Windows are complicated devices. Especially the metaphorical ones. Championship windows in particular are a fragile construct, and the Pittsburgh Steelers find themselves contemplating just how much longer theirs will remain open—at least, this current core’s window.
The truth is that the team doesn’t really know what will happen between now and the start of the 2018 regular season, and a number of important decisions will have to be made. While quarterback Ben Roethlisberger may have hinted toward the possibility of continuing to play beyond this season, which is by far the most important possible development the team could have, there are other moving parts to discuss as well.
In large part due to the substantial financial commitments made late in the season, chiefly to cornerback Joe Haden, the Steelers will have some salary cap restraints moving forward, which will make it difficult to keep this group intact. And that includes running back Le’Veon Bell, who will be an unrestricted free agent after playing this season under the franchise tag.
Bell has been very open about his intentions of getting paid. Part of his stated goal of achieving a first-team All-Pro season was to raise his value heading into the offseason. His financial future is his highest priority, a right to which he is entitled. But with that in mind, he wants to take care of business while he knows what business lies ahead.
Yesterday, for example, he told Jeremy Fowler that the team understands what they’ve built for this season and how important it is not to let that go to waste. “We understand we have a great group here”, he said. “We don’t know if everybody’s going to be back or if we’ll be as special as this year. The time we do have, we have to make it all count”.
The Steelers have been slowly but surely getting closer and closer to reaching their goal. Since losing the Super Bowl in 2010, they went one-and-done as a wildcard, then missed the postseason two years in a row. Then they went one-and-one as a division winner, reached the Divisional Round, and then reached the AFC Championship game.
Offensively, this is the healthiest that the team is entering the postseason in a while, or so it can be hoped, with Roethlisberger and Bell in particular at roughly their physical peaks, while Antonio Brown appears to be on track hardly to miss a beat, based on the accounts of his teammates.
One does have to wonder, however, what comes after this season. Who will be here? Roethlisberger and Bell are the two biggest dominoes, and depending on what they do, others may fall.
But that is contemplation best left for the offseason, which hopefully will not come until after the first Sunday in February, following a triumphant visit to Minneapolis.