ESPN came up with a handy way of figuring out the impact of offseason personnel loss with their NFL Offseason Turnover by Snaps analysis. Instead of just counting the number of players who left, which is a pretty basic calculation any four-year-old with fingers could do, ESPN took a look at the players' contribution to the team in terms of offensive and defensive snaps played by players who departed. The Steelers had a net loss of 3,517 snaps, well over the average league loss of 2,000 snaps. The Jets, Bears, and Raiders added the most experienced personnel, as determined by the players' snap counts in 2014. The Packers did not pick up any snaps in free agency, while the Steelers picked up over 200.
While this metric isn't a perfect indicator of a team's performance for the upcoming season, it does identify struggles teams might face due to loss of veteran talent. The most notable departures from the Black and Gold were Ike Taylor, Troy Polamalu, Brett Keisel, and Jason Worilds. All were strong players, and all-- with the exception of Worilds, whom we probably would have lost in free agency-- were at a point in their careers where retirement made sense.
Taken out of context, this could seem like bad news for the Steelers. After all, there are twenty-eight teams who fared better when it came to the loss of proven personnel. Here are three reasons there is no need for panic:
First, the Steelers have a corps of promising rookies and former backups.
Second, with the departure of Dick LeBeau, player should be able to learn the defense quicker and contribute sooner.
Third, on the offensive side of the ball, the Steelers are looking good. No major losses there, and Big Ben and company are getting the hang of Todd Haley's offense.
In case you are still worried this could be a disaster, let's take a look at a team that is experiencing a true personnel crisis; The 49ers.
According to ESPN, the 49ers have had the highest off-season turnover by snaps with 5,697 net snaps lost. I'm not sure this is a contest they want to win, but the 49ers have crushed the competition with the Eagles a distant second with 4,853 net snaps lost.
The 49ers find themselves in a state of complete disarray amid an ongoing exodus of key players. Most recently, right tackle Anthony Davis retired for health reasons. Linebacker Chris Borland retired for similar reasons. Defensive lineman Justin Smith and linebacker Patrick Willis? Also retired. To free agency the 49ers lost guard Mike Iupati, cornerback Chris Culliver, cornerback Perrish Cox, running back Frank Gore... I need to take a break for a second. My fingers are getting tired typing out all of these names... where was I? Also gone: linebacker Dan Skuta, offensive lineman Jonathan Martin (didn't he just get there?), and receiver Stevie Johnson. To this point, they have not replaced that talent with players who had strong NFL experience in 2014.
How does this offseason compare to others for the 49ers? Says @mattbarrows on PFT Live: "By far the worst."— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) June 8, 2015
How dire is the situation? The 49ers just executed a super-crafty trade to procure-- catch this-- drum roll--- a seventh-round pick in the 2017 draft. What did it cost them? Well, wheeling-and-dealing Cleveland got their punter Andy Lee. Lee is a Pro Bowler who is -- er, was-- the longest tenured 49er.
The biggest questions about Lee's move: Will Antonio Brown welcome Cleveland's new punter to Heinz Field on November 15 by karate kicking him in the face, or has Brown worked on his hurdling technique enough to be able to clear him without contact?
While the Steelers have lost a lot of talent, they have one key strength that mitigates these losses: Player development. In addition to competent coordinators, promising rookies, and other talented personnel, the Steelers have a track record of turning young and inexperienced athletes into impact players. Looking at the roster, it is hard to predict who this year's standouts will be, but one thing is clear: there is a lot of talent to work with.