This is it. Today. The day you’ve been waiting for ever since a tough loss in the Divisional Round to the eventual Super Bowl champions. The Pittsburgh Steelers make their regular-season debut tonight in Washington.
Before we get there, though, I think we should pause and look back on how we’ve arrived here all the way since that playoff loss, as a lot has happened since then, not the least of which being the retirement of an all-time great, tight end Heath Miller.
Miller’s retirement helped to fuel one of the Steelers’ biggest free agent moves from outside of their own roster in recent years when they signed fifth-year tight end Ladarius Green to a four-year, $20 million contract.
The team also brought in Ryan Harris to compete for the starting left tackle job after they lost out on Kelvin Beachum in free agency. Alejandro Villanueva earned the starting job that he found himself in last year, however, so Harris will serve as the swing tackle.
Gone are Steve McLendon and Cam Thomas, replaced, in the case of the former, by rookie third-round draft pick Javon Hargrave, who will start at nose tackle, and Ricardo Mathews, who showed flashes during the preseason as a depth player.
The Steelers lost not one, but two inside linebackers, and three cornerbacks, either through free agency or release, replacing them with a variety of means. Artie Burns was their first-round selection at cornerback, Sean Davis in the second round. They ended up trading for Justin Gilbert. Linebacker Tyler Matakevich came in the seventh round, and Steven Johnson was added in free agency.
The team said goodbye to Will Allen and turned instead to Robert Golden, whom they signed to a three-year contract. Also receiving an extension was Vince Williams. The offseason was capped off with a five-year extension for David DeCastro, and plans for an extension for Antonio Brown next year.
But in the process, the Steelers lost Martavis Bryant along the way, who received an indefinite suspension that will extend through at least the entirety of the 2016 season. Later, it was revealed that Le’Veon Bell would be facing a four-game suspension to start the year, which was reduced to three games.
Late in the process, the Steelers also dealt with a Lisfranc foot injury to second-year cornerback Senquez Golson, who was to enter the lineup as the team’s slot receiver. On top of that was a core muscle injury suffered by starting left outside linebacker Bud Dupree, which landed him on injured reserve, with the team hoping he can return in the second half of the season.
In the meantime, Green has been placed on the Physically Unable to Perform List, where he will remain for at least the first six weeks, though there seems to be some optimism that he will be able to return at that point.
This is, more or less, how we got from there, following the postseason loss, to here, patiently waiting for the Steelers’ Monday night opener. It’s been a long process, ebbing and flowing with progress and setbacks, but we’re here. We’re finally here.