I want to preface this article by clarifying 2018 isn’t the Pittsburgh Steelers last chance to win a Super Bowl. It isn’t. But is it their last best chance? From where we stand today, there’s no question it is. Arguing against that is essentially arguing against reality, like the sky being blue or the Washington Capitals choking in the playoffs.
2018 is shaping up to be the last one with Le’Veon Bell and Martavis Bryant. Maybe a long-term deal does get done with Bell but there’s no good evidence to believe things are going to change now. Bryant’s chances of returning look even bleaker; either a great season gives him the evidence he needs to cash in on the market and out of Antonio Brown’s shadow or a disappointing one might make the Steelers just move on.
Those are two cogs of the Steelers’ offense. Bryant, ok, you can live without, but it’s a unit that thrives on the big play and suffers without it. When Bryant is on his game, like he was to finish out last season, the offense hits its stride too. Without, for example, his end-of-half 4th down snag against the Jacksonville Jaguars, that doesn’t turn out to be a competitive game.
And Bell? Well that’s obvious. As much criticism as he’s gotten for his nonsensical tweets, his value to the team is nearly impossible to put a value on (Bell might say it’s $17 million). The insane volume of snaps he plays, head and shoulders above the rest, his pass protection, receiving, and of course, what he offers as a runner. Talk about committees, talk about draft picks, talk about how that 5th round gem is going to be the next Bell…it’s all selling beachfront property in Allegheny County. Can Pittsburgh eventually replace Bell? Sure. But is it going to happen immediately? Don’t count on it.
Anything beyond 2018 means no Bell, no Bryant. Ben Roethlisberger is another year older, another year closer to retirement, and Antonio Brown will be 31. Still great players but another year doesn’t help either of them. The offensive line a year closer to free agency, Marcus Gilbert and Maurkice Pouncey’s contracts expire after 2019, and the defense…well, who knows.
Will the defense get better? Yes, it’s fair to assume improvement – though no guarantee, mind you – from 2018 to 2019 and beyond. But in the Roethlisberger era, will this defense ever be the reason why Pittsburgh wins a Super Bowl? Nope.
Can Pittsburgh win beyond 2019? Of course. Don’t misunderstand my point. And I’d classify those odds as “decent,” relative to the rest of the league, though any attempt to try to quantify it more is completely arbitrary, like a video on The Top Ten Soups.
Clam Chowder over Tomato, this is an outrage!
But it’s difficult to imagine any version of the Steelers’ roster being better than what they’ll have to start this year. It’s all the more reason to be in extreme “win now” mode. Forget about drafting a QB; that’s a “maybe” for the future. Draft players who can help Day One, Year One, even if that doesn’t necessarily mean in a starting role.
The window to win isn’t closed. But it definitely isn’t getting any wider. The longer this team waits, the more difficult it’s going to be to hoist a Lombardi.