2021 Offseason Questions: How Will Teams Adjust To Reduced Preseason?

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2020 season is now in the books, and it ended in spectacular fashion—though the wrong kind of spectacular—in a dismal postseason defeat at the hands of the Cleveland Browns, sending them into an early offseason mode after going 12-4 in the regular season and winning the AFC North for the first time in three years.

After setting a franchise record by opening the year on an 11-game winning streak, they followed that up by losing three games in a row, going 1-4 in the final five games, with only a 17-point comeback staving off a five-game slide. But all the issues they had in the regular season showed up in the postseason that resulted in their early exit.

The only thing facing them now as they head into 2021 is more questions, and right now, they lack answers. What will Ben Roethlisberger do, and what will they do with him? What will the salary cap look like? How many free agents are they going to lose? Who could they possibly afford to retain? Who might they part ways with—not just on the roster, but also on the coaching staff?

These are the sorts of questions among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked, though there is rarely a concrete answer, as I’ve learned in my years of doing this.

Question: How will the reduction of the preseason to three games affect the way that teams manage them?

There are certain long-term goals that the NFL holds that they never let go of until reached. One of them is expanding the regular season, something that they had been pushing for literally for decades. The union held them off for as long as possible, and the last CBA even went down to the wire, but the owners finally got one extra game.

As a consequence, though, teams also lose a preseason game, and the reality is that it will take a trial-and-error process to figure out how they will adjust to that. Surely, there won’t be a one-size-fits-all solution, as different teams will be taking different approaches.

How many teams will still use the third preseason game as the ‘tune up’ game, knowing that it still takes place at the same distance from the start of the regular season? Starters get the same amount of rest—but then when do the depth players have a shot at playing their way onto the roster?

For all we know, it could be a whole lot of overthinking. After all, last year, the Steelers kept all of their draft picks (albeit one on the practice squad initially), and even added a college free agent. But then again, that oddity could have been a product of conservatism—as in, we haven’t seen enough of this guy to say he’s not worth giving a chance to.

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