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Blowing up the Pittsburgh Steelers in 5 simple steps

The 2023 Pittsburgh Steelers are a lost cause. Here’s a roadmap for Mr. Rooney & Co. to blow it all up.

The Pittsburgh Steelers offense huddles up in the second half. The Steelers lost to the New England Patriots, 21-18. Photo by Danielle Parhizkaran/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers have now lost back-to-back games to teams that entered the Week at 2-10. They literally made history with the losses, becoming the first winning team in NFL history to lose back-to-back games against teams at least eight games below .500 — YIKES.

Week by week, the Steelers’ playoff hopes (or at least, their hopes of snagging their first playoff win since the 2016 NFL season) continue to dwindle, which has left fans to wonder... what’s next for the Steelers?

Here’s a five-step guide for the Pittsburgh Steelers to rebuild (AKA, blow this franchise to smithereens) in their quest to once again reclaim the title as the franchise with the most Super Bowl wins in NFL history by snagging No. 7 to once again take the lead over the New England Patriots.

Step 1: Tank the rest of the way

It’s entirely impossible to predict where the Steelers would land in the 2024 NFL Draft order if they lost every game the rest of the way given that the win/loss record of every other team would shake things up along the way. However, if the Steelers lost the remaining four games on their schedule (which doesn’t seem beyond the realm of possibility), they’d finish the year at 7-10, accomplishing Mike Tomlin’s first-ever losing season.

Last year, a 7-10 record would have been good for a pick in the No. 8 to No. 13 range-ish based on my estimations. Regardless of what exact pick their hypothetical 7-10 record would yield, the position of the Steelers' 2024 NFL draft pick will be important the rest of the way. We are blowing this thing up and rebuilding, after all.

Step 2: Trade Mike Tomlin

No, the Steelers should not fire Mike Tomlin. They should trade him.

There is 100% a market for a guy like Tomlin. Hell, he’s never had a losing record! However, it does feel like Pittsburgh’s relationship with this legend has run its course.

Since 2000, there have been five NFL head coaches traded, including Bill Belichick (Jets to Patriots), Jon Gruden (Buccaneers to Raiders), Herm Edwards (Jets to Chiefs), Bruce Arians (Cardinals to Buccaneers) and Sean Payton (Saints to Broncos). Edwards and Arians (who had already retired) were the only coaches that didn’t yield first-round compensation in the trade. Heck, Gruden yielded two first-round picks. It seems like a lock that the Steelers could nab at least a first-rounder for Mike Tomlin.

Some teams that could be in consideration:

  • Chicago Bears: Currently 4-8, coached by Matt Eberflus — Hold two first-round picks in the 2024 NFL Draft (Nos. 1 and 5 if the season ended today)
  • Washington Commanders: Currently 4-9, coached by Ron Rivera — Hold one first-round pick in the 2024 NFL Draft (No. 4)
  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Currently 5-7, coached by Todd Bowles — Hold one first-round pick in the 2024 NFL Draft (No. 10)
  • LA Chargers: Currently 5-7, coached by Brandon Staley — Hold one first-round pick in the 2024 NFL Draft (No. 12)

Step 3: Hire a new head coach

This is the most crucial step — finding the next leader for the Black & Gold. The Steelers, who have traditionally been of a defensive mindset, might look in the direction of an offensive-minded head coach with the potential to develop and orchestrate the many talents this team has on offense into a symphony of Lombardis.

Here are some of my favorite candidates to take over as the Steelers new head coach:

Eric Bienemy (Current OC for Washington Commanders)

Eric Bienemy is in his first season as the offensive coordinator for the Washington Commanders, having spent the previous five seasons as the offensive coordinator for the Kansas City Chiefs working under Andy Reid. Though his resume was impressive, of course, and he’s had plenty of interviews for head coaching positions in the past, he hasn’t yet landed the gig. He made the move to work as the OC for the Commanders this season and has made this offense look remarkably capable — maybe it wasn’t just Andy Reid’s influence on the Chiefs’ success, after all.

Sean Desai (Current DC for Philadelphia Eagles)

Sean Desai is in his first season working as the defensive coordinator for the Philadelphia Eagles and 12th year coaching in the league. He started his professional career in the NCAA before earning his first coaching job in the NFL with the Chicago Bears, with whom he worked as the defensive quality control coach for six seasons before being promoted to the safeties coach and, eventually, defensive coordinator in 2021. He went on to work under Pete Carroll in 2022 as the Assistant Head Coach of Defense before eventually being hired as the Eagles’ defensive coordinator this season.

Given the Steelers’ heavy spending on defense, they’d probably like to look in the direction of a defensive mind, and nodding in the direction of a guy who’s A) shown results and B) worked under some talented defensive minds between Vic Fangio and Pete Carroll could be a plus.

Ben Johnson (Current OC for Detroit Lions)

Johnson is in his second season calling plays for the Detroit Lions, and it’s no coincidence that this unit has ranked top six in offensive scoring and yardage in each of those seasons.

Johnson’s schemed up both an explosive passing game under Jared Goff and an incredible 1-2 punch running back duo between rookie Jahmyr Gibbs and veteran David Montgomery. Imagine what he could do with Harris, Warren, Pickens and the quarterback he the Steelers go on to draft here in Step 5.

Step 4: Draft their franchise quarterback

Hypothetically, if the Steelers held somewhere between the No. 8 to No. 11 pick and acquired another top-10 pick in the hypothetical Mike Tomlin trade, they could move up and get their franchise quarterback of the future. They’d probably have to throw in some random odds and ends to even out the scales (everyone loves throwing in some sixth and seventh-round swaps just for funsies), they could be in a position to trade up to No. 1 or No. 2 to stake their claim on their quarterback of the future.

The top two quarterbacks coming out of the 2024 NFL Draft class are Caleb Williams (USC) and Drake Maye (UNC), both projected to be drafted in the top three. Here are thoughts from NFL Draft Analyst Mel Kiper on each, courtesy of his 2024 NFL Draft Rankings, now live with ESPN+.

Mel Kiper on Caleb Williams (USC)

Just turn on the tape from any of the games from Williams’ Heisman-winning 2022 season and you’ll see why he’s the top quarterback in this class. He had 52 total touchdowns — 42 through the air — with just five interceptions while completing 66.6% of his passes. He ranked in the top 10 in the FBS in QBR (87.6), passing yards (4,537), yards per attempt (9.1) and throws of 20-plus yards (69).

Williams is a fabulous playmaker, and there are “wow” throws all over his tape, even going back to his freshman season at Oklahoma. He’s incredible escaping the pocket and making off-platform throws, excelling when plays break down. His improvisational skills are off the charts — it’s incredible how he can make the first defender miss and create first downs out of thin air. He has great field vision and throws dimes to receivers while under duress. He’s incredibly creative, which is not something we can usually say of quarterbacks.

Mel Kiper on Drake Maye (North Carolina)

Maye had a fantastic debut season as the starter at UNC, throwing for 4,321 yards with 38 touchdowns and seven picks in 2022. He looks the part of a big-time NFL signal-caller. He can make every throw with ease. He’s accurate on the move and can pick up first downs with his legs. Maye varies his pass speeds really well — he knows when to take a little off to make it easier for his receivers. He has outstanding touch on vertical throws.

Maye completed 63.3% of his passes during the regular season, and his best performance came when he threw for 442 yards and three scores against Syracuse. Still, he has had a few sloppy interceptions, and I want to see him clean up those mistakes.

Step 5: Win that Lombardi

I may have skipped a few steps to get to Step 5 here, but the end goal remains the same as it has ever been; the Pittsburgh Steelers need to get back to a winning culture, and they need to win another Super Bowl. They need to be discontent with “standard” simply being a winning regular-season record. They need to be discontent with their professional football organization falling victim to trap games far too often.

As much as Mike Tomlin has done for the Pittsburgh Steelers franchise, sometimes a change of scenery can be a good thing for both parties. Just as the Philadelphia Eagles once parted ways with Andy Reid and the Green Bay Packers moved on from Mike McCarthy — sometimes, a change is a good thing. Maybe the Steelers make some changes this offseason...

Probably not though. That’s just not the Steelers way.

What would you like to see the Pittsburgh Steelers front office do in the offseason? What’s their path forward to the next Lombardi? Join our Behind the Steel Curtain community and let us know in the comments!