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Are the Steelers spending their money on the wrong side of the ball?

The Steelers have a number of big contracts on defense, but should they the be looking to invest in the offense?

NFL: Tennessee Titans at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

In the most recent episode of the Steelers Stat Geek podcast, I was asked a question about positional spending and if there is a trend among the Super Bowl winning teams and where they invest their money. In doing so, I broke down the last three Super Bowl champions by position groups and how much of a percentage of their salary cap they spent on each group. I also took into account where the team had high draft picks still on rookie contracts, which help them save money in various places.

In trying to come to a conclusion, I found the last three Super Bowl champions had spent more money on the offensive side of the ball than on defense. Seeing that this was a trend, I went back as far as I could looking at the positional spending on overthecap.com, which goes all the way back into the 2013 season. In doing so, I found every Super Bowl champion from at least the last nine seasons spent more money on offense than they did on defense.

One team who did not spend more money on offense was the 2021 Pittsburgh Steelers. In fact, despite a high salary cap number from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers have spent more of their salary cap money on the defensive side of the ball for the last three seasons going back to 2019.

In looking at the Steelers offensive vs. defensive spending, they kind of have a bit of a flip-flop action. In 2013 and 2014 the majority of their money was headed to the defense. From 2015 through 2018, those four seasons saw an increase in spending on offense. Looking at the Steelers and their offensive weapons in what many call the “Killer B” era, it makes sense the Steelers were spending so much money on the offensive side of the ball. But 2019 saw the spending flip back over to the defense.

When it comes to the Super Bowl champions, it’s not that there’s a huge discrepancy between the offense and the defense. In fact, it doesn’t even reach a 60–40 ratio. The 2021 Los Angeles Rams spent 54.5% of their salary cap on offense and 45.5% on defense. These numbers are excluding the special teams spending and only looking at the totals for each position group. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2020 had a little bit more skewed of a percentage of 57.5% on offense and 42.5% on defense. It was the 2019 Kansas City Chiefs which saw an even the bigger difference, despite Patrick Mahomes being on his rookie contract. The Chiefs spent 59.7% of their salary cap on offense with 40.3% on defense. It should also be noted how both the Buccaneers and Chiefs had spent significantly more high draft capital on their defense in the seasons leading up to their Super Bowl championships.

The Steelers were fairly close in their spending in 2021 with 47.1% being used on the offense and 52.9% on the defense. It should also be noted T.J. Watt‘s mega-deal was in its first year and actually cost less on the salary cap than his fifth-year option would have been had he not signed last offseason. So, it’s worth noting it wasn’t that Watt was a huge contributor to the numbers on defense.

So, why am I even bringing this up? Is it even that much of a big deal at this point?

Actually, for 2022, the discrepancy between the spending on offense and defense is almost off the charts.

Before the new league year starts on March 16th, the Steelers are currently 32nd in the NFL in spending on offense and aren’t all that close to the next team. The Steelers don’t even have $40 million of their salary cap invested on the offensive side of the ball, at this time. But with over $116 million designated to the defense, the Steelers are second in the NFL in spending.

To look at these numbers as a percentage, the Steelers are currently spending only 25.3% of their salary cap on offense with 74.7% coming on defense.

To put this in perspective, the Steelers could spend more on the offense in free agency than what they currently are right now and add another $40 million, which is more than they have in salary cap space, and it would still only bring them up to 27th in the NFL in offensive spending if other teams’ numbers remain constant. If the Steelers kept their defensive number exactly where it is an added $40 million to the offense, they would still be spending only 40.5% for offense and 59.5% of their salary cap on defense.

Of course, not everything in the NFL comes down to crunching the numbers in this way. Part of the reason the Steelers don’t have more money invested in their offense is because right now they don’t have an obvious choice for a player to invest a large amount of money for next season. Additionally, the players who are the biggest investments for 2022 on offense combined to play a total of 91 offensive snaps in 2022. That’s correct, the Steelers biggest salary cap number on offense for 2022 at this time is Zach Banner, who played a total of five offensive snaps last season.

The next highest salary cap number technically counts on the offense with Derek Watt being a fullback and playing 86 snaps in 2021, but the real investment for him is his value on special teams. With those two being the only offensive players in the Top 10 salary cap numbers for the Steelers for 2022, it shows how little the Steelers have invested in their offense beyond players on their rookie contracts.

With the Steelers looking to have more money than ever when it comes to salary cap for free agency, it’s time for them to look to invest in their offense to help fill in the holes beyond players on the rookie contracts. Even if the Steelers don’t get into the same spending pattern as the last nine Super Bowl champions, the least they can do is invest as much in the offense to get a little bit closer to balance. And it’s not that players such as T.J. Watt and Cam Heyward don’t deserve the contracts the Steelers have invested in them. If anything, it just shows how much the Steelers should be looking to invest in their offense for 2022.

To check out all the information on the Steelers spending by position compared to the Super Bowl champions over the last three seasons, check out the Steelers Stat Geek podcast below: