Before the start of the 2017 season, everyone spoke of the Pittsburgh Steelers in tones which hinted holes in their roster. The cornerbacks, tight end and even safety were all common talking points when discussing how the Steelers might possibly beat the New England Patriots.
Well, after a flurry of a week, the Steelers have addressed almost every single one of those needs in one way or another. Some via trade and some via free-agent acquisition, but the fact the team made these moves is what’s important.
After the team acquired J.J. Wilcox on Sunday, the team will kick off the season with a roster that’s either Super Bowl or Bust.
Surely, it had to be a coincidence. The Steelers cutting David Johnson, Fitzgerald Toussaint and Cobi Hamilton on Saturday simply was a matter of those players being beat out by better competition. But it’s hard for anyone who knows Steelers history not to notice the purging of former playoff goats.
It was Johnson who infamously missed his block early in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XLV that led to a Rashard Mendenhall fumble. The Steelers were driving for the go-ahead score and it ended up being the turning point in the eventual 31-25 loss.
It was Toussaint who infamously fumbled in the fourth quarter of a 2015 AFC divisional round game in Denver. The Steelers were winning and driving for another score that could have sent the Steelers to the AFC title game. Instead, it opened the door for the Broncos to win and hoist the Lombardi Trophy a few weeks later.
And it was Hamilton who infamously dropped a touchdown pass in the second quarter of the AFC championship game in January. It was a costly drop at a time when the game was still very much within reach.
Of course, Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin didn’t plan it that way. But the notable roster cuts serve as a neat segue as the Steelers get set to embark on a journey they hope ends with their first Super Bowl victory in nine years.
The moves Colbert and Tomlin made in the days leading up to Saturday will have much more impact on any potential run to the Super Bowl. The decisions to bring in cornerback Joe Haden and tight end Vance McDonald during the final week of training camp are signs the Steelers are all-in this season.
A potentially special Steelers season is upon us and, perhaps more than ever, the season will be determined by one man.
We know all about Ben Roethlisberger, the Hall of Fame career, the Super Bowls, the off-field incidents that remain a mystery at best. What has become clear to me from afar — in full disclosure, I hear a lot from Mark Kaboly and I did cover a good chunk of training camp last summer — is that Roethlisberger has truly become a leader, something that has never come naturally to him.
I suspect that leadership will be tested more than ever this season and might determine just how far these outrageously talented Steelers go.
Leadership probably is the most over-used word in sports but, in Roethlisberger’s case, his ability to sail the ship smoothly is paramount to the team’s success.
Cornerback Joe Haden played in a lot of games for the Browns after they made him the seventh overall pick of the 2010 draft, but very few of them had any more impact on the standings than the 15 preseason games played on Thursday night.
Haden expects that to change now that he’s signed with the Steelers after being released by Cleveland. Haden was in Charlotte with his new team on Thursday night and he said the reason why he signed so quickly was because of how often the Steelers are playing into the postseason.
“Once I was free, I wanted to have a chance to play in some meaningful games,” Haden said, via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “They don’t miss the playoffs. I just wanted to be part of something, to play in playoffs. … Once I got released, there were a lot of teams who were interested. But when you talk about Pittsburgh, the interest they had, how excited they were, it wasn’t too hard of a decision.”
The decision wasn’t too hard on the Steelers’ side either. General Manager Kevin Colbert said it would have been “negligent” not to pursue a player capable of starting at a position that’s been a trouble spot for the team in recent years, and the three-year, $27 million offer they made for Haden’s services likely also made the decision an easier one for the cornerback.