2 draft pick by Tampa Bay in 1992. After 5 years with the Buccaneers, Hawkins signed with the Steelers as a 27-year-old unrestricted free agent. He started 81 of 131 games played over four seasons for Pittsburgh, and while he had 160 catches for 1,829 yards during that time, he scored only 5 touchdowns. Just not a producer in the red zone, Hawkins caught 105 passes during the three seasons between 1998-2000, but he had only 2 touchdowns.

SCOTT FLYNN FROM HORSEHEADS, NY: What are the players up to right now? I have seen some doing interviews and getting involved in the community. Are they doing anything at the team facility? Meetings? Training? Or are they just recovering from the physical toll of a full NFL season?

ANSWER: NFL offseason programs don't begin until mid-April, and so there are no scheduled team activities at this time. Some players use these weeks to work on individual skill development with private trainers, and others either work out on their own or use the time to heal after the rigors of a season that began five-and-a-half months ago with the opening of training camp.

DEREK LEWIS FROM POINT MARION, PA: I have a two-part question pertaining to special teams. Who were the last players to return a kickoff or a punt for a touchdown, and how long ago did that happen? And do you expect any staff changes for special teams this offseason?

ANSWER: JuJu Smith Schuster returned a kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown on Dec. 31, 2017, in a 28-24 victory over the Browns in Pittsburgh, and Diontae Johnson returned a punt 85 yards for a touchdown on Dec. 8, 2019, in a 23-17 victory over the Cardinals in Arizona. And if there end up being any more changes to Mike Tomlin's staff of assistants, I don't expect them to involve special teams.

JASON GODFREY FROM ENOREE, SC: This being the 90th season for the Steelers; is there any plans to recognize that in the upcoming season/preseason?

ANSWER: Hate to break the news to you, but the Steelers' 90th season was in 2022. You missed it.

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