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Steelers just need “some tweaks” in 2020 to be considered legitimate contenders

The Pittsburgh Steelers have some questions heading into 2020, but most are not considered as dire as other teams.

NFL: Preseason-Kansas City Chiefs at Pittsburgh Steelers Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers were once 8-5 and in the drivers seat to make the NFL Playoffs, and then the wheels fell off. A loss to the Bills, followed by a loss to the Jets, turned their playoff hopes from “if we win out” to “we now need help”.

Fans around the globe know how things ended for the 2019 Steelers, and the result was the team watching the postseason just like their rabid fan base has been. It is hard to believe, but the Steelers haven’t been in the playoffs since 2017, and fans want to know what it will take to get back to the promised land in 2020.

At ESPN, Senior Writer Jeremy Fowler took on the task of putting every team in the NFL into tiers as to what needs to take place for the team in the offseason. Check out the tiers he used:

  • Tear it down
  • New coach taking control
  • Defense needs help
  • More offense, please
  • New QB, not much else
  • Minimal change needed

As you can see, it would be easy to put all 32 teams into at least one of the above categories, but where did Fowler put the Pittsburgh Steelers? Believe it or not, but he felt the team would be in the “Close, but some tweaks needed” tier.

Before diving into what this tier entails for the black-and-gold, here are the other teams who fell in this same subdivision.

Baltimore Ravens
Minnesota Vikings
Seattle Seahawks
New Orleans Saints
Philadelphia Eagles
Los Angeles Rams
Indianapolis Colts
Pittsburgh Steelers

Let’s take a look at what those “tweaks” would be to get the Steelers back to the playoffs and again legitimate Super Bowl contenders.

2019 record: 8-8

Average age of starters in 2019: 26.9 (14th youngest)

Projected 2020 cap space: $4,744,706 (No. 27)

Big-ticket free agent: Bud Dupree

Low-key important free agent: B.J. Finney

Priorities this offseason: Ben Roethlisberger’s health is everything. By mid-March, the Steelers need to feel reasonably good that he can recover at least most of his velocity coming off elbow surgery. Otherwise, they need to refresh their free-agency list at quarterback. “I think he’ll be the last quarterback of that 2004 [draft] class of quarterbacks to survive,” one NFC exec said. But Big Ben won’t be enough; he needs more playmakers around him. Dupree has earned a massive payday in free agency, and since the Steelers are usually pressed against the cap, they probably need to draft his replacement. At age 30, Cam Heyward’s Pro Bowl season proved he is worthy of a third contract. JuJu Smith-Schuster didn’t do enough to warrant the massive post-third-year payday.

When you look at it this way, you can understand where Fowler is coming from putting the Steelers into this category. If the franchise quarterback can return and be the same quarterback he was in previous seasons, the offense will likely move a lot smoother. On defense, there aren’t many glaring holes on the side of the ball which couldn’t be patched together with a few savvy free agent moves and the team’s allotment of 2020 NFL Draft picks.

What Fowler doesn’t really take into account is the Steelers’ uncanny ability to maneuver themselves around the salary cap. I believe it is safe to assume the Steelers keep Dupree at least for one more year on the franchise tag, and will find ways to make sure they can afford the $15 million necessary to allocate towards Dupree’s one-year deal. Outside of that, being up against the cap is nothing new for the Steelers, and they will be able to prove they are capable of making the right moves without the huge cap space other NFL clubs have in their possession.

What do you think of the Steelers being in the “close” tier? Should they be there, or somewhere else? Let us know what you think in the comment section below, and be sure to stick around BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers this entire offseason.