Leave it to Pittsburgh Steelers team President Art Rooney II to put things into perspective for the team’s global fan base.
“I think I can start by saying that we didn’t accomplish our ultimate goal this year, but we certainly had some positives to take away from the season,” Rooney told Steelers.com. “We won the division, which is always a first step. We advanced to the AFC Championship Game, so, there were a lot of positives that hopefully we can build on for next season.”
The Steelers have a solid foundation in place from the front office to the head coach, but for the first time in a long time, there is some uncertainty regarding the team’s super stars and their status next season. Rooney addressed Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell and Ben Roethlisberger’s futures with the team heading into 2017.
“I talked to Ben. We had a good conversation,” said Rooney. “He’s, I think, at the stage of his career that those are thoughts I think you have. Personally, I expect he will be back. But that’s going to have to be his decision. I think (what he said) is mostly a reaction to his age and where he is in his career, and just coming off a disappointing loss. I think all of those things would probably be a key to it. But I think in terms of the specifics of our conversation, I will leave it between the two of us.”
“Le’Veon had a great year,” said Rooney. “He certainly is one of the top running backs in the league, if not the best back in the league. He is somebody we hope to have around for a little while longer, that’s for sure. I wouldn’t say we have a big concern about Le’Veon’s physical abilities or stability. He is a strong, young player. I think he will keep getting better. He certainly is a player, as I said before, that we would like to have on the team for a while.”
While Roethlisberger and Bell decisions were dealing with potential retirement and free agency, the talk surrounding Brown went beyond dollars and cents. Brown’s off-field situations have put the team in a bind.
“I would call them little annoyances. Emphasis on little, as far as I am concerned,” said Rooney about Brown. “Antonio is a good guy, a good person. I enjoy our personal relationship. His teammates like to have him on the team. He is a hard worker. He is another player I would hope we would address his contract and have him here for the long-term.”
As frustrating as some of Brown’s antics may be, don’t think Rooney is naive enough to not realize just how good, and important, Brown is to the Steelers offensive success.
“Well, it’s one of those things that as long as they stay ‘little’ annoyances, you can always live through little annoyances,” said Rooney. “By and large, AB is a big contributor to our success, has been for several years now, and I think he’s capable of continuing to be that kind of player. I think he’s someone who wants to be a great player and works hard to be that. Hopefully, he’ll continue to evolve as a player and as a person.”
The status of Roethlisberger, Brown and Bell weren’t all that Rooney discussed. In the past, Rooney has given “suggestions” of what he would like to see, and when the boss speaks, people listen.
In the past, it was Rooney who said the team needed to improve their protection of Roethlisberger, running the football and even the pass defense. He narrowed his focus again this year, talking about the needed improvement of the pass rush, red-zone offense and more.
“I think, certainly, there were things in that New England game that you could probably also say about other games, where we didn’t quite get to where we wanted to be,” said Rooney. “I think getting pressure on the quarterback more consistently is something that we strive to do. While I thought we made some improvements over the course of the season, we weren’t always where we would want to be. That’s a piece of the puzzle that I think we can identify we want to improve on.
“At times, we were strong against the run, and there were games we weren’t so strong against the run. Being consistent, I think, is something you have to identify where you would like to be. On offense, obviously in the playoffs, we need to be better in the red zone. We had opportunities that we didn’t capitalize on there, and we had some of those games during the season. Like I said, there are certainly things we can identify that we want to work on and be better at. There are certainly more positives than negatives.”
Consistency. That might be the theme of the 2017 Steelers season.
“Again, one of the words I would use is that we do need to strive to be more consistent,” said Rooney. “Not to make excuses, but we did have some injuries here and there that certainly didn’t help the situation. So that’s always a part of it in terms of, like I said, getting through the journey of a season. There are ups and downs. There are injuries. So we’d like to finish with the first seed, obviously, and it’s something you have to strive for every season. I think we made some progress this season. Hopefully, take another step next season.”