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Pittsburgh Steelers’ fans are used to being envied. The Steelers are an almost perennial playoff team and have a record six Super Bowl trophies, including two titles since 2005. This success means that their fans will be fairly unaccustomed to the dark cloud hanging over Pittsburgh this offseason.
Not only did the Steelers miss out on the playoffs, but they also saw two of their divisional rivals, the Baltimore Ravens and the Cincinnati Bengals, make the postseason, with the former eventually lifting the Vince Lombardi trophy. Throw into the mix the aging defense, inconsistent offense and salary cap constraints, and you can see the challenge that lays ahead for the Steelers’ front office.
Pittsburgh may not have been at their vintage best at any point last season, the loss of Ben Roethlisberger for several games due to injury was almost directly responsible for their omission from the playoffs. If the importance of keeping Roethlisberger upright and healthy wasn’t clear before, it certainly is now.
By drafting David DeCastro and Mike Adams last year, General Manager Kevin Colbert will be fairly confident he has a good, young offensive line developing, especially with the likes of Maurkice Pouncey and Marcus Gilbert already on the roster. If Colbert can find the cap space, a far from easy task, he may look to add a veteran guard in free agency and add some much needed experience to the unit.
Indeed, finding salary space will be an unenviable challenge for Colbert, with Pittsburgh’s top 10 salaries currently accounting for just over $100 million. The consequences of this will almost certainly see wide receiver Mike Wallace hit free agency, and unless serious salary cap sacrifices are made, the Steelers will struggle to enthuse youth into their ageing defense in free agency.
Pittsburgh’s arch-rivals, the Ravens, have had similar issues in recent years, coping with an ageing defense and relatively little cap room. As much as Steelers’ fans will not want to hear it, they could learn a lot from the Ravens, and their GM Ozzie Newsome, who have arguably coped with these issues much better than the Steelers.
Pittsburgh defensive veterans Troy Polamalu, Ryan Clark, Ike Taylor, James Harrison and Brett Keisel are all now well into their 30s and will account for nearly $40 million in cap space in 2013.
Offensively, the loss of Bruce Arians as offensive coordinator last season and the arrival of Todd Haley, hurt the Steelers. The deep threat of Wallace was rarely used and Pittsburgh were uncharacteristically poor in their running game, ranked 26th in the NFL. This was certainly not helped by the mercurial form of the Steelers’ running backs, with no back in particular shining consistently throughout the season.
Once again, Colbert will be limited as to what he can do offensively in free agency. Along with Head Coach Mike Tomlin, he will need to decide whether or not there is a running back currently with the Steelers of starting quality, whilst a slot receiver in the mould of Wes Welker would be a perfect fit for Haley’s offense, but neither will come cheap, and instead may be looked for in the draft.
Even with all the challenges that face the Steelers in this offseason, a team which features a player of Roethlisberger’s quality at quarterback, and a coach as talented as Tomlin, will undoubtedly be competitive next season. With the team continuing to age on defense however, this offseason, and specifically the draft, could prove to be critical in ensuring long-term competitiveness with both the Ravens and the Bengals in the AFC North.
Image Courtesy : The Pittsburgh Steelers