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 will finish in last place in the AFC North in 2021.
Explanation: There is broad consensus among NFL commentators that both the Baltimore Ravens and the Cleveland Browns are ahead of the Pittsburgh Steelers entering the 2021 season, two teams on the rise as they go in the opposite direction. The Cincinnati Bengals have further to go, but are another team seen as on the rise; the only question is if they can grow fast enough, or the Steelers and recede significantly enough, to see that passing take place this year.
The Steelers’ issues are multiple, including both who is no longer here, and who is still here. You can’t lose two of your starting cornerbacks and a starting pass rusher and think you’re going to be fine when all three of those players were high-performing contributors. Then you have the offensive line being gutted on top of that.
And the offense can only go so far as Ben Roethlisberger’s arm can take it, which has seen better days. There’s a reason that outlets like Pro Football Focus mock it; even while he did attempt among the most deep passes in the NFL last year, he was just not good at it, and the majority of the remainder were of the short variety, which defenses adapted to.
Add in a rookie offensive coordinator and offensive line coach, perhaps multiple rookie starting linemen, a rookie running back, and the hardest schedule in the league, with a tough opening slate, and they’re going to be at the bottom of the division before their bye week with little chance of climbing out.
T.J. Watt. Chase Claypool. Cameron Heyward. JuJu Smith-Schuster. Minkah Fitzpatrick. Eric Ebron. Stephon Tuitt. Najee Harris. This team is loaded with talent regardless of what you want to say about whom they have lost. There is no reason to assume that they have been surpassed by even the Browns and Ravens just because they hit a skid at the end off the year—and lost a meaningless season finale that meant everything to the Browns.
And even if you choose to accept the premise that the Steelers are doomed to finish behind Cleveland and Baltimore, the Bengals are just so far behind, no matter who they have at quarterback, and Joe Burrow, of course, is working back from a torn up knee.
They spent money in free agency, but so much of it was moving parts. Sign Trey Hendrickson, but let Carl Lawson walk, for example. bring in Chidobe Awuzie, but let William Jackson III go. How much better have they really gotten from the 4-7-1 team they were last year? 7-10? 8-9? That won’t be enough.