It’s taken as a given, I suppose, that the offseason during which a team watches an 18-year veteran quarterback retire is going to be an interesting one. That’s the scenario the Pittsburgh Steelers are in this year with Ben Roethlisberger out of the picture, and ESPN agreed that they have an interesting time on their hands. So, too, does NFL.com analyst Bucky Brooks.
Indeed, he thinks they are the most interesting franchise this offseason. And the element he is most interested in is not who is going to be playing quarterback, but how they are going to resurrect their great defense, with Teryl Austin as defensive coordinator and Brian Flores brought on as a senior assistant. Here is just part of his analysis, centered around potential contributions from Austin and Flores based on their backgrounds:
If the Steelers are able to mesh these creative, exotic schemes with a stout personnel group headlined by Defensive Player of the Year T.J. Watt, Pittsburgh’s D can compensate for an offense that’s forced to break in a new starting quarterback — quite possibly one with limited experience. Whether the Steelers’ QB1 ends up being Mason Rudolph, Dwayne Haskins, a draft addition or a veteran acquisition, the offense will likely aim to be more balanced, with second-year coordinator Matt Canada utilizing more of the “smoke and mirror” designs that were staples of his high-powered collegiate offenses. That said, Pittsburgh has to upgrade an offensive line that disappointed last season and could lose Trai Turner and Chukwuma Okorafor in free agency. Not to mention, the Steelers need more firepower on the perimeter, particularly with wide receivers JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Washington set to hit the open market. At the end of the day, it seems like RB Najee Harris will again have to handle much of the heavy lifting until the rest of the unit is ready to take on more of the offensive load.
Bouncing off of his assessment of the offense, he goes on to point out that this drives us back to the defense and their blue-chip talents like Watt, Cameron Heyward, and Minkah Fitzpatrick. He warns that they might not play the most fan-friendly version of football for 2022 audiences, but, he concludes “it could allow Tomlin to quickly rebuild a title contender in the Steel City”.
While there are some questions about Brooks’ conclusions—particularly just how much influence Austin and Flores might have on the structure of the defense—I agree when he says that all of the elements of the equation lead to what could be a “captivating” free agency and draft period.
One element of interest that he did not mention is how invested the front office will be in creating cap space, as it will be a key tell regarding how much they think they’ll be spending in free agency. They have over $10 million they could create in space by releasing Zach Banner and Joe Schobert alone, after displacement.