Le’Veon Bell is gone. Or as he puts it, “free at last” because yes, 2019 is just as stupid as all the other years. Antonio Brown will almost certainly join him as departed superstars. And that should, in theory, bring a calm to the locker room. No holdouts. No subtweets. No…whatever message Brown was attempting to convey while running on his treadmill.
It’s clear those issues played some role in the locker room. Probably smaller than the media believes, distractions usually are the mole hill, not the mountain, but still, the environment in the locker room was heading in the wrong direction. No doubt about it.
But is getting rid of 26 and 84 the cure all? That the ship will be righted and the Steelers Super Bowl bound again? Not a chance.
And you might already know this. I hope you do. But given all the coverage about distractions in the locker room, we’ve nearly forgotten the very real issues with this Steelers’ team we talked about all season. Unless those get addressed, Pittsburgh will be in the same boat come 2019. Just minus the locker room excuses.
This is a team that will have the monumental task of replacing Brown. It’ll be the hardest thing Mike Tomlin has ever had to do as head coach of the Steelers and the second toughest job of Kevin Colbert’s tenure, second only to finding a franchise quarterback that became Ben Roethlisberger. Whatever benefit you get of no longer dealing with Brown’s antics will still massively be outweighed by his on-field reward. The offense will have a totally different feel, just like it did against Cincinnati in the finale. The defensive conundrum of “double AB, single up everyone else” no longer exists.
There’s still loads of talent offensively but Randy Fichtner will have to be as creative as ever to gameplan without a player of Brown’s caliber.
Defensively? So many questions. We’ve repeatedly discussed the lack of playmakers. How a team with 108 sacks the last two years can somehow be ranked 26th in takeaways, a stat so absurd you’d think it was a glitch in Madden. A team still searching for a defined, three-down player at inside linebacker instead of the “throw it at the wall, see what sticks” approach. A secondary that needs more playmakers than the Steelers can reasonably fill in one summer with short and long-term questions about its ROLB spot and defensive line depth.
Special teams are still on shaky ground. Chris Boswell is a dart throw and Jordan Berry’s spot shouldn’t feel secure. Penalties killed this team the first half of the year though to their credit, made a U-turn the rest of the way.
I know we’re all consumed by the drama, Brown’s future, and what it all means for the Steelers’ culture. Fine questions to ask. Just don’t miss out on the biggest picture. Because once Bell and Brown are officially in their new uniforms, all the Steelers will be able to do is look at themselves. And be confronted, with no other storyline to dominate the headlines, the real issues this roster has.