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Think roster quality, depth

Join Senior Editor Vic Ketchman as he tackles the fans' tough questions.

Stuart from Morton, IL:
If a player is franchised, is his salary set or does that number inflate when new free agents are signed that get top-five money?

Vic: It depends if he's given the nonexclusive franchise tag or the exclusive franchise tag. If he's nonexclusive, his salary does not escalate. If he's exclusive, his salary can escalate until the end of the restricted free agent signing period, which is about a week before the draft. Nonexclusive franchise players may sign with another team and the team signing them would owe the player's original team two first-round pick as compensation. Exclusive franchise players may not sign with another team.

John from Trenton, NJ:
What are your thoughts on Dan LeFevour?

Vic: He lacks arm strength so he needs to play in a system that isn't going to ask him to make throws he can't make.

Chris from Titusville, FL:
When a team franchises a player because he is going to be a free agent, why doesn't the player have any say in it if he is no longer under contract?

Vic: He remains under contract until the start of free agency. The deadline for tagging players is prior to the start of free agency, for the obvious reason that it allows teams to retain the rights to those players.

Mike from Gallitzin, PA:
What do you think of the Steelers' decision to re-sign Casey Hampton and franchise Jeff Reed?

Vic: I was a little surprised they re-signed Hampton, but then I saw that the signing bonus in the contract is less than what they would've paid him had they franchised him. That made the deal team-friendly because Hampton has to remain productive to get the salaries in the final two years of the deal. Clearly, Hampton wanted to remain with the Steelers; it's the only explanation for signing the deal. He got into Mike Tomlin's doghouse in 2008 by coming to training camp out of shape, and I figured they were going to move on at nose tackle with Chris Hoke, but this is a classic example of production speaking loudest. Hampton may be a fat nose tackle, but he's also a very good nose tackle. Their evaluations must tell them Hampton can still play, and the way the contract is structured will likely motivate Hampton to be more attentive to his conditioning. He won't reach the end of the deal if he doesn't. Franchising Reed is a no-brainer. The franchise tag for a kicker is only slightly more than using the transition tag. It wouldn't have made much sense to put the transition tag on him and have to match an offer by another team when you could lock Reed up for slightly more money. There's also another issue here. Reed has had some off-the-field issues and the one-year nature of the franchise tag puts pressure on him to behave because he'll have to go through all this again next year. My guess is that factored into their thinking as much as the money did. The Steelers are still very good at managing their payroll. They have a built-in advantage – their players don't want to leave – and they use it.

Dave from Snellville, GA:
Any particular player you want to see work out at the combine?

Vic: I'm hoping Tony Pike will throw. If he does, I'll be interested to see what it might mean to his draft stock. As I've said, he's got a good arm and he could win a team over with a strong throwing performance at the combine, especially with most of the other quarterbacks not throwing.

Conor from Missoula, MT:
How affected will LeGarrette Blount's draft status be by his actions against Boise State?

Vic: I don't know what else Blount has behind him. If the punching incident is indicative of a general misconduct problem, then I would think it would hurt him a lot. If it's just one incident, I don't think it'll hurt him much at all. His interview at the combine is going to go a long way toward deciding who drafts him and in what round. Any team interested in Blount is going to talk to a lot of people about him. They're going to want to know what kind of person he is because no team wants to bring a troubled person into their community. Let's put it this way: The punch he threw following the loss to Boise State has certainly raised red flags. He will be investigated to the max by the security division of any team interested in drafting him.

Jonathan from Los Angeles, CA:
I love your column so much; I learn something new every day. I think you would make a great professor. I found it interesting that there are two franchise distinctions for defensive linemen (DT and DE) but only one franchise distinction for offensive linemen. Is there a reason for this?

Vic: My guess is the players union wanted to protect centers and guards. If there were separate distinctions for them, teams would be franchising them like crazy, because they are generally underpaid. Because they are lumped with tackles, teams are reluctant to franchise them and that allows them to force new long-term deals or make it into free agency and get deals they otherwise wouldn't. I think you've forgotten Professor Vic's first rule about professional football: It's about the money. Any time you don't understand why something is the way it is, consider the probability that it has something to do with money and you'll probably be right.

Matt from Baltimore, MD:
Is there a significant difference in the skill set required to be an effective left guard vs. a right guard?

Vic: Not any more. In the old days, you wanted your left guard to be a little faster than your right guard because guards pulled and the left guard had to be a little faster to get out in front of plays run wide to the right, and most teams preferred to run to the right. You don't see a lot of pulling and trapping in today's game. If you can push and shove, you can play guard in today's game.

Billy from East Northport, NY:
If a CB or DT is the BAP in the first round at the Jaguars pick, and they stay true to their philosophy and select them, how would they go about getting them playing time? The presence of talented veterans such as Rashean Mathis and John Henderson, along with established young players Derek Cox and Terrance Knighton, would be like being stuck between a rock and a hard place. What do you think would be the Jags approach?

Vic: No matter how hard I try, I just can't get fans to stop thinking like this. Fans tend to think in terms of starting lineups and not overall roster quality and depth, and that's a big mistake. Cornerback is a premium position; you can't have enough good ones. Defensive tackle is a rotation position and in Jacksonville, where the Jaguars play half of their home games in intense heat and humidity, the more big guys you have, the better you'll be in the fourth quarter.

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