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: How much should the front office prepare for Le’Veon Bell’s pending suspension?
We know already that Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell is, in all likelihood, going to be suspended for the beginning of the 2015 season, likely for two games based on the league’s new personal conduct policy guidelines. It was known that he would likely receive some kind of discipline for his actions back in August, so it’s not as though there isn’t, and hasn’t been, plenty of time to prepare for it.
The Steelers, of course, have not been very successful running the ball when Bell was not on the field over the past two seasons, which included the first three games, as well as the most recent, of his career.
But realistically, how much preparation should the Steelers actually put in to dealing with his absence during the first two games of the season, in terms of personnel and roster building? Clearly, they’re not going to sign a marquee free agent or draft a running back in the first round just to compensate for Bell’s absence.
Think back to the beginning of the 2013 season when Heath Miller missed the first two games due to injury. This may not be the greatest example, given the outcomes of those games, but Pittsburgh didn’t go out of its way to compensate for Miller as though he would never be back on the field. Likewise, they shouldn’t go overboard in compensating for the reality of dealing with not having Bell for two games.
Their offseason plans should already consist of finding a complementary running back to Bell who isn’t a head case, and there really shouldn’t need to be any further planning beyond that.
As long as the Steelers have a back on the roster that they would feel comfortable using as a spot starter in case of injury for Bell—which is what any team should aim to have—then that should be sufficient planning, whether that is a modest free agent signing or a mid-round draft pick. After all, it’s not as though they’re opposed to the idea of a rookie starting at running back, as Bell did it himself.
Game planning should do most of the compensating for his temporary absence, not roster tinkering. Besides, you don’t want to be caught with a veteran back that you don’t want after the first two games after you’ve already guaranteed his salary for the year.