As the dust begins to settle after the Steelers utterly embarrassing exit from the NFL playoffs at the hands of the Baker Mayfield led Browns, there are decisions that the franchise has to make heading into the offseason.
Despite starting the season 11-0 it did seem like the Steelers record was not a true reflection of their roster talent. Seven of their 11 wins came against teams that would go on to miss the playoffs. They barely beat a Cowboys side ravaged by injury, and then came their first loss of the season, a 17 to 23 defeat to Washington as home. Their offseason needs are plentiful.
Still sitting at 11-1 is nothing to complain about, however, their run into the playoffs is what had many people concerned. After starting 11-0, the Steelers record heading into the postseason was 1-4, with the only win being a 28-24 victory over the Indianapolis Colts.
The Steelers lost to Washington, Buffalo, a Bengals team without Joe Burrow, and to Cleveland in the last regular-season game to finish with a 12-4 record. They essentially limped into the playoffs.
It gives further merit to the notion that Pittsburgh was a fraud for most of the season. Now that does seem harsh for a 12-4 team but after their 48-37 loss to Cleveland in the Wildcard round, attention now turns to the offseason and the decisions that the franchise must make.
We take a look at three key decisions facing the Pittsburgh Steelers this offseason.
What to do with Big Ben and his contract
FS1 host Colin Cowherd made the case for the Steelers to move on from Roethlisberger. When you look at his current cap hit, his age, and how much trouble the franchise is in when it comes to next year’s cap hit, it makes an awful lot of sense.
Roethlisberger is 38 years old and when you look at the other older quarterbacks in Drew Brees and Tom Brady, he is not exactly setting the world on fire with his play. His $41.2 million cap hit for next season represents the franchise’s biggest issue. Either they stick with Big Ben and restructure numerous contracts so Roethlisberger can get one more shot at a Super Bowl or they enter a complete rebuild.
The quarterback’s salary takes up over 40% of the Steelers salary cap for 2021 and that is simply a cost that might be deemed too high as they have 19 unrestricted free agents heading into the off-season.
It shapes as a very interesting offseason for the Pittsburgh Steelers and their Hall of Fame quarterback.
Steelers must balance salary cap this offseason
As mentioned above, the Steelers have salary cap issues this offseason. Their ability to fix them largely depends on the franchise’s ability to restructure numerous contracts of their senior players.
As it stands, with no restructures, keeping Roethlisberger and his $41.2 million cap hit as well as other veterans in Pouncey, Heyward, Joe Haden Steve Nelson, Stephon Tuitt, and David DeCastro, they already account for a whopping 71% of the franchise’s projected $182 million salary cap for next season.
If the Steelers do not keep any of their current free agents, with 35 players on their roster, they could be nearly $31 million over the cap and that is going by the numbers from ESPN’s roster management system.
This is one of the primary offseason problems for the Steelers. If that does happen, it will likely signal the end of Juju Smith-Schuster, Bud Dupree, Cam Sutton, and Mike Hilton’s careers in Pittsburgh.
It does make you wonder how a franchise that is usually so good with its salary cap, thanks to executive Omar Khan, has ended up in this mess.
There is a lot that has to playout for the Steelers in the off-season and it does not look good for their fans who had hopes of returning to the Super Bowl.
Smith-Schuster’s impending free agency
For the first time in the receiver’s career, he is about to hit the open market and he will have no shortage of suitors should he become available. After their loss to Cleveland, JuJu Smith-Schuster reiterated his desire to stay in Pittsburgh.
Speaking after the game Smith-Schuster told reporters:
“I would love to stay in Pittsburgh, I built a strong foundation and a strong fan base. I love Coach [Mike] Tomlin and Coach Ike [Hilliard], everybody I’ve been around. They’ve helped change the way I am; I love the game of football, and I would love to do it again.”
However, through no fault of his own, there is a very real chance that he will have a new team by the start of training camp and that is something that the Steelers will want to avoid. Unfortunately, they might not have a choice.
It is shaping up as a truly defining off-season for Mike Tomlin and his franchise. After years of stability and on-field production, are we about the see the fall of one of the AFC’s great franchises?
We watch with anticipation.