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 pessimistic side of the coin.
Question: Does the front office have a solid model for attacking free agency?
Thanks in large part due to an extensive rise in the salary cap last offseason the Steelers front office found themselves with some pocket change with which to dip into the free agent pool, which has been a rare commodity for Pittsburgh over the years.
A huge chunk of that came in the form of a transition tag for Jason Worilds. It’s unclear whether or not Worilds will ultimately factor into the Steelers’ future plans this time, despite the front office pointing him out as a priority. Should the two not agree to terms, that would provide more resources with which to attack the free agent market.
But will that money be spent wisely? We saw last offseason that the Steelers seemingly got suckered into a pair of reactionary signings with the contracts of Cam Thomas and Lance Moore, each of whom signed two-year contracts, neither of whom seem likely to see the second year.
Then there was the LeGarrette Blount incident, which saw the Steelers gamble on character and lose hard. The absence of a quality backup running back put the team in a very vulnerable situation in the postseason, contributing to their one-and-done loss in the Wildcard round.
How much money they’ll have to spend will be determined by what kind of moves they make. Will there be extensions for Ben Roethlisberger and Cameron Heyward? Will Kelvin Beachum get a healthy new deal? Will Antonio Brown and/or Lawrence Timmons have their contracts restructured? What about the fates of a couple of veteran players who could be shown the door?
We’re still awaiting the results on the Steelers’ latest attempt to find a plug-and-play starter in free agency with Mike Mitchell, but many have long soured on that signing. They found a couple of surprise contributors off the scrap heap, but the feeling is that the team needs a key piece or two in free agency to turn the corner, and I’m not sure the front office has earned that confidence.