The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2020 season is now in the books. 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.
Since then, they have lost several players in free agency who were key members of the offense and defense. Multiple starters retired, as well. They made few notable additions in free agency, and are banking on contributions on offense from their rookies, as well as perhaps a last ride for Ben Roethlisberger.
The only thing facing them now as they head into 2021 is more questions. Right now, they lack answers. They know that they have Roethlisberger for one more year, but was that even the right decision? How successful can Najee Harris be behind a questionable offensive line? What kind of changes can Matt Canada and Adrian Klemm bring to the offense? And how can the defense retain the status quo with the losses of Bud Dupree, Steven Nelson, and Mike Hilton?
These are the sorts of questions we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football is a year-round pastime and there are always questions to ask, though there is rarely a concrete answer. This is your venue for exploring the topics we present through all of their uncertainty.
Question: Will James Pierre eventually be a full-time, every-down starter for the Steelers?
This is a rather premature projection, but given the buzz around him right now, I thought it would be an interesting hypothetical topic. Second-year cornerback James Pierre is positioning himself to take on a starting defensive role this season as the nickel defender. Can he eventually be an every-down player in Pittsburgh?
If he can play well enough to be the outside nickel cornerback, then there is no reason from a talent perspective that he can’t go from 60 percent of the snaps to something close to 100. The only major distinction really would be that he would be on the field for more run downs, and he’d have to show that he can hold up in that department.
The other matter is opportunity. Right now, they have Joe Haden and Cameron Sutton starting at cornerback. Sutton just signed a two-year deal. Haden, though, is entering the final year of his contract. I’m not sure I anticipate an extension on the horizon in training camp like he got a couple years ago.
Could Pierre potentially step into Haden’s role in 2022, assuming the Steelers decide not to bring him back? Of course, that would mean that they have to find another cornerback, but the NFL is all about constantly trying to replace missing parts, after all.