“The Pittsburgh Steelers don’t rebuild, they re-tool.”
I remember countless times seeing this comment on Twitter or in the comment section of this very website. At the time, it made sense. With a franchise quarterback in place, you don’t have to focus on the most important position in professional sports, just filling in the gaps around him.
With Ben Roethlisberger officially retired, fans are now talking about rebuilding, not just re-tooling. All of this is happening within the Steelers’ fan base, but what do the experts think when they consider the Steelers’ current situation heading into 2022?
ESPN recently did a project where they put every NFL franchise into an offseason tier. Some tiers ranged from being in “QB Purgatory” to “Major Rebuild”. Before looking at where the Steelers were placed, let’s take a look at all the available tiers:
- Time for a major rebuild
- New coach taking control
- Time to reassess
- Stuck in QB purgatory
- Comfortable despite losing season
- On the right track (mostly)
- Need a postseason breakthrough
- Still serious contenders
With that out of the way, the Steelers were placed into the “Time to reassess” tier for the 2022 offseason. Let’s see the reasoning the folks at ESPN had when putting this label on the black-and-gold:
2021 record: 9-7-1
Average age of roster in 2021: 26.4
Projected 2022 cap space: $42,716,831
Big ticket free agent: Ben Roethlisberger, QB (Retired)
Low-key important free agent: Trai Turner, G
Priorities this offseason: Replacing a franchise legend, two-time Super Bowl winner and future Hall of Famer at quarterback is a good start. Ben Roethlisberger’s retirement leaves coach Mike Tomlin charting a new path at QB for the first time since he took over the Steelers in 2007. The Steelers have a clear runway when it comes to options: They can go with the middle-tier veteran, big-game hunt for the top quarterbacks available via trade, or lean into the draft while Mason Rudolph bridges the gap in 2022.
That new quarterback will need improvements along an offensive line that ranked 28th in rushing offense. The Steelers didn’t invest heavily in the position group in 2021, and it showed. Cornerback Joe Haden and receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster are among notable free agents Pittsburgh could try to keep on one-year deals, while extending safety Minkah Fitzpatrick will occupy part of the summer. And the Steelers need to sort through the future of Stephon Tuitt, an elite defensive tackle who missed the season.
This is a crucial time for Pittsburgh, which will see GM Kevin Colbert retire after his contract expires following the 2022 draft. Staff changes could be on the way, too.
I find it fitting the Steelers were not placed in the “Major Rebuild” category, mainly because I don’t think one is upon the team. Although the post-Roethlisberger era is anything but certain, the fact remains the team has many pieces in place to be competitive, and a potential playoff team in 2022.
Just look at the Steelers’ defense for the main reason why a rebuild isn’t necessary. You have the Defensive Player of the Year, and perennial All-Pro, T.J. Watt, and joining him are other All-Pro players like Cameron Heyward and Minkah Fitzpatrick. Talk about a trio of defenders to build around.
Offensively, while the quarterback position leaves a gaping hole, Najee Harris, and fellow rookies Pat Freiermuth and Dan Moore Jr., showed plenty of promise to suggest there is a corps in place the team can build around.
Now, clearly you can see how the offensive side of the football leaves a good bit to be desired, but when you throw in the team’s draft capital, and salary cap space, they should be able to address both sides of the ball in some way this offseason.
Some might consider it a rebuild, while others call it something different, but in my opinion the Steelers can absolutely reimagine their roster this offseason with smart, and logical, decisions made both in free agency and the 2022 NFL Draft.
What do you think? Are the Steelers in full-on rebuild mode, or are they a team in transition with just a few additions needed to be made? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below, and be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers.