The last time the Pittsburgh Steelers made the playoffs was in 2011. The current Steelers roster, whom have gone 16-16 since then, contains just 16 players left from that last playoff appearance, coming after a 12-4 regular season.
And that seemingly substantial roster turnover is actually just middle-of-the-road turnover in today’s NFL, according to an article posted by Gregg Rosenthal.
The chart accompanying the article shows the Steelers tied with five other teams at 14th in the league in terms of maintaining their roster over the past three seasons, although they could get a slight boost if they end up re-signing Brett Keisel down the road.
Unsurprisingly, some of the more successful teams over this span are close to the top of the list, including the Green Bay Packers, the San Francisco 49ers, the Seattle Seahawks, the New England Patriots, and the Cincinnati Bengals, all of whom have retained at least 20 players from the 2011 season and on. That’s almost enough for a full starting lineup on both sides of the line of scrimmage.
On the opposite end of the spectrum are perennial bottom-dwellers such as the Jacksonville Jaguars, the St. Louis Rams, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and the Oakland Raiders, retaining somewhere between just nine and 12 of their own from a few seasons ago.
The outlier, of course, is the Indianapolis Colts, which underwent a dramatic overhaul following the departure of Peyton Manning, yet managed to draft Andrew Luck and immediately return to winning divisions. They boast the absolute fewest number of holdovers since the 2011 season in the league with just seven.
Still, the Steelers finding themselves in the middle of this pack is an uncommon sight, but perhaps a necessary one given the course of the past two seasons. But they were also hitting a period at which turnover was inevitable.
Analysts have been talking about the Steelers aging for half a decade or more, so it was only a matter of time to see the likes of Hines Ward, James Farrior, Casey Hampton, Aaron Smith, James Harrison, and Ryan Clark depart, all of whom were in their mid-30s by the time the organization parted ways with them.
That in itself was no doubt a major catalyst for the recent overhaul as the natural price to pay for trying to keep a championship roster together. The same thing happened in the 80s.
Salary cap limitations, too, have played a role, perhaps preventing them from retaining some players they might otherwise have liked to keep, most notably Mike Wallace and most realistically Keenan Lewis.
But the simple fact that they’ve put together an average roster is the biggest reason that the Steelers are now in the middle of the pack in terms of roster continuity.
Is the nucleus for the stretch run of Ben Roethlisberger’s career intact? Are players such as Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell, Cameron Heyward, David DeCastro, Jarvis Jones, and Mike Mitchell the germ of the next championship roster—the wheat liberated from the chaff? The Steelers certainly hope so.