New Year’s Eve is a time where people make resolutions for the upcoming year, things we want to do and ways we want to improve ourselves. It’s a time of looking into the future and saying, “This year, I’m going to do it right.”
Those resolutions don’t tend to work. If we had the will to change our bad habits, we wouldn’t be waiting for New Year’s Day to start. So I’m not going to dive into ways I could be better, because if I wanted to be that person I’d have put that effort in before now. So hand me a second Apple Fritter and let’s do something more fun, let’s make resolutions for other people. Namely the NFL and the Pittsburgh Steelers.
1 - NFL: Get your act together
Admit it, there’s so many stupid things in the NFL that you have no clue what direction I’m going with this. That’s sad. But on top of a general “try to be less dumb” message to the NFL, we’re talking about taunting.
It’s ridiculous that taunting is a point of emphasis in a season where the enforcement of player safety rules seems to have lapsed even more. You can hit a defenseless receiver in the head and you have a chance of getting a flag, but flex or say words to that same receiver, you know that’s a 15 yard penalty. Unnecessary roughness against someone’s feelings is apparently a much bigger threat than CTE now. No more broken ego’s, no more bruised feelings! Football is finally safe to play!
I’m not opposed to cracking down on taunting, just like I wasn’t opposed to cracking down on celebrations when they were becoming elaborate and ridiculous, but do it with some sense. Make it clear what constitutes taunting and what doesn’t and stick to it. And don’t make taunting a worse offense than unnecessarily putting a player at risk of serious injury, because protecting feelings over people’s actual physical health is ludicrous.
2 - Steelers: Rebuild this Steeler team right
It’s looking more and more like Ben Roethlisberger is finishing his final season as the Steelers quarterback. That’s a heavy statement, and it means a lot of uncertainty for the future. A lot of Steeler fans out there don’t even know a Steelers team without Big Ben as the centerpiece. The rest of us have to work a bit to remember those days. I was a 24 year old newly married man looking for a job in my new town when the Steelers drafted Ben Roethlisberger. I’m the father of a teenage girl now and he’s still the quarterback.
Those of us who remember the Steelers quest from the end of Bradshaw to the start of Roethlisberger may be getting antsy for our next franchise QB, but if that time taught us anything, it’s that rushing into a new franchise QB isn’t easy and often isn’t smart.
There are teams that have gone from a franchise QB straight into another franchise QB by having a succession plan. Steve Young and Aaron Rogers stand out, but both only won one Super Bowl, and honestly, if the Packers hadn’t spent resources to try and get Rogers’ replacement they might have a better shot at another one right now.
Ben Roethlisberger won as many Super Bowls as Rogers and Young combined because he walked into a better situation. It’s hard to build a Super Bowl team around a quarterback, it’s easier to insert a great QB into a team that is really good but lacking a QB and have that success. Ben Roethlisberger, Russell Wilson, Patrick Mahomes, even Peyton Manning in Denver and Tom Brady in Tampa Bay have shown that.
Ask yourself, seriously, do the Steelers have a Super Bowl caliber roster outside of Ben Roethlisberger? No, they don’t. They aren’t too far off if certain players come back healthy, but there are some serious holes that need filled.
Get the lines fixed up, get this team built right, then go looking for the quarterback.
3 - Steelers: Be patient, find the right guy for the job
There isn’t a franchise QB in every draft. There’s routinely three or four that fans and teams have convinced themselves can be that guy, but they don’t usually work out that way. In the last 21 drafts, 40 quarterbacks have been taken with top 10 picks. Two of them have won a Super Bowl for their teams, and they account for 3 total Super Bowl wins. Eli Manning and Patrick Mahomes are those two. The draft class of 2004 saw three franchise QBs and those three won 4 Super Bowls combined. Since that 2004 class, only 3 of the 52 quarterbacks drafted in the first round have led their team to a Super Bowl win, Aaron Rogers (2005), Joe Flacco (2008) and Patrick Mahomes (2017).
If the goal of the Steelers is still to win a Super Bowl, then just running out and drafting the most talented quarterback you can with your first pick isn’t a good strategy. Even if you think the Steelers could win a Super Bowl with some of the quarterbacks other teams couldn’t win with, it is important to note that of the 35 quarterbacks drafted in the first round from 2005-2017, only 15 have been starters for 5 seasons, with only Mitchell Trubisky and Patrick Mahomes likely to join that list in the future.
With a roughly 50% chance of finding an actual long-term starter with a first round pick, that’s not great odds. And those 5 season starters include Jason Campbell, Blake Bortles, Sam Bradford, Carson Wentz, Jay Cutler, Ryan Tannehill, Jared Goff, Jameis Winston and Alex Smith.
My point is the Steelers drafting a quarterback in the first round because they don’t have a great quarterback isn’t a smart move. Look at all the names above and ask yourself, would you rather have had Blake Bortles or Ryan Shazier? Ryan Tannehill or David DeCastro? Artie Burns or Jared Goff? Jared Goff has two Pro-Bowls and played in a Super Bowl, and you are still debating if you would want him or Artie Burns. I’d take a 40 year old Ben Roethlisberger over Jared Goff next year. And those are the more successful quarterbacks. How about EJ Manuel or Jarvis Jones? Mason Rudolph is better than a bunch of the first round quarterbacks of the last 17 years, and people laugh that the Steelers saw him as a first round value.
The point here is you don’t solve the quarterback situation by throwing darts at the “first round QB” board and hoping for the best. You need to draft the right guy. If that guy is in the draft class, then go for it, if not wait. It is more important to get that pick right than to start playing first round quarterback musical chairs. We’ve all seen the teams that play that game, because most of them are still playing it.
4 - Steelers: Develop what you have
Great teams don’t become great by acquiring already great players, they get there by building up what they already have. Getting more out of every player is going to get you farther than constantly looking to bring in someone better. Fans tend to give up on players quickly and view the solution as replacing that player. But there are limited resources to acquire new talent, the salary cap and draft don’t let teams go grab all the players they want, you have limited ability to add players. The players you already have outnumber the opportunities you have to add players.
The Steelers success in development is not bad either. Cameron Sutton is a very solid #2 corner, it took him years to get to that point. Robert Spillane has gone from practice squad player to special teams ace to valuable rotational piece. Terrell Edmunds has gone from the weakest link on the defense to a real asset as a mismatch canceler. T.J. Watt has gone from an athletic and raw edge defender many considered a reach at the end of the first round to a defensive player of the year candidate. Scheme is a big part of getting the most out of their players too.
Bud Dupree was a valuable player for the Steelers for years before the stats showed it because they found a way to use him that maximized his ability and benefitted the team. Joe Haden was on the decline when he left Cleveland, Pittsburgh has found ways to fit the defense to his talents and he remains an extremely valuable piece in the defense today. Minkah Fitzpatrick went from a player without a position to one of the most dangerous playmakers in the NFL when he joined the Steelers and they altered their scheme to fit his talents.
Finding out what you already have in the players on the roster, helping those players reach their potential and fitting the scheme to the strengths of those players is going to get the franchise much farther than trying to replace half the players every year and hoping the new ones are already good.
5 - Steeler Fans: Embrace the process
This is a constant hope I have for people, that they can learn to embrace the process of football, and not just good results. The Steelers worst season in team history was in 1969, a 1-13 season headed by Chuck Noll. At the end of that season Dan Rooney gave Chuck Noll a bonus. Chuck Noll tried to give it back, the team was awful, the Steelers had never been worse, but Dan Rooney saw what Noll was doing, believed in it and told him to keep it because he had earned it. Chuck Noll, for his part, kept the check but didn’t cash it, he still didn’t believe he had earned it. Dan Rooney was right. Noll’s success was coming, not because he would turn into a good coach in 1972, but because the process, even when done as well as it ever has been, takes time.
The Rooney’s stayed with Cowher when his 1990’s team fell apart and had to be rebuilt. They saw the process was good, and they didn’t just judge the results. That paid off. The Steelers aren’t going to change everything based solely on the results. They get to see the process, and they judge based on that process.
As fans we don’t get to see that process, we can’t judge players or coaches based on the process, we only can see the results. But too often we get caught up in celebrating results, and we don’t enjoy the process. Fans remember the 2005 Super Bowl win, the “One for the thumb” and they gloss over the 31-38 loss to the Bengals when T.J. Houshmandzadeh torched the Steelers in a game that would end up giving the Bengals the division. They forget the 16-13 loss to the 3-7 Ravens. . . in short we gloss over the struggles when the results are good. Once things go right we forget the messy road that led there, and when we see the mess in the moment, we forget that that mess is necessary. We forget that overcoming adversity means first getting knocked down, that setbacks are necessary for growth.
We’ll see this coming Monday a great example of people looking beyond the results as Ben Roethlisberger plays in what is likely his last home game. We’ll see them embrace the story and set aside the current standings. Enjoy the story of the game instead of just the results.
In the years to come this team is going to struggle as it looks for a new quarterback, and adapts it’s identity to whoever that new quarterback is. There will be struggles, growing pains and failures, because that is necessary. If we can’t embrace the process and enjoy the stories to come, but only celebrate or mourn the results, the coming seasons aren’t going to be much fun.
That’s why my biggest wish and resolution for this fanbase is to embrace the ugliness and enjoy the stories to come. Enjoy seeing a Bud Dupree turn into a better player, instead of just being angry that he wasn’t that player earlier. Enjoy the improbable wins instead of throwing blame for it not being a convincing win. Enjoy football, enjoy the Steelers. Embrace the process.