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mesaSteeler
04-09-2011, 08:09 AM
Harris: 20 questions for Steelers

By John Harris
PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Saturday, April 9, 2011

Only 105 more shopping days until July 23. What wedding gift are you buying for Ben Roethlisberger?

How about Steelers director of football operations Kevin Colbert drafting Mississippi State tackle Derek Sherrod to protect Roethlisberger's blindside? Better yet, how about ending the lockout so the Steelers know what they should do when the NFL draft begins April 28?

This is a critical time for the Steelers, who, depending on how the next few weeks unfold, could be gearing for another Super Bowl run or making rebuilding plans.

The uncertainty of the lockout -- and the potential loss of next season -- could force the Steelers to draft for the future with their first-round pick.

Here are 20 questions surrounding the defending AFC champions:

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?

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.)

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?

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?

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?

6. Will young and unproven cornerbacks Keenan Lewis and Crezdon Butler be given a fair opportunity to compete with McFadden?

7. Is McFadden's starting job in jeopardy?

8. Is William Gay worth re-signing if the Steelers play him where he belongs -- at nickel back -- and stop moving him around?

9. Will Polamalu ever be totally healthy again?

10. Will the Steelers continue to replace free safety Ryan Clark during crunch time in games the way they did in Super Bowl XLV?

11. If it comes down to choosing Willie Colon or Flozell Adams at right tackle, who would the Steelers keep?

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?

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?

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?

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?

16. Should the Steelers be concerned about Harrison's recovery, given that tackle Marvel Smith retired at age 30 following two back surgeries?

17. Speaking of veterans recovering from surgery, how many more productive years does receiver Hines Ward have left?

18. Should the Steelers consider taking Pitt receiver Jon Baldwin with their first-round pick if he is the best available athlete?

19. Do Baldwin's impressive physical attributes (6 feet 5, 230 pounds) remind you of former Steelers receiver Plaxico Burress?

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?

John Harris can be reached at jharris@tribweb.com or 412-481-5432.



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