The 2020 season is over, and in the coming days you're going to see a ton of content about what went wrong during this past year, but I wanted to look ahead at the offseason to come and how I anticipate the Pittsburgh Steelers will wade through murky water. To be blunt, the next couple months are probably going to suck. For the first time in a long time, you're going to see the Steelers roster regress. But, if the Steelers stay the course and not bow to public pressure, they can bring themselves back to prominence faster than you may anticipate.
The biggest factor of the offseason hinges on whether Ben Roethlisberger decides to come back in 2021 or not. The 38 year old gunslinger has 41 million reasons to come back next year, and I would anticipate that makes his decision a lot easier. The Steelers also aren't going to draft a quarterback with the 24th selection of the draft either. Why you ask? Drafting a quarterback with any pick, for the purposes of starting, after the 15th selection of the draft, reeks of desperation and places teams in a cycle of mediocrity.
Look no further than the Cleveland Browns for the prime example. Before the Browns drafted Baker Mayfield first overall, they traded back into the first round on a number of occasions to draft the likes of Deshone Kiser, Johnny Manziel, Brandon Weldon, and Brady Quinn to guide their struggling franchise. All they found were sub-par quarterbacks and no playoff appearances.
First/second round QBs taken after the 13th pick since 2013— Michael Beck (@MichaelBeck56) January 11, 2021
When you look at the 2021 NFL Draft their are some sure fire names that will go within the Top-12 picks of the draft: Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Justin Fields, and Trey Lance. Then New England at 16 could reach for someone like Mac Jones, leaving Kyle Trask as the next highest rated quarterback on most experts’ boards. Now, do you really want the Steelers to draft the guy no one else wanted? Is that really the guy you think will bring the Steelers back into Super Bowl games? I think you already know the answer to that, and with so many other positions needing to be addressed through the draft you should practically be begging for Ben Roethlisberger to return for one more season.
Don't waste your time looking at free agents/trade targets either, as the Steelers just don't have any more available money to invest in their quarterback position.
Looking at the rest of the offensive ‘skill players’ the most prominent free agents, Juju Smith-Schuster and James Conner, are virtual locks to walk in free agency. Sure, the Steelers might be able to swindle Conner for a cheap deal, but the guy just can't stay healthy. For the receivers, the Steelers would be wise to bring in an older receiver just to teach the rest of the youngsters how to be men in the NFL. On top of that, I predict the Steelers will once again draft a running back for a fifth consecutive year. You can't have the lowest total yards and the lowest yards per carry in the league and not address the position. Alabama running back Najee Harris’ name has been tied to the Steelers for months now, and might just end up being the player the Steelers go with.
28. #Steelers - RB Najee Harris, Alabama— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) January 7, 2021
The most no-brainer pick after No. 1 overall. Harris immediately gives Pittsburgh a run game and helps in the passing game with his excellent football IQ and receiving ability.
As for tight ends Eric Ebron and Vance McDonald I would anticipate both players getting released as the Steelers can save a ton of money, for a relatively small impact. Much like how I begged the Steelers to make a deal for Avery Williamson, I will again beg for them to trade for Zach Ertz as a very cheap one year option who could have one good year left in him. At the very least, he catches the ball. Tight End is a position the Steelers will need to consider drafting further down the line, but having an experienced like like Ertz for a low cost of $4 million should pay dividends.
The offensive line is the last individual position group I will spend some time on. The state of the line is in a very rough place. Maurkice Pouncey snaps have become inconsistent, and was consistently manhandled at the point of attack. Alejandro Villanueva was a straight up liability at times this year. While rumors spread of either players potential retirement, the organization might be forced to push them out the door. David DeCastro was clearly playing injured all season, he must patch himself back up and return to his All-Pro level form. As for Matt Feiler, Zach Banner, and Chukwuma Okorafor, they're welcome back, but it's going to have to be on cheap deals. The offensive line needs an overhaul and if the Steelers don't invest substantial draft capital into the spot they're making a massive mistake.
Defensive free agents Bud Dupree, and Mike Hilton will likely be offered way more money to play elsewhere. Losing these players will sting, but the Steelers are on the door step of a complete rebuild. Adding two third-round compensatory picks (Dupree and Smith-Schuster) and potentially a fourth from Hilton would rapidly speed up this process.
Vince Williams and Joe Haden are potential cap casualties unless they're willing to take pay cuts. Either man is a heart and soul type guy for their position group, and the Steelers need to try to find ways to keep them in black and gold. The Steelers need to try to keep this defense together the best they can as the core of T.J. Watt, Devin Bush, and Minkah Fitzpatrick will spearhead the group for at least the next ten years.
If there is a light at the end of the tunnel, it’s that the Steelers currently have over $171 million in 2022 salary cap, and with two years of good drafting could once again be hunting Lombardi trophies as soon as that year. But to get to that point the Steelers can't rock the ship chasing a Super Bowl that seems out of hand in 2021, or desperately chasing quarterback replacements this offseason.
As for the coaching staff, there is no feasible way the Steelers return offensive coordinator, Randy Fitchner. His time is Pittsburgh has come to an end and the search for the next OC might just begin in-house, but I would imagine the Steelers would bring someone in externally. As for a new head coach the Steelers would be so far behind the eight ball that canning Mike Tomlin would be a monumental mistake. Much like the quarterback class of 2021, the best coaches have already been interviewed and deals for those candidates are being drafted as you read this. The bottom line is the Steelers won't be making any earth shattering decisions this year.
The night is darkest before the dawn. Unfortunately, the Steelers have yet to reach its darkest moment. But turning on a flash light won't won't light up the night sky, in fact it tends to draw in mosquitoes and predators. We must all stay the course, and together we will emerge on the other side.