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: How much should the front office prepare for Le’Veon Bell’s pending suspension?
It was generally understood after running back Le’Veon Bell was arrested along with former Steelers running back LeGarrette Blount that, eventually, he would face the repercussions for his behavior, having been arrested for driving under the influence of marijuana.
As the season progressed and the NFL faced its own turmoil with the way that it handled its players off the field, the league passed new guidelines for discipline that essentially painted the picture that a first offense charge such as the one that Bell is dealing with would likely be met with a two-game suspension.
This is the assumption and belief under which the Steelers are evidently working under, and they have acknowledged that they are looking to prepare themselves to be without Bell for the first game or two of the 2015 season.
But the question, to me, is just how much focus they should put on preparing for those two games, if it in any way comes at the expense of the rest of the season. It’s somewhat reminiscent of the ACL injury suffered by Heath Miller two years ago, when many wanted the Steelers to draft a tight end in the first round because Miller was going to miss time early in the season. That’s just not the way you construct a roster.
So no, the Steelers won’t be drafting a running back in the first round just so they can have somebody for the first two games. They’re not going to sign DeMarco Murray in free agency, either. But you can bet they’d be wise to do something that gives them a better chance to win than what they’ve had over the last two years whenever Bell wasn’t healthy.
The Steelers have months and months to prepare for this event, and there’s no reason that the opening day starter should be, for example, Josh Harris.
The long-term vision is to have a more substantial backup for Bell either way, so bringing in a high-character, credible veteran free agent or a mid-to-high-round draft pick who they feel comfortable starting a couple of games right away before settling into a reserve role, I believe, is the way to go.
Just look back at the start of the 2013 season and how unprepared they were to be without Bell over the first month of the season, and he was a rookie then. That slow start sabotaged their season and they never recovered. It’s not something you want to see repeated.