With the Steelers’ 2022 season unfortunately now in the rearview mirror, a 9-8 campaign that came up short too late in spite of a strong second half, we now turn our attention to the offseason, and the many decisions that will have to be made over the course of the next several months.
This is now a young team on the offensive side of the ball, though one getting older on defense, and both sides could stand to be supplemented robustly, including in the trenches—either one. Decisions about the coaching staff must also be made, as well as who to prioritize in free agency, and what to look for from the outside, before getting to the draft.
These sorts of uncertainties are 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).
Topic Statement: Outside linebacker is a priority need this offseason.
Explanation: While the Steelers have two Pro Bowl-caliber starters at the position in T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith, last season reminded us just how lacking their depth is. They even acquired a reserve via trade who ended up a healthy scratch by the end of the year. A good third pass rusher is not to be underestimated and could be addressed early in the draft.
The Steelers drafted Alex Highsmith when they still had Bud Dupree and it wasn’t a foregone conclusion that he wouldn’t be re-signed, although it was a distinct possibility. There’s a greater likelihood of Highsmith being re-signed than there was with Dupree, but that doesn’t negate the importance of adding a significant piece to the room.
We can talk about the obvious in how the pass rush looked in the seven games T.J. Watt missed last season, but it’s not a new story, nor was it unique to last year. The defense struggles more than it should when a starting pass rusher goes down, and that’s because the lack of quality depth has been consistent. The good 4-3 teams stock up on pass rushers. It’s foolish for Pittsburgh to make depth here an afterthought.
Priority is a relative term. Securing better depth at outside linebacker may be important, but it takes a backseat to filling out the trenches on both sides of the ball, for starters. They also need a third wide receiver and a starting strong safety and cornerback. And who knows what’s going on at inside linebacker.
Pass rushers can be developed if you simply find the right ones. Perhaps Quincy Roche will be that guy who finally emerges and helps take some of the load off the shoulders of the starters. They can make a modest addition in veteran free agency or find somebody on day three of the draft. With two high-quality starters, the top resources this offseason ought to be devoted elsewhere.