With one-full week of free-agent activity in the books, there’s one thing that’s perfectly clear about the Pittsburgh Steelers: They’re not interested in tanking in 2022.
Are they ever? No, but one had to wonder what their thought process was going to be this offseason after the retirement of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, their reason for always having hope for the season the previous 18 years.
The Steelers entered the free-agency period with nearly $30 million in cap space, an astronomical amount for them. But the Bengals just went to the Super Bowl. The Ravens, despite being swept by Pittsburgh last year, still had Lamar Jackson at quarterback and John Harbaugh, the man who always does more with less, as the head coach. And, of course, the Browns, even before the sudden trade for quarterback Deshaun Watson, were going to be considered more talented heading into 2022 than were the Steelers—again, despite being swept by Pittsburgh in 2021.
It would have been easy for general manager Kevin Colbert, head coach Mike Tomlin and the rest of the Steelers brain trust to just sit back for a year and reevaluate, lick their wounds, take some time to rest, go into hibernation, in fact, and prepare to have a record bad enough to find their next franchise quarterback in the 2023 NFL Draft—if you’re unaware, this draft will include the greatest quarterback class in the history of quarterback classes.
But, no, the Steelers are never interested in doing any of the above. I think they’re actually allergic to it. And that’s why they immediately went out and signed a veteran quarterback in Mitch Trubisky. Then, they went out and signed two more youngsters with the hope of rebuilding their offensive line. Then, they acquired a solid, if not spectacular, cornerback in one Levi Wallace. Not long after that, they agreed to terms with Myles Jack, the kind of inside linebacker that Devin Bush hasn’t quite developed into just yet.
Will any or all of these moves make the Steelers Super Bowl contenders in 2022? I doubt it. Will it make them contenders in any sense of the word? It’s hard to say at this stage of the game, what with so many other things still needing to be addressed, including the wide-receiver position.
But Pittsburgh should be competitive in 2022. No, I do not see the Steelers lying down and playing dead for the rest of the NFL next year. That’s not how they operate. They always want to, at the bare minimum, give themselves a chance to go out there and fight each and every week.
So the Steelers look like the fourth-best team in the AFC North heading into 2022? That’s a perception one can wrap his or her head around, but it doesn’t mean they’ll be a pathetic fourth-best—or even finish the season in that position. Besides, if they make another move or two, they could have the best defense in the division, heck, maybe even in the entire NFL.
It’s hard to be a doormat when you have a dominant defense, something Steelers fans found out in 2019 when the team had to play the majority of the season without Roethlisberger at quarterback.
Speaking of that 2019 campaign, if anything showed you how adamant the Steelers have always been about remaining relevant, it was the trade for safety Minkah Fitzpatrick just days after it was confirmed that Roethlisberger would be lost for the rest of the season with a serious elbow injury.
The Steelers could have thrown in the towel, but instead of that, they played at such a level that millions of their fans all over the world were still able to twirl their Terrible Towels with passion until they were finally eliminated from the playoff race in Week 17.
You might say that giving up a first-round pick to acquire a safety that made them just good enough to compete wasn’t the right move, especially since tanking could have netted them a much higher draft pick and potentially a future franchise quarterback (Justin Herbert comes to mind). You could also say that they made a mistake in 2021 by bringing Roethlisberger back for one more season, thus delaying their rebuild by one calendar year.
But the Steelers did begin their rebuild in 2021, but they also wanted to give themselves a chance to remain competitive in the process, which they did thanks in large part to several fourth-quarter comebacks engineered by their mostly washed-up 39-year old quarterback.
The Steelers just don’t know any better but to find a way to compete, no matter the circumstances.
It’s hard to say just how competitive the Steelers will be in 2022, but they will not be a laughingstock, I can tell you that much.
The Pittsburgh Steelers just don’t have it in them to tank, so I wouldn’t expect that in 2022 if I were you.