The 2015 NFL season is now officially in the books after Emmanuel Sanders and the Denver Broncos emerged victorious to secure the franchise’s third trophy in eight Super Bowl appearances—unfortunately doing so at the expense of Jerricho Cotchery, another former Steeler who admittedly had a rough game, and the Panthers.
Not that they haven’t already started, but that means that the Pittsburgh Steelers and the rest of the league—with perhaps the exception of the Broncos for a day or two—are now in offseason mode and already gearing up for the 2016 season, in which they will look to dethrone the reigning champion, with the last team to successfully defend its crown being the 2004 Patriots.
The Combine is creeping up awfully quickly, and as you might have noticed by now, the draft focus is already well underway, with several profiles of draft-eligible players already up for perusal, and you can be sure that the Steelers’ scouting department is focused on such efforts year-round.
Pittsburgh may have made quite a bit of progress over the course of the past two seasons, most recently reaching the Divisional round while holding a lead late into the fourth quarter, but they clearly have several areas in which they need to improve in their hopes of returning to the Super Bowl for the first time since 2010.
For starters, they have around a couple dozen players that are pending free agents of some form or fashion that they have to determine if they want to attempt to retain, and how much they are willing to spend to retain them. Key names such as defensive starters William Gay and Steve McLendon, as well as left tackle Kelvin Beachum, headline that category.
Having identified the secondary as an area targeted for improvement, they much figure out how to go about doing that, and whether any of that improvement will come from outside free agents, or even perhaps with who they choose to retain among their own free agents.
With an eye toward the future beyond the 2016 season, the Steelers also have several young players entering the final year of their contracts that they must decide on either extending or letting them play out their contracts and risk them hitting free agency next year.
In the midst of all of this, they will be preparing for the draft in April, where they will be more short-handed than usual after trading away fifth- and sixth-round draft picks in moves that can be fairly questioned in hindsight. As a team that relies upon building through the draft, that is no small loss.
It has been a while now since the Steelers have last hoisted the Lombardi trophy, back at the end of the 2008 season, seven years ago. By now, only few remain, and that number may grow smaller depending on how the offseason shakes out.
Many in the organization, and even outside, believe they are on the right track to getting back there. But they must first set themselves up this offseason to build upon their recent successes, a process that has already begun even before the official conclusion of the 2015 season.