The era of the modern Steelers Way will be facing its ultimate, and perhaps final, test this week as the NFL hosts its annual talent show in front of millions around the world.
Can you remember when the Pittsburgh Steelers were in more desperate need of a series of successful draft days than this year?
Not just ordinary successful, but hit it out of the park, bowl them all down and knock them all out successful.
I mean. Did you notice the lights dimming this offseason?
No. Those weren’t the stadium light bulbs going out. It was perhaps the greatest offseason talent drain in Pittsburgh Steelers history.
Antonio Brown. By the accounts of most of Steelers Nation just a year ago, he was in clear discussion of being the greatest receiver in NFL history.
Gone, baby gone.
Le’Veon Bell. The player who revolutionized the running back position into a multi-threat, unstoppable force?
Just a fading ring in our ears.
And, was it that long ago when Martavis Bryant was drawing comparisons of Hall of Famer Randy Moss?
Add to this the tragic set-back of legitimate All Pro talent Ryan Shazier combined with some of the major draft disappointments of the past few seasons and the Steelers would appear to be currently very middle-of-the-road by any fair observer.
Then there is the great Ben Roethlisberger and his beloved “O-Line”. Few would argue he and several of his chief defenders are aging, and are now one year older.
Was the Steelers 9-6-1 record that kept them out of the playoffs an anomaly, or is it a painful indicator they are beginning a drift toward a long period of mediocrity?
In the midst of this all, we observed the front office stay true to its Steelers Way mantra of being an uninspired participant in free agency.
They picked up some solid players, but none that will in any significant way shift the downward momentum of the team.
Major turnover in the front office or on the coaching staff in the offseason?
Nope. President Art Rooney II apparently is quite pleased with this group’s winning record and seems rather undisturbed that it was under Mike Tomlin reign that the New England Patriots tracked down and then matched the once seemingly insurmountable Steelers claim to having the most Super Bowl trophies.
Should the front office be held responsible for garnishing meager third and fifth round picks in exchange for Brown?
Well…I guess not if you believe Antonio was suddenly abducted by aliens and was returned overnight as an unbearable malcontent.
Either they knew Brown was a problem for a long time and should have exchanged two first rounders for him last summer before things blew up in their face or they were equally blamable co-producers of the Locker Room Gone Bad saga.
And the gross miscalculation of not dealing away Bell two years ago? That will set them back for years.
Does old gunslinger Big Ben still have plenty of bullets left to fire?
Will fan favorite JuJu Smith-Schuster rise from being a single-covered number two receiver to a formidable replacement for superstar Brown?
Is T.J. Watt the real deal? Can Stephon Tuitt aspire to his potential? Can James Conner carry the load for a full season?
All but the most cheery-eyed fans realize there are more questions than comfort on this Steelers roster when it comes to being a legitimate contender.
Which brings us back to the draft. The Steelers need to hit it. And, they need to hit it big.
2019 is the year of judgment for the modern Steelers Way. Not just the eloquently stated philosophies of Coach Mike Tomlin and his staff. But, the long-term player management strategies of General Manager Kevin Colbert as well.
And, most importantly, this is the year we’ll form some firm understanding of the capability of Art Rooney II to navigate this once proud dynasty to greatness once again.
He won’t be able to hide in the owner’s box mumbling about the virtues of “winning more than we lose” franchises. This is his year of accountability as much as anyone else.
Is the Steelers Way still relevant? The opening statement for this compelling case opens up as the Steelers first pick of the draft is marched out to the podium.
Good luck gentlemen. And…Go Steelers.