The Pittsburgh Steelers had certainly better hope that their offense is one that is on the rise, because the entire starting lineup, as well as a host of key reserve players, are all under contract for the 2015 season, and is likely the same offense they will field come the start of the next regular season.
Of course, there are many key contributors entering critical contract seasons, such as Ben Roethlisberger, Ramon Foster, and Kelvin Beachum, though the likelihood is that at least the quarterback will get a new contract before the start of the season.
All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown is just halfway through a six-year contract. Le’Veon Bell and Markus Wheaton are both only entering their third years in the league, while rookie Martavis Bryant figure to push the latter for a starting job in his second season.
Of the offensive linemen, two starters have recently been signed to long-term contracts in Maurkice Pouncey and Marcus Gilbert, while David DeCastro, fifth-year option, heading into his fourth season, will surely be picked up.
The one area that is facing a bit of a road block via free agency is the tight end position, where both Matt Spaeth and Michael Palmer, in addition to Will Johnson, are all expected to be free agents—the latter a restricted free agent. None of them, however, should be difficult to re-sign, and Rob Blanchflower could find his way into the thick of things after a year of polish on the practice squad as well.
Even veteran Lance Moore remains under contract, though he could be at risk of release, given how infrequently he was used. Darrius Heyward-Bey would be an easy enough option to re-sign. The Steelers’ two reserve running backs are also under contract.
With this group, the Steelers produced their highest-scoring offense in team history, even if that only translated to 15 points—with two more being added by the special teams—in their first home playoff game since 2010.
While the way the season ended may sting, there has to be a lot of optimism about what this offense can continue to do next season, as 2014 was perhaps the first season in which we truly began to see the growth that has been promised for so long.
The offensive line, for example, may still in some aspects be a work in progress—they, like just about any line, struggled against some of the more difficult front sevens they faced in 2014—but with another year under Mike Munchak, and hopefully another relatively healthy season, I would expect the unit to continue to grow.
Wheaton and Bryant are still developing their craft. Even Bell, an All-Pro in his second season, still has room for improvement. And as the skill position players around him improve, and the line in front of him improves, it will only make Roethlisberger that much better, coming off a Pro Bowl season of his own. Hopefully the 15-point playoff performance will be made a distant memory.