The Pittsburgh Steelers were 12-4 in 2020, among the best records in the NFL, with one of their losses coming in a meaningless regular season finale. They were the third seed in the AFC, and they had one of the best defenses in the league. Yet so many are convinced that they’re sitting on a house of cards that’s about to tumble down.
While I don’t really see many people arguing that the defense is suddenly going to come apart when they have All-Pro talent in guys like T.J. Watt and Minkah Fitzpatrick, the reality is that the driver of just about any team’s success is the quarterback position, and it would be generous to say that they have some questions in that spot.
To that end, I think a lot of people will find the Steelers’ placement of 11th in ESPN’s first offseason power rankings even a bit generous. They are outside of the top 10, but some seem to feel that they are even worse than that—not even a playoff team in 2021. Brooke Pryor writes on the defending AFC North champions:
It’s all about the Ben(jamin) Roethlisberger. The Steelers’ future hinges on what they do with the veteran quarterback. It’s clear that he can’t play for the $41.2M his contract says he’s owed in 2021. Roethlisberger appears to be leaning toward returning, but the Steelers can’t get anything done this offseason until Roethlisberger makes up his mind and agrees to whatever pay cut the Steelers ask him to take. And they’ll need him to take a major one to relieve some of the cap pressure and re-sign any free agents. Art Rooney II said the team is in a win-now mode, but the Steelers have significant work to do to field a team that can do that in 2021.
It’s hard for me to see anything but another year of Roethlisberger being the ‘ceiling’ for the Steelers in terms of their potential success in 2021. That probably won’t be good enough to get them to the Super Bowl. It might not even be good enough to take them back to the postseason. But is Mason Rudolph a better option? Dwayne Haskins? A rookie late-first-round draft pick?
The reality is they could be in a lot better position. They are installing a (somewhat) new offense while trying to figure out how to salvage their offensive line, both with a new or tweaked system and a rejiggering of their personnel, largely forced upon them through free agency, and possibly retirement.
And yet there is still a lot of talent in this team. And a lot of will to win. They managed 8-6 without Roethlisberger in 2019, after all.