Of all the recent seasons that have looked to be the Pittsburgh Steelers year, history may one day look back on the 2017 season as one of the team’s greatest missed opportunities. Healthy for a the entire year for once, the Steelers star players on offense would make Pittsburgh one of the hardest teams to defend, but defensive failures would doom then to defeat in the opening round of the playoffs after a 13-3 regular season.
Antonio Brown would finish the year as the league’s leading receiver, Le’Veon Bell was third in rushing and Ben Roethlisberger was fifth in the league in passing yards. All three featured highly on the NFL’s Top 100 at fourth, ninth and 22nd respectively, with Bell and Brown widely considered the best in the league at their position.
Sadly, those days are behind them, with Bell all but gone and Brown not far behind him and the Steelers’ starting offense will unquestionably lack the star power of previous years when looking at the current projected starting lineup for 2019.
With Ramon Foster and Jesse James possibly set to follow Bell and Brown out of the door as free agents in the next few weeks and Martavis Bryant traded a year ago, Pittsburgh could see as many as five new starters on offense next season when compared to the group that started the 2017 season. Should Marcus Gilbert find himself among the cap casualties, the Steelers could see more than half of their starting offense from two years ago playing elsewhere in 2019.
Roster turnover is to be expected for any team, but changing half your offense in just two seasons is extreme by any standard, especially when you consider how highly regarded the group was. Indeed, many fans might reasonably argue that the unit that should have seen the most changes over this period was the defensive side of the ball, but it is interesting to note how little that group has changed by comparison in the same time frame.
If not for injury, Ryan Shazier would of course still feature prominently on defense, but with the exception of Mike Mitchell and question marks about the status of Artie Burns, it would be fair to ask what has really improved. Switching the positions of three different players remains the most profound change the defense has seen in two years.
Pittsburgh will be hoping that addition by subtraction will be the secret to their success in 2019, but they might also want to find a way of actually adding some starting talent to the defense and trying holding on to what they have left on offense too.