“If you build it, they will come.”
That is an unforgettable line from the classic baseball themed movie Field of Dreams. That statement holds true for the NFL and the Pittsburgh Steelers also. If the Steelers rebuild a foundation of NFL quality talent across the roster, the wins will come. Especially the postseason variety that has proven so hard to come by for the Steelers during the past handful of seasons. As much as I would love to blame the often less than stellar schemes employed by the Steelers, the Steelers biggest issue at the moment is a lack of talent up and down the roster.
Great players often hide a multitude of shortcomings. Great players who are also great leaders make everyone around them better. That is the hard truth for the Steelers currently. They no longer possess an abundance of superior individual performers, and the renowned leadership for which the Steelers are well known is no longer sprinkled up and down the roster. The Steelers need to head into the 2022 NFL offseason solely focused on rebuilding and replenishing their talent deficient roster, rather than trying for a quick fix to remain competitive in a loaded division and AFC conference.
The rebuild started last season, whether the fan base was able to recognize it, or the front office able to acknowledge it or not. The Steelers brought back the 39 years young Ben Roethlisberger for what amounted to a farewell tour, knowing all too well that he could no longer carry a offense on his back like in his younger years. He needed far more talent around him than he actually had at his disposal. Prior to the 2021 season, it was common knowledge he needed a much improved offensive line and an consistently productive rushing attack if he was going to be able to be the game manager of an efficient and effective offense. None of those things came to fruition.
Young Ben was a great player who's abilities raised the capabilities of those around him on offense. Those attributes have been nowhere to be found over the past couple of seasons. There was the occasional glimpse of past glory, but nothing sustainable, although he was still clutch enough to be one of the most effective fourth quarter QBs in the league and contributed prominently on 7 game winning drives out of 9 total victories for the Steelers on the season. Due to the vast age difference between Roethlisberger and one of the youngest rosters in the league, he was viewed more as a father figure than clubhouse leader by many.
So who were the Steelers great players and leaders on offense? Honestly, by any conceivable metrics, the Steelers only have two elite level players on their roster at the moment. Obviously, that would be T.J. Watt and Cameron Heyward. Both men are Pro Bowl, All Pro, and All NFL selections. It doesn't get any more elite than that folks. Well, actually it could. T.J. Watt has to be the logical favorite for the 2021 NFL DPOY Award, and Heyward is the Steelers nominee for the Walter Payton Award. Those distinguished honors would be icing on the cake of two HOF trending careers.
Problem is, outside of those two truly exceptional players, the Steelers have a talent deficiency across the roster. For the first time that I can remember, the Steelers didn't have a single Pro Bowler on offense. Even with Roethlisberger in the twilight of his career, you could count on standouts like Pouncey and DeCastro to keep the streak alive. Not anymore, as the offensive line didn't have a single member even considered middle of the pack this season.
Najee Harris was the Steelers most effective offensive player, even cracking the thousand rushing yards mark, but he was hindered greatly by the subpar line play. Diontae Johnson had his first thousand receiving yards season of his career, and was even considered a fringe Pro Bowl candidate, but his past inconsistency reared it's ugly head once again late in the season. Those two were the only offensive players even worthy of Pro Bowl consideration.
It is vitally important that the Steelers hierarchy can honestly and accurately evaluate their current roster, which will be required to devise a realistic plan to replenish their overall talent through the NFL Draft and free agency. It has been surmised by many that the Steelers are sitting in a favorable position heading into the off season due to the most salary cap revenue they have had at their disposal in decades. Although I always look for the positives in any situation, I would counter that the Steelers have more overall team needs that I can ever remember. They also don't have an optimal amount of draft capital this year.
Ever the optimist, the bottom line is this. The Steelers are most likely looking at a two year rebuild, and that is if basically every moves pans out favorably for the Black and Gold. It would also work wonders for the rebuild if guys like Stephon Tuitt and Devin Bush could achieve a motivated return to form. If Chase Claypool can display the maturity and work ethic needed to take full advantage of his God given athletic gifts. If a off season of weight training and position specific training can help Kendrick Green and Dan Moore Jr. take the next step in their development.
The Steelers shouldn't be in any discussions about Aaron Rodgers or Russell Wilson, as the Steelers are not in the position where a superstar signal caller would make them a contender. The focus of this off season has to be starting the arduous process of building a championship caliber roster, so that the next guy that the Steelers believe could be that franchise QB might really be the missing piece to their next Lombardi Trophy. Like Ben Roethlisberger 18 long years ago.