This morning Pittsburgh Tribune sports columnist John Harris posted 20 questions concerning the Steelers that mostly centered around the draft, Ike Taylor, LaMarr Woodley and a few more of the potential free agents. I thought it would be fun to post his questions along with my answers to them on this slow Saturday.
Question 1. If the lockout isn\’t lifted before April 28 and the Steelers are unable to re-sign unrestricted free agent cornerback Ike Taylor, should they reach for a cornerback in the first round, even if the cornerbacks available at No. 31 don\’t have first-round ratings?
Answer: Reach? No, but I would not rule out the Steelers trading down a few spots and grabbing a corner early in the second. I could also still see Aaron Williams being selected overall at #31. Many have a first round grade on him still, but he might be a better fit at the next level at free safety. Brandon Harris is also a guy that would be close to being a first-round talent depending on who you listen to. I doubt that 5 corners are off the board by the time pick #31 rolls around though.
Question 2. More important, will the lockout be lifted before the draft, which would give the Steelers a final chance to compete with other teams for Taylor\’s services? (Indianapolis Colts president Bill Polian said he\’s approaching the draft believing the lockout won\’t be lifted before April 28 and that teams won\’t be able to re-sign their unrestricted free agents before the draft.)
Answer: No, I do not think free agency will start by the time the draft rolls around. Looks like it will be mid May at the earliest.
Question 3. If the Steelers invest first-round money in a cornerback for the first time since 1997, will they also want to make Taylor among the highest-paid cornerbacks in the league?
Answer: Highest paid? No, but I still like the chances of getting something done with Ike as I believe he wants to finish his career with the Steelers and I think they want him back as well.
Question 4. How much money can the Steelers afford to invest at cornerback when they\’ll have to think about re-signing strong safety Troy Polamalu, inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons and receiver Mike Wallace after next season?
Answer: Jerry Hughes was the 31st pick last year by the Colts and signed a 5 year $9.7 million deal with a max value of $12.6 milion. Only $7 million is guaranteed reportedly. I think the Steelers will be fine drafting a first round corner and signing Taylor to a reasonable deal. Timmons, Polamalu and Wallace will all get attention I believe after a new labor deal is reached.
Question 5. Did the disappointing play of Bryant McFadden at cornerback and the lack of depth behind McFadden render questions about Taylor\’s market value moot?
Answer: Plain and simple I think they want Taylor back regardless. They had a choice to franchise him, but chose to tag LaMarr Woodley instead. If there were that many questions or uncertainty, they would of franchised Ike instead. They will certainly address the position in the draft regardless and both Butler and Lewis will be asked to step up in 2011.
Question 6. Will young and unproven cornerbacks Keenan Lewis and Crezdon Butler be given a fair opportunity to compete with McFadden?
Answer: Yes I think both will get long hard looks during training camp. Lewis is going into the final season of his rookie contract, so he needs to show some improvement very quickly.
Question 7. Is McFadden\’s starting job in jeopardy?
Answer: Yes, I certainly think that the left cornerback job is up for grabs.
Question 8. Is William Gay worth re-signing if the Steelers play him where he belongs — at nickel back — and stop moving him around?
Answer: I think Gay played better than most give him credit for last season. He had his moments against the Patriots and Bengals indeed and I believe Gay at least would offer some experience and depth for one more season. He was tendered as a restricted free agent, so he indeed could be back for one more season should the NFL choose to use the 2010 free agency rules once again. I would not however break the bank on him if he winds up being unrestricted.
Question 9. Will Polamalu ever be totally healthy again?
Answer: Troy Polamalu is a physical strong safety, so I suppose it is a fair question. I think the ankle/Achilles will be 100% by training camp time. That is what sidelined him last season. He takes care of his body, but injuries happen. No surgeries for him this offseason to my understanding. That is a good sign.
Question 10. Will the Steelers continue to replace free safety Ryan Clark during crunch time in games the way they did in Super Bowl XLV?
Answer: We could indeed see more of that against teams that try to spread out the defense with 4 wide receiver sets like the Packers did. I think it also depends on how many new faces are in the secondary as well.
Question 11. If it comes down to choosing Willie Colon or Flozell Adams at right tackle, who would the Steelers keep?
Answer: Tough choice and I believe if comes down to the health of Colon recovering from the Achilles injury and the price tag of each. Adams is scheduled to make 5 million and is under contract and the status of Colon depends on how the labor situation pans out. Colon was tendered just in case and would only cost about half of what Adams would on that one year tender. They might also ask Adams to take a pay cut as well. If they had there way, I think the Steelers would choose to keep Colon as he is younger and more versatile position wise.
Question 12. How will the Steelers handle outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley\’s situation if a federal judge overturns the lockout and the upcoming season is played under 2010 rules?
Answer: He signed the franchise tender so I think 2011 is settled either way. He will be in Black and Gold in 2011 regardless.
Question 13. Will the Steelers attempt to appease Woodley by offering him a long-term contract if he returns to being a restricted free agent and isn\’t eligible to receive $10 million as the team\’s franchise player next season?
Answer: I think they will try to get some sort of extension done with him. Really hard to see them letting a young player of his caliber walk away.
Question 14. Or will the Steelers tell Woodley, “Sorry, but business is business\’\’ and offer him about $3 million for one season as a restricted free agent?
Answer: That could very well happen as well, but I think they will work towards locking him up long term.
Question 15. Does signing Woodley to a long-term deal become more imperative, considering fellow outside linebacker James Harrison will be 33 years old next season and coming off two back surgeries within a nine-day span last month?
Answer: It would not be more imperative just because of the Harrison back surgeries. Woodley still is one of the best outside linebackers in the league. That is why you try to lock him up.
Question 16. Should the Steelers be concerned about Harrison\’s recovery, given that tackle Marvel Smith retired at age 30 following two back surgeries?
Answer: I think any time a player has back surgery, minor or not, you have to be concerned. If anyone can battle through it though, it is Harrison. By all reports though, he should be fine.
Question 17. Speaking of veterans recovering from surgery, how many more productive years does receiver Hines Ward have left?
Answer: I think Hines has at least one season left in him to produce numbers similar to what he put up last season. I could see him assuming the number 3 role in 2012 should he decide to play two more seasons.
Question 18. Should the Steelers consider taking Pitt receiver Jon Baldwin with their first-round pick if he is the best available athlete?
Answer: No as I see him more as a second round talent and would be surprised if he was picked before the middle of round 2.
Question 19. Do Baldwin\’s impressive physical attributes (6 feet 5, 230 pounds) remind you of former Steelers receiver Plaxico Burress?
Answer: Physical attributes wise, yes, but I think the comparison ends there. Plaxico was a first round talent. I do not see that for Baldwin.
Question 20. Do you think Roethlisberger, who got along so well with Burress on the field, would approve of Baldwin — the quintessential big receiver — for a wedding gift?
Answer: Approve? Yes, but I just do not see the Steelers going wide receiver in the first two rounds. I do think they will draft another receiver though in the middle rounds and it could be one with size.