While the Pittsburgh Steelers may have gained some tangible evidence of improvement, improving their win total by three games and hosting a playoff game as a division champion for the first time in four seasons, there is no doubt that the team is far from a finished product.
No team, of course, is a finished product in the offseason. Every team loses players to free agency and retirement, and replaces them through the same free agency process, as well as the draft.
With all of the change that occurs during the offseason, it’s often difficult to predict how a particular team might fare. They may wind up holding the Lombardi trophy or the first overall draft pick when all is said and done.
In order to gain a better feel for not only the issues facing the team this year, but how those issues might play out, it’s useful to take the devil’s advocate approach. This is the optimistic side of the coin.
Question: Should the Steelers continue to look to free agency for a complement to Le’Veon Bell?
When the Steelers initially drafted Le’Veon Bell, they immediately plugged him in—mentally, at least—as the starter, and essentially scrapped the rest of their backfield. Isaac Redman was initially carried over and then released, while Jonathan Dwyer’s return was prompted only by injury.
In order to fill up some snaps, the Steelers signed two experienced outside free agent running backs in Felix Jones and LaRod Stephens-Howling to help ease Bell into the process of being a starting running back in the NFL, which both of them had done themselves.
Stephens-Howling, of course, tore his ACL in the opener, while Bell was still sidelined with an injury of his own. Jones certainly did nothing fantastic in his time with the Steelers, but he did offer a change of pace successfully, outside of one fumble.
The Steelers were looking for more, however, so next season, all of the aforementioned backs were gone, replaced by LeGarrette Blount. On the field at least, everything seemed to be going well early on, with Blount getting his touches, and even a 100-yard game, along with two rushing touchdowns.
There were already obvious red flags off the field, but his on-field performance also declined, and both factors would make one hesitant to follow the same path again for 2015.
There are some interesting options set to hit the free agent market, however, including under the radar players that would be blue collar type players that may be had for veteran minimum, yet still provide adequate backup.
And the fact is that, even if the Steelers do draft another running back, there is still room for another, and having a more experienced player in the running back locker room, especially with Bell’s preseason mental lapse and pending suspension, would be a nice thing to fall back on. He may have blossomed on the field a lot in 2014, but he is still quite a young kid.