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Asked and Answered: June 22
June 22, 2017 10:00 AM | Bob Labriola
Let's get to it:

JASON SUTTON FROM REIDSVILLE, NC:
Who do you see making the biggest impact behind Jesse James at tight end?

ANSWER: Heading into training camp, I see the depth chart at tight end being fairly clear-cut: Jesse James, Xavier Grimble, David Johnson, and then the undrafted rookies who will be attempting to crack the top three or convince the coaches to keep a fourth. James has improved over each of his seasons in the NFL, and he presents himself as a competent player at his position, certainly a guy deserving of a roster spot and a prime role on the 2017 Steelers. But don't fall asleep on Grimble, who occasionally has flashed the ability to be special. But Grimble's issue is, and has been, consistency. If Grimble can become more consistent, starting with catching the football, maybe he makes a run at the top of the depth chart.

JOHN DAVID FROM HANOVER, PA:
Why are there four teams in NFL divisions that are totally out of their geographic regions of the country? An example is Dallas being in the NFC East instead of Carolina. Also, there is Baltimore in the AFC North instead of Buffalo.

ANSWER: You would make a compelling point if the idea was to arrange the teams geographically, but that has been more of a notion than a rule going back to the earliest days of the NFL. Even back before the 1970 NFL-AFL merger, there was a period when the Baltimore Colts were in the NFL's Western Conference and Dallas was in the NFL's Eastern Conference. In those early days, teams sometimes were aligned to balance out the numbers in each conference based on when the franchise entered the league.

At the time of the merger, NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle had to convince three NFL teams to join what had been AFL teams to form the AFC, and one of the major reasons why the Steelers consented to moving was because Rozelle assured them their four-team division also would include the Cleveland Browns, the Cincinnati Bengals, and a Houston Oilers team that was to play in the Astrodome, then billed as the "eighth wonder of the world."

When the NFL was realigned for the final time in 2002 into eight four-team divisions, geography wasn't as important as preserving what had become some of the league's best rivalries. Moving Dallas out of the NFC East would have ended the home-and-home series between the Cowboys and Eagles, the Cowboys and the Giants, and the Cowboys and the Redskins, and all of those series had provided the league with very compelling games over the years.

The same thing, in principle, with the AFC North. The Baltimore Ravens used to be the Cleveland Browns, and so keeping the Steelers and the Ravens together was deemed to be more important to the success of the league than adding Buffalo to the AFC North in pursuit of geographic integrity.

NATHAN HANKEL FROM ELKO, NV:
Do you think that the Steelers will and should resign Martavis Bryant when his contract is up?

ANSWER: Because Martavis Bryant was suspended for all of 2016, the Steelers hold his rights for two more seasons, through 2018. There's a lot of football between now and then to make that decision.

DON HEISER FROM KANNAPOLIS, NC:
With respect to contract negotiations, we all know that the player's agent represents the player, but who represents the Steelers organization? Is it primarily Omar Khan, or does Kevin Colbert, Mike Tomlin, or even Art Rooney II play a significant role in those negotiations?

ANSWER: When it comes to the actual negotiations from the Steelers' side, those are headed by Omar Khan, the team's Vice President of Football & Business Administration, but he's not out there acting alone. There is input from both General Manager Kevin Colbert and Coach Mike Tomlin as to the team's perception of the player's value/importance, and then President Art Rooney II also has a voice in every aspect of the issue, from the numbers on the contract to the structure to how it fits into the present and immediate future of the salary cap situation.

DOUG TAKI FROM POCATELLO, ID:
I hope I'm wrong, but it seems to me that Alejandro Villanueva is far more interested in making money than having any team loyalty. Guess I can't blame him, but the Steelers have treated him better than most teams would. Any thoughts?

ANSWER: I disagree with any notion criticizing Al Villanueva's commitment to the team, because he was willing to sign a participation agreement to attend OTAs and minicamp even though he hadn't signed his tender as an exclusive rights free agent and therefore technically was without a contract. Where I believe Villanueva will make a mistake is if he doesn't accept the Steelers' best offer this summer for a contract extension, because in my opinion he would make more money over the next four years under the terms of whatever deal that is than he would by playing it year-to-year until he can become an unrestricted free agent. And there's also the possibility the Steelers could use the franchise tag on him, which means the team could hold his rights for three years, at which time he would be 32 years old.

But as of this minute, Villanueva hasn't missed a single snap of even one voluntary workout, and there still is time to either sign the exclusive rights tender or agree to a longer-term contract so he can report to training camp with the rest of the team. So, hold your judgment until then and let's see what happens.

MIKE DAVITCH FROM JOHNSTOWN, PA:
What can you tell me about Carlton Haselrig? I know he has a pretty interesting story as it relates to the fact that he didn't play college football. He wrestled at UPJ and was a National Champion, and he also made the Pro Bowl while playing for the Steelers.

ANSWER: Carlton Haselrig never played college football, because the University of Pitt-Johnstown didn't have a team. UPJ barely had a wrestling team, with only one wrestler competing at 125 pounds and Haselrig (6-foot-1, 295 pounds) competing as a heavyweight, but Haselrig still won six national championships in wrestling. He was able to do that because the rules at the time called for the Division II champions in each weight class being automatically entered into the Division I national championship tournament, and as a sophomore, junior, and senior, Haselrig first won the Division II national championship and then the Division I national championship in each of those three years.

The Steelers took a flyer on Haselrig as a No. 12 draft choice in 1989, and after working him for a short time as a nose tackle, Chuck Noll decided Haselrig had more of the qualities of an offensive lineman. He became a starting guard in 1992 and helped Barry Foster set the franchise's single-season rushing record with 1,690 yards, and he was voted to the Pro Bowl at the end of that season.

Drugs and alcohol soon derailed Haselrig's football career, and then he eventually turned to MMA in 2008, where he posted a 3-2 record.

JAMES PARKER FROM BLOUNTSVILLE, AL:
What do you think are the chances we do not sign Le'Veon Bell, and what impact do you think it would have on the season if that were to happen?

ANSWER: If you're asking me what are the chances the Steelers sign Le'Veon Bell to a long-term contract before July 17, that's a completely different question than if you're asking me whether I believe Bell will be a holdout into the regular season, when he would start missing game checks on what would be a salary of $12.1 million under the franchise player tag. Whether Bell signs a long-term deal or not, I cannot imagine a realistic scenario in which he doesn't play in 2017 for the $12.1 million.

JASON ALLEN FROM BUFFALO, NY:
We always talk about the most successful Steelers free agent signings, but who would you select as the most successful free agent to leave Pittsburgh?

ANSWER: That would be Chad Brown. After a 1996 season in which he posted 13 sacks, Brown, who was going to be 27 when the 1997 season started, left the Steelers as an unrestricted free agent and signed a six-year, $24 million deal to become one of the NFL's first $4 million linebackers. Brown went on to post 49 sacks during his eight seasons in Seattle.

VINCENT VAUCLAIR FROM VANCOUVER, WA:
I'm planning on taking vacation and coming to Pittsburgh for my first Steelers game. I've been a fan since 1972, and I've heard the Steelers are good at signing autographs after practices. Is there a regular schedule for practices during home game weeks so I can plan my vacation around that?

ANSWER: The only time of the year when Steelers practices are open to the public is during training camp. If you're planning on coming to Pittsburgh for a regular season game, there will be no opportunities for fans to watch the team practice.

AUSTIN CHASTAIN FROM LOUISVILLE, KY:
How does the inside linebacker group look like? Do you think Keith Kelsey has a chance of making the 53-man roster?

ANSWER: Keith Kelsey is an undrafted rookie from Louisville, and you live in Louisville, which means I hear strains of "Fight! U of L" playing in the background. But anyway, what I can tell you is that the Steelers figure to keep no more than four inside linebackers on their initial 53-man roster, and if there was a depth chart going into training camp - which there isn't - Ryan Shazier, Vince Williams, Tyler Matakevich, Steven Johnson, and L.J. Fort all would be ahead of Kelsey. That's not to mean he cannot or will not make the team, but a guess at this point is that barring injury Kelsey's most realistic hope is to earn a spot on the practice squad.

DON MONTAG FROM BEAVERDAM, VA:
Is a long-snapper considered a specialist or an offensive lineman?

ANSWER: A specialist.

JOE AUSTIN FROM PORTLAND, ME:
With the recent news that Jimmy Garoppolo is unlikely to re-up with the Patriots, do you think the Steelers could grab him? I think he would make for a good future for the franchise.

ANSWER: Sigh.

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