My beloved Pittsburgh Steelers will be watching the playoffs from home this season.
It felt weird for me to type that. In fact, I had to consult my Cincinnati in-laws on how one should approach the NFL playoffs without a team to root for (since the Bengals have not been winning until recently).
The good news for Steeler Nation is that missing the playoffs is a rare occurrence for this franchise, which means that more than likely Pittsburgh will be back in the playoffs next season. The question is, what will it take for the Steelers to ensure a trip to the playoffs (and possibly beyond) next year?
Here is what I think our beloved Steelers should do this offseason...
Do not re-sign the following: Mike Wallace and Rashard Mendenhall. While both are extremely talented, both these dudes were distractions and is not worth the trouble of keeping around next season. While it would be easier for me to stomach Mendenhall's departure, losing Wallace would hurt because his speed opens things up for Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders. But I think Wallace sealed his fate when he openly admitted that his contract situation (and perceived lack of touches) caused him to lose focus.
This may sound ludicrous, but I would keep Plaxico Burress over Mike Wallace and call it a day.
Restructure and/or cut some veterans. The Steelers are several million dollars over next year's cap and have some dead weight we need to rid ourselves of. Larry Foote and Casey Hampton come to mind. Maybe James Harrison, who played hurt and was not as productive this season. It's sad, but like last season's purge (Hines Ward and James Farrior) that what happens when you sign veterans for long-term contracts in the salary cap era. While I do not think Wallace should be brought back, if the Steelers even entertain that thought they'd have to get themselves out of salary cap jail.
Get younger on defense via the draft. The Steelers may have had the top-ranked defense statistically last season, it didn't help in a few of our losses. Losses to the Raiders and Titans illustrated that. Our defense failed to protect late 4th quarter leads in both of those games. Take those two losses away, and we would be AFC North division champions. I chalk that up to our defense being flat out old and devoid of playmakers. If Lewis held onto that interception late in the 4th quarter vs. the Titans, Pittsburgh wins that game going away.
The good news is we have some young talent in the secondary that promises to be steady playmakers. Lewis improved on that during the season and Cortez Allen showed he can compete against the top wideouts in this league (he had two interceptions late in the season). To me it's simple: younger, dynamic players on defense = more takeaways and less blown 4th quarter leads vs. horrible teams.
The Steelers have to draft younger talent on defense to replace their aging stars. The thing is, Pittsburgh has to be on the money. While Jason Worilds and Cameron Heyward were serviceable, they haven't been the stars the Steelers drafted them to be. Pittsburgh should draft an inside linebacker to pair with Lawrence Timmons with its first round pick (Manti Te'o would be perfect but he may be long gone by the time Pittsburgh makes its selection). The Steelers should also consider drafting a replacement (or at least a good backup) for Ryan Clark and/or Troy Polamalu.
Draft a running back, but not in the first round. Anyone who watched the Steelers tried to run the ball knows they have to find an answer at the running back position. If Issac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer are the answers, then what the hell was the question? History shows that one does not have to find awesome running back talent in the first round of the draft (the Redskins' Alfred Morris is a great example), and there should be plenty out there for the Steelers to take a look at. Redman and Dwyer have both done good things, but they are not the studs the Steelers need for them to be at running back.
If our Steelers follow those simple steps, they will not be left behind by the Ravens and Bengals in the AFC North. In fact, they will be able to stay in the playoff mix in the AFC for seasons to come.
HERE WE GO STEELERS, HERE WE GO!!!
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