The offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: The Steelers should retain a 90-man roster until they are required to reduce it to 80.
Explanation: With most teams appearing to trend in the opposite direction, the Steelers have so far (as of this writing, which was last night, in case they cut players just before this publishes) given indications that they don’t plan on reducing their roster to 80 players, which mean they will have to run split-squad until they are required to reduce the roster, but it will give them a longer period of time to get a look at players they haven’t seen all year.
How can you choose which 10 players to cut when, chances are, at least eight or nine of the 10 players that you end up cutting are players that you haven’t ever even physically seen in person? Or hardly at all? Futures signings, rookie undrafted free agents, players like that are going to populate these cuts, and in most cases, the teams cutting them will have never seen them face-to-face, except if they made it to Covid-19 testing at the start of training camp.
How can you know that a guy like Calvin Taylor of Trajan Bandy or John Houston can’t be a contributor to your team if you can’t even get him on the field first to give him a look? Preserving the 90-man roster at least gives you some face-to-face time to decide.
It’s just delaying the inevitable to wait on trimming the roster down, and it forces teams to divide their rosters into rookies and first-year players in one group and veterans in another. They can’t even share a locker room under split-squad rules. That’s not good for team-building, something the Steelers value greatly in the training camp experience at Latrobe, which they can’t even do this year.
Equally important is the fact that there is very little practice taking place before teams are required to cut their rosters down to 80. August 12 is when actual practices with helmets but no pads begin. August 16 is the day that the rosters have to be trimmed. Before that, it’s strength and conditioning. So there’s hardly anything to evaluate on. The downsides of a split-squad working group outweigh the minimal gain of observing some first-year players lifting weights for a couple of weeks.
I think this is one of the rare instances in which I’ve convinced myself of a position one way or another by the time I was done typing. I think I’m in favor of trimming the roster early and avoiding the split squad.