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Steelers fans are facing more offseason uncertainty than they have experienced in a long time

There are several factors which are contributing to the many questions in regards to the 2021 Pittsburgh Steelers.

Pittsburgh Steelers v New York Giants Photo by Benjamin Solomon/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers are known as one of the most stable franchises in all professional sports. With only three head coaches in the last 50 years, The Steelers have a reputation for continuing to put a quality product on the field year after year. But will 2021 bring the same expectations?

There are several factors contributing to the uncertainty with the Steelers as the 2021 offseason begins. If it were just one of these issues it would make for a normal year. But with three things contributing to the uncertainty in the Steel City, fans aren’t quite sure of the direction of this team heading in to 2021.

New Coaches

The Steelers managed to change up some of their assistant coaches from time to time, but if they fill all four vacated positions so far following the 2020 season it will be the most hires they have made since 2018. In that season, part of the reason the Steelers made four hires was due to adding positions as John Mitchell was promoted to strictly be the Steelers’ assistant head coach and Karl Dunbar was hired to fill his defensive line coaching position. The other hires were Daryl Drake after the retirement of Richard Mann, Tom Bradley after the departure of Carnell Lake, and the promotion of Randy Fichter to offensive coordinator after the Steelers did not retain Todd Haley.

As for filling this many open positions, it has been some time since the Steelers had to make such an overhaul of their coaching staff. Add in the fact several Steelers assistants have had interviews for opening coordinator positions around the NFL, there could be even more hires needed by the time the process is over. With the announcement of Matt Canada as the new offensive coordinator, it is reported the Steelers won’t make the same mistake again and hire a quarterbacks coach rather than ask Canada to perform both roles. Assuming the Steelers fill all the their open positions and not shirk their staff which is already the smallest in the NFL, the Steelers will have at least five coaches in new roles in 2021.

Quarterback Uncertainty

It’s been along time since the Pittsburgh Steelers were unsure as to what was going on with their quarterback position. Yes, there have been some concerns in recent years with Ben Roethlisberger. Most recently, coming off of a 2019 season where Roethlisberger missed 14 games with season ending elbow surgery left some questions as to how well Roethlisberger could perform. A couple years prior, Roethlisberger hinted at the thought of retirement. In the case of the injury, the question was about how effective Roethlisberger could be as he returned. When it was it earlier question of retirement, it was about if Roethlisberger would play at all. This time, it seems to be a combination of both factors.

For the 2021 season, many Steelers fans feel the time is right for Roethlisberger and the Steelers to part ways. Whether or not the Steelers organization feels the same will be determined in the next few weeks. But for the first time in nearly 20 season, the quarterback situation in Pittsburgh has reached a level where a change could very well be on the horizon.

Numerous Free Agents

When the 2021 league year kicks off in March, the Steelers have 19 players who finished the 2020 season either on the active roster or on the Reserve/Injured List who are set to become Unrestricted Free Agents. Of those 19 players, 12 of them started at least one game for the Steelers in 2020 and one more, Jordan Berry, does not count as an official starter as the team punter. In all, there are 94 total starts in 2020 by Steelers players set to become Unrestricted Free Agents.

Every year the Steelers lose players to free agency, but the potential on 19 is something so rare I can’t even tell you if it’s happened before. Of course the Steelers could sign some of these players for the 2021 season, but being over the projected salary cap does not help matters. If they work their numbers right, the Steelers could either keep a large number of the lower-end players or a few of their top priorities. Either way, there are going to be significant losses to other teams around the league.

The Steelers are entering some uncharted territory with the amount of potential changes to the roster, coaching staff, and the most important position on the field. When Mike Tomlin was hired in 2007 and had many subsequent changes to the coaching staff, the Steelers were set at the quarterback position and did not have a significant free agent loss. When Ben Roethlisberger was drafted in 2004 and became the starter, it was also a season with significant coaching changes as Ken Whisenhunt was the new offensive coordinator, but once again the Steelers did not have a significant free agent loss. With the potential of all three issues on the horizon for 2021, it’s no surprise the Steelers’ fan base is apprehensive about the coming season.