The Pittsburgh Steelers are used to winning and anything short of that is always considered a failure.
The 2019 season however, was a strange one for the Steelers as it could be seen as both a win and a loss. After opening up against the defending champions New England Patriots and getting absolutely blown away, they then went into week two and lost their future hall of fame quarterback for the season due to an elbow injury.
This gave 2018 third round draft choice Mason Rudolph the chance to take the helm and show the world that he is ready to be a starter. This didn’t exactly go to plan and Rudolph then ended up injured and up stepped the former fourth string and undrafted rookie Devlin “Duck” Hodges.
Neither of these two quarterback could successfully lead the offence and the Steelers having been at the dizzy heights of Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell and Ben Roethlisberger were now having to try and compete with a duck and an injury prone duo of James Conner and Ju-Ju Smith Schuster.
Needless to say the offence did not perform well and in fact were amongst the lowest ranking teams in terms of offensive touchdowns. Yet somehow the Steelers managed eight wins on the season and were only one win away from the postseason. The defense of Steel City came to the rescue and stepped up their game massively with the addition of Minkah Fitzpatrick through a week two trade with the Miami Dolphins.
With this addition the Steelers bolstered their ball hawking secondary to go along with their terrifying pass rush of Bud Dupree and T.J Watt. The Steelers defence as a whole had ten former first round draft picks during the 2019 season and more than that they are a young defence.
What’s the old saying, ‘defence wins championships’? Well this year’s Super Bowl may be the exception. The Steelers will not be able to hold this defence together for long, if even for another year so they need to act quickly if they are to get back to the Super Bowl anytime soon.
Let’s take a look at three moves which may help this storied franchise reach the pinnacle of the footballing world again.
Firstly, Pittsburgh must find a way to increase cap space.
The Steelers are heading into this off-season with the fourth lowest amount in the whole league: A measly $5.4 million to work with.
This is not franchise altering money and with that Mike Tomlin and newly extended Kevin Colbert need to find a way to bump this number up.
The Steelers do get their quarterback back for next year but he costs them a whopping $31 million.
Compare that to Kansas City who have the 2018 league MVP and the 2020 Super Bowl MVP and he will cost them under $6 million in cap space in 2020.
I know that this is still his rookie deal and when that is up he will break the record for what a quarterback gets paid but still this goes to show what could have been the biggest downfall with the Fitzpatrick trade in Week 2 of the 2019 season.
Having a battle tested quarterback is great and when it comes to leading a team there is no-one better but they are also more prone to injury (Tom Brady aside). Roethlisberger played a game and a half this year and cost the Steelers over $30 million, Matthew Stafford got injured in the second half of the season for the Detroit Lions and he cost them over $30 million this year. Drafting quarterbacks regularly might not be the best idea for team consistency but when there are 3 teams in the playoffs with rookie quarterbacks then maybe it is best to run with a cheap quarterback and build the team around them.
If it wasn’t for the Fitzpatrick trade then the Steelers would have the eighteenth pick in the draft and the ability to get a decent quarterback, maybe even Tua if he drops that far.
The Steelers need to be looking ahead at the quarterback position and perhaps it’s time to free up space so they can add some weapons for their new quarterback which they will need to target hard in the 2021 draft. Big Ben is coming back from an injury to his throwing elbow and there is no guarantee that he can finish this the 2020 season let alone the 2021 campaign. Now he has shown over the years that he is tough and can take a hit, but he is also not getting any younger and in a division with young quarterbacks with cannons for arms his time may be coming to an end.
This again links back to the issue with the cap space, but the Steelers need to find a way to keep Dupree. He had a career year in the black and gold finishing with a career high in sacks and being a part of one of the best defences in the league.
Dupree played on over 90% of defensive snaps for Pittsburgh and together with TJ Watt made them one of the most feared duo of quarterback rushers in the league.
With Dupree set to become an unrestricted free agent and having had a great year he will be in high demand from teams with plenty of cap space and he is in a position where he can basically state his number and wait on a team to pay it (which someone eventually will).
Despite the all powerful offence of Kansas City, defences are massively important as evidenced by the 2019 Steelers. If the Steelers can find a way to keep this defence together, especially Bud Dupree, then they have a real shot at playoff football come January 2021.
As mentioned earlier, the Steelers struggled massively on offence. Now a lot of this can be put down to the injury of Roethlisberger and then Conner and Smith Schuster both missing lots of playing time. This off season the Steelers need to focus on the offence and get them back to piling the points onto opposing teams.
With the loss of Le’Veon Bell and James Conner proving to be a bit of a chocolate teapot the Steelers could do with a running back. Benny Snell and Jaylen Samuels have both been decent when they stepped in but neither have lit teams up like Bell did when he was a Steeler and when Conner delivered in 2018.
Granted this year was difficult to judge running backs in Pittsburgh, due to them not having a passing game, but I don’t think many Pittsburgh fans, myself included, felt like they witnessed the next great running back to wear the black and gold. Why not go get Bell back?
On top of the running back issue the Steelers need a tight end. Since Heath Miller hung up his boots Pittsburgh have not managed to find anyone to play at the same level as him. Jesse James, Vance McDonald and Nick Vannett have all tried but there hasn’t been a consistently good option for the quarterback. When you look at how dominant George Kittle and Travis Kelce were this year it goes to show the impact that a tight end who can not only catch the ball but can block as well can be in this league.
All Pittsburgh fans are desperate for another playoff push and with some additions to the offence and securing Bud Dupree for a few more years the Steelers may be a dark horse in the coming years.