Fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers applaud the release of Cortez Allen and Antwon Blake departing the team via free agency, but when you look at the list of defensive players who are no longer with the team, you have to ask yourself, "Did the defense get better in the offseason heading into 2016?"
Before we dive into the subject, take a look at subtractions to the roster, as well as the additions:
CB Cortez Allen
CB Antwon Blake
ILB Sean Spence
ILB Terence Garvin
NT Steve McLendon
S Will Allen
CB Brandon Boykin
DT Cam Thomas
CB Artie Burns
S Sean Davis
OLB Travis Feeney
ILB Tyler Matakevich
DE Javon Hargrave
DE Ricardo Matthews
LB Steven Johnson
As stated before, it is easy for fans to immediately think the loss of Allen and Blake will only help the 30th ranked passing defense in the league, but adding untested talent doesn't always equate to success in the short term. If Blake had one thing going his way, it was he knew the system and was able to play meaningful snaps on a regular basis. First round pick Artie Burns might have all the talent in the world, but those who think he will be able to step onto the scene from Day 1 and start are seriously kidding themselves.
The team didn't just lose those two cornerbacks, but also saw Brandon Boykin leave for the Carolina Panthers. Throw in Sean Spence, Terence Garvin and Steve McLendon all leaving for new scenery, and you have some big time depth concerns at several positions.
So, heading into 2016, the team replaces McLendon with Daniel McCullers and Javon Hargrave, Terence Garvin and/or Sean Spence with Tyler Matakevich and Travis Feeney, and Cortez Allen, Antwon Blake and Boykin with Artie Burns and a healthy Senquez Golson.
Looking at the above names and positions, fans might want to pump the brakes on the "We are going to be SOO much better on defense in 2016!"
Could they be better in 2016? Absolutely. If they did one thing this offseason it was to increase their speed and athleticism on that side of the football. Will they be better in 2016? I'm not so sure I would put money on such a tall order.
The Steelers have made moves which fill needs, but don't necessarily scream "upgrade" when talking about positions like backup inside linebacker, cornerback, safety and even defensive line. Keith Butler and his defensive coaching staff will certainly have their hands full while preparing for the 2016 season, because nothing is certain with this group of defenders donning the black and gold.
Does the Steelers defense need to turn into the 2008 Steel Curtain overnight? No, and it won't, but if they could just improve to a middle-of-the-road unit, think 15th ranked pass defense and top 10 in rush defense, this team could be preparing themselves for a lengthy postseason run with their high-octane offense poised to strike.
What say you? Did the Steelers improve their defense in the offseason? Or will fans be in for a major learning curve as the 2016 season rolls around?