Q: I think I ask you this after every non-playoff year, but is there a palpable sense of urgency at the facility at this time of year? Or is it business as usual?
Answer Man: Well, I think it's business as usual based on the situation that the team is in. I think this is different than last off-season. I think there are some things that have crystallized over the course of 2013. I'm not one who believes that what you do in December carries over to the following September necessarily, but I think that when you look at this roster and this team you have more answers this January than you did last January. You have your running back. I think you know that you have some offensive linemen who can be developed. I think that Antonio Brown answered a lot of questions. I think the quarterback had a really good year in terms of a lot of the things that are involved with the position. And I also think on defense you're starting to see some things you need to work on as opposed to just wondering.
There's a sense of urgency here, but I think that again it's -- and optimism is maybe not a good enough description of the mood -- but it's more of a 'Yeah, there's work to do, but we know what that work is.'
Q: Has the seat become hotter for Mike Tomlin?
AM: Let me point out, after going to Green Bay and riding to Lambeau Stadium, that the Packers had this coach who won one Super Bowl and went to another one and lost, and they named streets after him. Here, we're talking about this guy being on the hot seat and he never had a losing season. I mean, I think that's a ridiculous question. Now, the expectation of performance is real. And the man you want to do the job you understand what he has and what he's able to do, and so there is an expectation of performance there. But to me it's a ridiculous notion to think that this guy is going to get fired, because that's what I take to mean when you ask if he is on the hot seat.
Q: A pair of 8-8 seasons has brought about some hatred.
AM: If the worst Mike Tomlin ever does is 8-8, he might be the greatest coach in the history of this franchise, certainly from a record standpoint. Everybody had losing seasons. Chuck Noll had losing seasons after he won all those Super Bowls. Bill Cowher had three non-playoff seasons in a row, two of them losing seasons after going to the playoffs six times in a row. Again, this team does not operate that way. If the fans want to hate, hey, have at it. But this franchise operates the way it operates and they're not going to start panicking and firing coaches who may have never had a losing season working for them. That's just ridiculous.
Q: Except for the opening at OL coach, is all stable with the staff?
AM: I don't know. Who does (Ken) Whisenhunt like from here that he might take to Tennessee? I don't know. In terms of whether this group is going to be back as it is, I don't know that because there could be some things from the outside that happen. If you were going to change people for cause, you would do that right away to begin looking for a replacement. You either like your date to the prom or you don't and I think you make that move. Since Mike Tomlin hasn't made any of those moves after the Jack Bicknell move, I don't think any more of those moves will be made for that kind of reason.
Q: Since Shaun Sarrett reportedly took over the line and had a big hand in the historic protection afforded Ben Roethlisberger in the second half of the season, he's going to become the O-line coach, right?
AM: Do you believe that?
Q: I was being a little sarcastic.
AM: OK, well, I don't want to demean Shaun or what he did or any of that stuff. I just think that if all of that was true he'd be hired right now. I really have some problems with that characterization. Again, all due respect to him, I don't think the Pittsburgh Steelers are the kind of team that turns over a position that is only protecting their $100 million franchise quarterback to a guy who was breaking down video when the season started.
Q: He's a young guy learning to coach who might be a great coach some day.
AM: Absolutely. I just don't think you turn it over to him in the manner in which some of those Internet reports indicated that it was turned over.
Q: The $100 million quarterback, what do you see happening with his contract, if anything?
AM: Are you putting a time limit on this? Or are we just speaking, as the coach says, globally? Because globally, he's going to retire here. But if you're asking if he'll have an extension when they go to camp, I have no idea and I don't think it really matters. The whole re-doing his deal with two years left, factions of the media make this sound like that's been the history here for a thousand years. They re-did (Tommy) Maddox with two years left once. And in re-doing Ben with two years left the last time, there were some cap benefits to that, so there's some urgency to get it done. But the two sides are going to end their careers together. That's the way it's going to be. Everybody, I really believe in their heart of hearts, understands that, and I don't think either side is annoyed or chafed by that reality.
Ben's made a lot of money. Ben's going to make a lot more money. The longer he can play, the more money he'll make. I don't know how else to describe it. But in terms of there being any kind of artificial deadline, to me it's ludicrous, and to assume that if the artificial deadline isn't somehow met that there's any sort of hidden meaning in that, I mean, people can have at it.
Q: What do you see in free agency with their own players, in particular Jason Worilds?
AM: The expectation that everybody who plays here is going to hit the lottery with some huge contract, and that they definitely want to leave, I don't think that necessarily is either true or that the history has borne that out. If you're Jason Worilds, do you really want to go somewhere else and start over after the situation you have gone through here to get yourself to this spot? And if you're another team, how much money are you going to pay for a guy who had eight sacks one season? To me that's the same with Ziggy Hood. Does he really want to go somewhere else? And what would he be paid based on his entire body of work here? The Steelers like those two guys, maybe certainly not to the same financial level. But a lot of times, staying where you are keeps you from going somewhere, being a disappointment, getting cut, and riding that merry-go-round. Then you're Fernando Velasco, a good player who got cut for making too much money for what he ended up being. Now you're looking for a job and you end up signing a one-year veteran minimum deal and you get injured. Now where are you?
A lot of times the grass isn't necessarily greener, for the team nor the player. When you look at the 21 unrestricted free agents, there are going to be some guys who are going to get a better deal than what this team believes they're worth to keep. And, hey, best of luck to you; see you down the road. But I think there are a lot of other instances where that's not necessarily the case. We'll see how it plays out, but, again, I'm always amused a little bit by the assumption that as soon as a Steelers player hits unrestricted free agency, the $80 million offers are going to start coming out of the woodwork.
Q: Which of the free agents do you see them trying to sign back?
AM: I think there's a real interest in keeping Jason Worilds, and why would there not be?
Hold on. Let me grab the list here so I know what I'm talking about. Um, (Jerricho) Cotchery is a guy, I think. I don't see him being a break-the-bank guy, and he's been around. He knows what's out there. He played for the Jets, OK?
Q: Cotchery loves it here.
AM: Right. (Jonathan) Dwyer is a guy. I'm not close enough to it to know all the ins and outs of his situation. Did he really change after we cut him? Or was that a tease? I can't answer that. I think LaRod Stephens-Howling is a guy who has value, especially if he's something close to the player he was before he injured his knee. I think he can be a real complementary type of weapon out of the backfield. I liked him. Um, Cody Wallace. And didn't everybody laugh at the Guy Whimper signing?
Q: I did.
AM: He didn't turn out to be all that bad, did he?
Q: No, he did not.
AM: No, he did not. So, there's that. I think the (Brett) Keisel situation is going to be interesting-slash-difficult. It's always difficult parting with someone who means so much to you, if that is the way that it has to go -- and I'm not predicting that is the way that it's going to go. Al Woods is another guy. Why would you want to go somewhere else? It took you four years to just be a position-flexible guy who knew he was going to be on the game-day roster every week. You going somewhere else? Eh, I don't know. Will Allen is another guy. A lot of times what this team does with these type of players, guys with a lot of experience, not starter-capable anymore, journeyman type, which he would qualify as, a lot of times those are close-to-training-camp signings. Will Allen got some money last year from the Cowboys and they cut him. So, hey, Will? Where you going? We like you here.
So that's the way I see those.
Q: I didn't hear you say Ryan Clark. Is safety something they will shore up in the draft?
AM: Free safety definitely. And I think what the Steelers should consider is a different kind of a player there. The takeaway situation has to improve. It just does. It just seems to me that there are too few defensive backs on this team who are takeaway-capable, so I'm looking for somebody with some ball skills. The league has kind of legislated out the big hits down the field, so you can't fight City Hall. That ship has sailed. You're not going to be able to do that anymore, even things that were legal at the start of the 2010 season, that's over. It just is. You need, I think, guys who make plays on the football. So, to answer your question, yes.
Q: After reading Art Rooney's comments about shoring up the run defense, I'm wondering if the team is going to draft a nose tackle. What are your thoughts on that?
AM: The nose tackle thing, I don't get it. I just don't. I don't think football's played the same way in 2014 as it was in 2001. It's just not. I'm not saying you don't need to get better on run defense. Maybe that doesn't have to do with the nose tackle anyway. Maybe it has something to do with the inside linebacker next to (Lawrence) Timmons growing up a little bit and that kind of stuff. But, a nose tackle in the first round, to me, is an incredibly stupid move. I just don't believe the position merits that kind of attention at 15. We're talking about the 15th player off the board. A nose tackle?
Q: I'm with you. I'm just trying to read the tea leaves.
AM: I understand. But for me, 15th in the first round, you have to have an impact. Lowering the per-carry average from 4.0 to 3.8, that's not enough for me. Maybe I'm an idiot.
Q: I hear you. Using Steve McLendon at nose tackle is a lot less dangerous than using Will Allen in center field.
AM: Right. I need somebody I can put back there when we play Aaron Rodgers in the Super Bowl. Or Peyton Manning. Or Tom Brady. And as I say this, I do so with the understanding that the team that ran the football better won all of the division-round games. The final four are all capable of running the football on offense. I just don't believe that you need to spend that kind of a pick to stop that. I think you can control the running game with --
AM: Or Al Woods and/or Cam Heyward. Maybe if you look at it a little different. Or maybe there's a better understanding that McLendon isn't Casey (Hampton) so maybe you try and do it the way you did with Kimo (von Oelhoffen) a little bit. I don't know. But, a 15th pick on a nose tackle? If I were asked, that would not be my recommendation.
Q: Is it strictly defense as most assume?
AM: No. You mean first?
Q: Yes, in the first round.
AM: (Chuckles) I don't know what kind of guy he is. I don't know anything about him. I don't even know his name. But if you can get me No. 13 from Texas A&M 15th, I'm in. Really, I do not know his name (Mike Evans), but if you can get me Alshon Jeffery or Brandon Marshall to go with Antonio Brown and what I think is a nice potential backfield combination of Le'Veon (Bell), Stephens-Howling and maybe Dwyer, I think now my offense with Heath Miller and -- and I used to make fun of him myself -- Matt Spaeth, I think you have an offense that is now as potentially fearsome as your defense used to be. You can't be a speed bump on defense, certainly, and, hey, maybe I spend every other draft pick on defense, but if I can get myself a dynamic offensive weapon 15th, I'm in.
Q: Just a couple of more clean-up questions. I assume you're OK with Kelvin Beachum at left tackle.
AM: (Laughs) Yeah. And here's another thing I don't get: OK, you go into that draft, you pick a tackle second and a tackle seventh. What difference does it make who your starting left tackle turns out to be if the guy can play? Is there some rule that it has to be the second-round guy? I'm not even saying (Mike) Adams is a bust. But if Beachum is the best guy, I don't particularly care if he looks as good in the uniform as Adams does, or that he was a seventh-round pick. If Beachum becomes your starting left tackle for the next 10 years, just because he was a seventh-rounder doesn't make that draft a failure.
Q: And finally, if the Steelers sign Worilds do we say goodbye to LaMarr Woodley?
AM: The determination with Woodley is this: Can he still play? That's what I want to know because I don't know the answer to that. Will his body allow him to still play? It doesn't necessarily have to be his fault if his body doesn't allow him to play anymore. He's a big man on those joints and ligaments and stuff, and you can't build that stuff up by lifting weights. I don't know if it's genetics, but some guys their bodies just don't withstand the kind of stress and punishment that other bodies can stand. That to me is the No. 1 question, because if you really think he can still play, then you're looking at the cap situation a little differently. But if you don't think he's that kind of player anymore, then to me it's more about making a decision based on performance as opposed to salary. And if it's a performance decision, you have to make it.
I don't know. It seems to me, when you look at it, it's a downward trend in terms of the kinds of injuries he's having and the amount of time they're causing him to miss, and to me that's not a good sign. But I'm not a doctor and, hey, there could be 10 examples of guys whose careers would indicate that what I just said is wrong. It just seems to me that it's not going the right way.