What does it mean when your team isn’t even good enough to crack its way out of the first round of the postseason, and then you can’t even afford to keep that underperforming team together the following offseason? That’s where the Pittsburgh Steelers appear to find themselves after a 12-4 regular season that ended in a division title and an early ousting from the playoffs in the wildcard round.
Not only did the Steelers fail in the postseason, they actually lost four of their final games overall. They began the regular season by setting a franchise record with 11 consecutive wins to open a season, but would only win one more game after that, and even that took a 17-point second-half comeback, the first such comeback of Ben Roethlisberger’s career.
And that is the team that is being fret upon about how to keep them together. The Steelers’ top wide receiver and running back, their left tackle and guard, one of their top two edge defenders, and their top two slot cornerbacks, are just among their most prominent players facing free agency in March.
How much of the team the Steelers can keep intact is the biggest question of the offseason for them, according to Brooke Pryor of ESPN, who writes:
Roethlisberger is committed to playing at least through the end of his contract in 2021, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported, but what remains to be seen is how much of the current team the Steelers can retain around him. With nearly 20 free agents hitting the market and a $41.2 million salary-cap hit on Roethlisberger’s deal, the Steelers will have to pull off major wizardry to bring back anyone significant — such as versatile defensive backs Mike Hilton and Cam Sutton or wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster.
Even if the salary cap were to come in somewhere relatively even with what it was in 2020, which is sounding increasingly unlikely based on reports, Pittsburgh would still be over the cap without as much wiggle room as they have had in previous years in terms of restructures and things of that nature.
There’s no way around the fact that the team is in a tough place. Make no mistake about it, the Steelers still have a lot of talent and are capable of winning a lot of games, but whatever happens this offseason will almost surely make it more difficult for them to do so.