Less than a month ago the Steelers were untouchable. Sitting with an 11-0 record, the debate about if the team could go 16-0 was very real, and to top it off, Ben Roethlisberger’s MVP odds were climbing by the week. This year felt like the magic year where the Steelers would once again climb to the top of the mountain and bring home ring number seven. But then success came to a crashing halt. Three games later, and the Steelers are facing the most historic collapse in NFL history.
But this stretch has cut deeper than any other Steelers losing skid in recent memory, and after some soul searching I can tell you exactly why fans feel this way.
The last four weeks have revealed the Steelers aging offensive players can no longer make it through a vigorous 16 game regular season, let alone four more playoff games. These losses have represented the Steelers Super Bowl window slamming shut. While the team still has a championship level defense, the Steelers are faced with overhauling their entire offensive line, tight ends, running backs, and even their Hall of Fame quarterback.
When I came to the realization the Steelers are stuck with this group for at least another season, it only stings further to know another Super Bowl contending team is even further away.
Ben Roethlisberger’s 40+ million dollar cap hit in 2021 only further complicates the pressing offensive rebuild. Do you extend Roethlisberger to get his cap hit down for a year, do you eat the gigantic cap hit and tell him 2021 is his is last year as the Steelers quarterback, or do you cut/retire him and save yourself 20 million dollars this offseason? This is a brutal question everyone in the organization will be asking themselves until a resolution has been made. Not to mention finding a quarterback is one of the hardest things to do in all of sports. Since the turn of the century a vast majority of organizations haven't found anyone you could label as a ‘franchise quarterback’.
Then there is the offensive line. Which seemingly needs a five man swap. David DeCastro and Maurkice Pouncey made the Pro Bowl but are no longer Pro Bowl caliber players and the salary cap the team could get back by cutting them would help keep guys like Mike Hilton, Cameron Sutton, or Avery Williamson around. Matt Feiler has rapidly declined from a break out 2019 season. Alejandro Villanueva showed his true colors after being dominated against the Bengals, and Zach Banner is recovering from a torn ACL. It is possible that one or none of the Week 1 offensive line starters are brought back in 2021.
Moving on to the tight ends and running backs and we are again faced with a massive overhaul. Vance McDonald’s team option almost certainly won't be picked up and Eric Ebron’s deal was structured in such a way that he was almost certainly getting cut unless he had a strong campaign. Bell-cow running back, James Conner is on an expiring deal and if we have learned anything about the running back position it’s to never re-sign a player after their rookie deal. No matter what.
It’s also growing more likely by the week that JuJu Smith-Schuster will call another city home in 2021. The Steelers have almost entirely stopped using him the second he took the mantle of wide receiver one, and to be honest has been ‘un-clutch’ most of his Steelers tenure. Quite literally fumbling the Steelers post season aspirations away in 2018, 2019, and potentially fumbled away the AFC North in 2020.
So how long will it take to find a Super Bowl caliber quarterback, solid offensive line, and number ones at tight end, running back, and receiver? In a world where COVID-19 could be lowering the 2021 salary cap it’s going to be longer than usual. Hopefully the Steelers defense is still a dominant unit by the time the offense is good enough again.
What do you think? Do you think the Steelers can still compete for a Super Bowl within the next three years? Let us know your thoughts down in the comments below.