5 Offseason Moves Pittsburgh Steelers Must Make in 2012
The Pittsburgh Steelers have the core of a Super Bowl-caliber team, but they are still searching for extra pieces to become a more complete team. While the Steelers have had complete teams in the past, each year players get older, teams change and adjustments are required.
This offseason will prove to be a tricky one for the Steelers. There is already perceived drama with Hines Ward's future up in the air, and there are more veteran players like Ward with whom the Steelers might part ways.
Being too old in the NFL means issues in athleticism and speed. This was obvious for the Steelers, as the defense lacked the big plays that make them so feared.
Ahead are moves the Steelers need to make in order to be re-energized and at full strength to compete next season.
Make Changes Along the Offensive Line
To be completely blunt, Maurkice Pouncey is the only noteworthy offensive lineman the Steelers have. This means there is plenty of room for improvement. Over the past five seasons, the offensive line has given up an average of 46.2 sacks per season.
Fresh faces need to be added, and the five starters need time to create chemistry. The Steelers offensive line may think the scrutiny it goes under is unfair. Ben Roethlisberger is notorious for holding onto the football too long, which can attribute to the high sack numbers year after year. The line also dealt with a laundry list of injuries in 2011.
Regardless of excuses, it's time for a new group of big guys to try and start for the Steelers. There are some big names in the free-agent market this offseason, but that's not the Steelers' usual route.
They may sign one player to start along the line through free agency, but the Steelers should draft two or three linemen who will be able to start next season. Pittsburgh likes choosing players who can be flexible and play numerous positions along the line.
Keeping Roethlisberger upright and getting the running game going are vital to Pittsburgh's success in 2012; solidifying the offensive line would do just that.
Acquire Legitimate Backup QB
Ben Roethlisberger has earned his reputation of being tough by playing while dealing with painful injuries. This toughness is part of what makes Roethlisberger such a revered player. The only downside is that sometimes, injuries are too hard to play through.
The Steelers want to keep Roethlisberger as healthy as possible, but having a solid backup quarterback will help them feel better about letting Ben play his physical style of quarterback. Last season, backup quarterback was an issue, as Byron Leftwich was put on the injured reserve list early in the season.
The Steelers also lost Dennis Dixon, leaving 37-year-old Charlie Batch as the No. 2 man. Batch is a homegrown Pittsburgh kid, but the Steelers need someone more capable to back up Roethlisberger.
Leftwich will be an option as a free agent, but there are a couple of others who would be good fits as the Steelers' backup.
Free-agent quarterbacks with starting pedigrees include Kyle Orton, Jason Campbell and David Garrard.
The Steelers have a terrific duo of feared pass-rushers in LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison. The problem they faced last season was getting on the field at the same time, as both players dealt with lingering injuries.
Harrison missed five games, but sacked the quarterback nine times in 11 games. A point to be noted would be the two forced fumbles Harrison accumulated this season. It marks the first time since he became a full-time starter the number was under five. Harrison's inability to regularly cause turnovers is partially why the Steelers' turnover ratio was a lowly minus-13 this season.
Woodley had zero fumbles forced for the season. What these stats show is that the Steelers need to bring in some young, hungry pass-rushers who can give them a much-needed spark.
Pittsburgh would definitely benefit from having a reserved pass-rusher come off the bench to bombard the quarterback on third downs. They had this in Woodley when he was a rookie, and the 49ers did the same with rookie Aldon Smith this season.
Someone the Steelers could pick up in a later round of the draft would be University of Pittsburgh prospect Brandon Lindsey. Lindsey recorded 18.5 sacks and 29 tackles for loss over his last two seasons at Pitt. The Steelers are not afraid to help a player move from a 4-3 end to a 3-4 backer and have time to do so with returning starters.
Re-Sign Key Free Agents
The next Steeler to expect a big contract should be Mike Wallace. Performing at a high level, Wallace has deserved the raise, and the Steelers are reportedly interested in keeping him. After Wallace, the talent among the Steelers' free agents drops off.
Though there aren't any big-name guys after Wallace, there are still key players the Steelers should bring back. For instance, all three of Big Ben's backups are set to hit the free-agent market this offseason. Pittsburgh should let Batch and Dixon go and re-sign Leftwich, because he is the most suitable backup of the bunch.
With speculation that Hines Ward's days as a Steeler are over, re-signing Jerricho Cotchery would be a smart move that would give the Steelers an elite group of wide receivers.
On the opposite side of the ball, cornerback William Gay finally proved to be a legitimate starter after inconsistent play during the beginning of his career. If the Steelers don't plan on re-signing Gay, their secondary would take a big hit, and they would most likely need to sign a new starter opposite Ike Taylor.
Because of how injury-prone the offensive line has been, re-signing free agent Trai Essex would be wise. Though Essex is not elite at any position, he is able to and has played all positions along the line when called upon. Having a utility guy like Essex is like having a safety blanket for the offensive line, something for which the Steelers should strive.
Part Ways with Some Beloved Veterans
The Steelers still have some key players from the Bill Cowher days, and they are still making an impact. The problem the Steelers face is that they have too many savvy veterans like this.
Guys known as staples for the Pittsburgh Steelers like Hines Ward, James Farrior, Aaron Smith and Casey Hampton should all be in danger of losing employment. This transitional period will be a tough one for Pittsburgh, as the fanbase has grown to love these players after years of hard work and winning football games.
The sad truth is that Pittsburgh needs to make room for the new wave of beloved Steelers by getting rid of the old. Hampton is the only one whose job is safe because he is the only option right now for nose tackle.
Ward and Smith have been outplayed by their younger teammates, and the Steelers have been able to win without production from either. Farrior is an interesting case to ponder.
Last season, he posted his lowest number of tackles since becoming a Steeler in 2002, with 78. He has never missed more than two games per season as a Steeler, but they need to acquire an inside linebacker to eventually take over his position.
Lawrence Timmons has done a fine job, and the Steelers need to find a player in the draft who can complement him as well as Farrior has.