Though it was hard to sit there Sunday night, and watch the Green Bay Packers hoist the Lombardi Trophy, after defeating the Pittsburgh Steelers, all should not be dark in Pittsburgh.
Even this cloud has a silver lining.
For starters, the game was decided by six points. That is less than a single touch down. Had the Steelers NOT given up three turn overs, one interception for a touchdown, while not causing ANY, then the outcome would have certainly been different,
There is a very good, solid, core of a team in Pittsburgh that most teams would kill for. As hard as it is to NOT be down right now, the reality is, the Steelers were still the best team in the AFC, and second best in the league.
There are, however, things that the Steelers are going to have to address this off season, that will put them over the top for next year, and beyond.
Yes, injuries to the offensive line were destructive to the Steelers this year, there is no question of that. Willie Colon was lost prior to training camp, which opened up a MASSIVE hole at the Right Tackle position.
Shortly into the season, Max Starks was lost for the season with a neck injury.
Reality is, neither of these guys may be back next year, anyway.
Starks was twice Franchise tagged by the Steelers (about $8 million average), then signed a 4 year, $26.3 million dollar extension, through the 2012 season.
Willie Colon was the Steelers Franchise player last year, with a one year contract, worth $7,440,000. He did not play a single snap for that money, all of which was paid to him as the Franchise tag guarantees the money the instant the contract is signed.
To make up for the injury to Colon, the Steelers signed Flozell Adams to a two year contract worth $7.5 million, over two years.
The Steelers would be best served allowing Adams to stay with the Steelers next year, while drafting someone to fill the void once the "Hotel" decides to call it a career.
Colon was playing at a high level before his injury, but there is no way that I would be willing to pay him another $7 million in the hopes he can recover from his torn Achilles tendon.
Not one man took the place of Max Starks, but a collection of them, and though none of them were as good as Starks, none of them were really so much worse than him, it validates the roughly $14 million Starks would have coming to him next year.
Two years ago, Chris Kemoeatu was pursued by the New York Jets to leave the Steelers, but decided to stay with Pittsburgh because he believed that they were the better team. He was right.
Kemo signed a contract in 2009, for $20 million, that will keep him with the Steelers until 2013. Kemo is a god enough player that the Steelers need to keep him, but he may need to move to the right side of the line to be more effective.
Trai Essex has had numerous chances to earn the starting Guard position, and has yet to be able to do so.
The Steelers need to either draft a player that would be able to grow, LONG TERM, as the player to the immediate left of Maurkice Pouncey. Or sign one that is already established.
The Steelers are set at the Center position, with Pro Bowl Rookie Maurkice Pouncey, who will be back from injury next season. Even Doug Legursky did a decent job at replacing him.
At the other positions, NO ONE should feel like their job is safe.
If you take off what Pittsburgh payed to Starks and Colon last year, you are looking at roughly $15 million dollars off the books. That is $15 million the Steelers have to sign someone on the offensive line.
Since so many players were kept from becoming free agents last year, the free agent crop is going to be amazing.
Tyson Cabo from Atlanta, or Doug Free would be upgrades from either Colon or Starks. The Steelers could also see if the Ravens are going to release Jared Gaither, and if they do, the Steelers could pounce on him.
On the inside of the offensive line, the Steelers best bet would be to draft a player. If they could get someone that has already established himself in the NFL.
Logan Mankins would be the IDEAL candidate for the Steelers to bring on board. Once Mankins returned from his hiatus (would not play under the Franchise until he had to), the Patriots boomed. Brady was playing average until Manking came back, then he became like the old Tom Brady. Scary to think what the Pats could have been had Mankins played the entire year.
At tackle, the Steelers need to spend an early pick on the position, and maybe bring in someone like Jared Gaither from the Ravens.
This year, with mostly back ups, the Steelers made the Super Bowl. Imagine how much better they could be with players that are actually good at the positions.
Mike Wallace is becoming one of the best receivers in the NFL. If he is ever to be the best, the Steelers are going to have to give him some help.
During the regular season, Wallace was second in the NFL in yards per reception, with 21.0. During the playoffs, teams are not going to allow someone the quality of Wallace to beat them, so they constantly help the corners out with safety help over the top.
For Wallace, and the Steelers, to climb to the top of the NFL in passing, SOMEONE is going to have to be able to line up on the opposite side of Wallace that can draw some of those double teams.
Yes - Hines Ward is a great player, but his best days are behind him.
Yes - Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown had solid rookie seasons, but are either of them going to be able to step up as the #2 guy?
What exactly do the Steelers need opposite of Wallace? Size.
When Plaxico Burress left the Steelers, Ben Roethlisberger stated that he would like to have a tall WR to throw to. The Steelers spent a second round pick on Limas Sweed, who looked to be a Plax type receiver. With a injuries / health problems / catching a ball problems, Sweed has never turned into the player that the Steelers had hoped he would when they drafted him.
What the Steelers need is a man of that stature, that in the red zone, teams would have no choice but to make the defense double team him, which would open up running lanes for Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman.
Hines Ward mentioned prior to the Super Bowl that the Steelers should consider bringing back Plaxico Burress.
Ward was right.
No, Burress is not the player he was when he left Pittsburgh six years ago. He went to New York, shot himself in the leg, and has spent time in jail because of it.
Burress was never in trouble when he played for the Steelers (other than a tax thing). If the Steelers were to bring back Mr. Bend-but-don't-break, it could do wonders for the Steelers passing game.
But, where would Burress fit in?
Inside the red zone, Plax and Ward would both play.
Outside the red zone, Plax would split time with Ward.
On 3-wide, you could use any combination of Wallace - Ward / Burress - Smith / Sanders.
Burress would add a different dimension to the Steelers passing game. Big Ben has dreams at night of having someone near the caliber of Plax to throw to in the red zone. Now, they can actually go and get him.
The only thing anyone can say, in a negative way, towards the Steelers defensive line is that they are getting old.
And, it would be hard to argue with them.
The facts are, Ziggy Hood has shown during these playoffs that he has the ability to be starting on the Steelers defensive line. That shows that towards the future, the Steelers have at least ONE solid player on the three man line.
The Steelers normally draft players later in the draft, so that they can groom them to take the place of the older guys. It is the Steelers way.
Down the road, Ziggy Hood will be the starter on one side. The Steelers are bringing Steve McLendon along to be the eventual replacement for Casey Hampton (he is going to have to put on some serious size if he is going to replace Big Snack someday), and Nick Eason (I know Eason is getting old).
Who is Steve McLendon? You have no reason to really know who he is. Just like Aaron Smith, who was drafted by the Steelers in 1999, but didn't contribute hardly anything until his third season.
Or Brett Keisel, for that matter. Keisel was drafted in 2002, but was not a solid player until 2005, when he had more tackles, sacks and assists than his first three years combined.
The Steelers defensive line is already one of the best in the NFL. They have some young help being groomed, but they still need some more.
If the Steelers were to spend an early pick on the defensive line, it would not shock me, though. A big body, that would be able to learn to play behind Casey Hampton, would give the Steelers line rotation even more rest, and not only extend the careers of Hampton and Smith, but it would make the line one of the biggest strengths on the team.
The Steelers line backing corp is one of the best in the NFL. They have James Harrison on one side, and LaMarr Woodley on the other. In the middle, they have Lawrence Timmons and James Farrior.
In the 2010 NFL Draft, the Steelers selected Jason Worilds and Stevenson Sylvester, who appear to be the heir apparent to Harrison and Farrior, respectively.
I have made no bones the last couple of year, stating that James Farrior is a liability in pass coverage, and on one of the Green Bay TD passes in the Super Bowl, Farrior could not stay with the receiver that was in his zone. Ryan Clark made a play on the ball, and almost got it, and Troy Polamalu hit the man when he caught it. But, if Farrior were to have been a step faster, Rogers would not have been able to complete the pass.
I love James Harrison, but with LaMarr Woodley being set to become a free agent, we may not be able to keep both players.
Quite a few years ago, the Steelers had a decision to make.
In 1993, the Steelers used a second round pick on LB, Chad Brown. Brown played great for the Steelers from 93-96, when he became a free agent.
The Steelers had to make a choice. They could either keep Brown, but they would have had to release Greg Lloyd.
Lloyd had been a better player for longer, but he had played four years longer than Brown. Lloyd was also starting to have injuries, the same injuries that would later cost him his career.
The Steelers kept Lloyd, and allowed Brown to leave, and it ended up being a mistake.
As the story goes, it is better to let someone go a year too soon, than a year too late. If it comes down to keeping either Harrison or Woodley, I would choose Woodley.
The Steelers TOP PRIORITY is to secure the rights to LaMarr Woodley for the future. If that means trading James Harrison, then so be it. Harrison would bring a late first - early second round pick, which the Steelers could use to solidify one of the other important positions we need to address.
James Farrior needs to be shown the door. Thanks for the years James. We do appreciate all you have done, but it is time to call it a career.
While the Steelers are at it, they should resign Lawrence Timmons while they are at it. He has only one year left after 2011, and rather than wait to retain him, give him his money now. He has earned it, and it would lock up the two most important men on the defense.
That would mean that players like Worilds, Sylvester, Keyaron Fox and Larry Foote would have to step up, and show they can be the players they have been signed to be.
The Steelers secondary took a lot of heat this season, for simply not being good enough. People tend to over look that in yards per pass against the Steelers, they ranked first in the NFL.
That does not change the fact that, when a great quarter back, like Tom Brady, Drew Brees and, now, Aaron Rogers spread the field, they are successful against the Steelers.
Ike Taylor is a solid starter, but is scheduled to be a free agent when the new CBA is signed. Bryant McFadden is a good second, but no where near the level he needs to be.
Will Gay is a liability, and anyone that can not see this, needs to stop watching football.
The young guys the Steelers have drafted over the last couple of year, are going to need to step up and be ready to play.
Crezdon Butler seemed to have a good training camp last year, but was unable to find his way onto the field this year. Keenan Lewis has now had two years, and has not been able to earn any playing time.
Ike Taylor needs to be one of the Steelers top off season priorities. Other than LaMarr Woodley, Taylor should be second on the Steelers list to resign this off season.
This is probably not going to be too much of a problem, as Taylor is called "Little Rooney" because of his close relationship with the Rooney family.
Bryant McFadden needs to get healthy, but the Steelers need to think about maybe changing his position to the Nickel back, and giving Will Gay his walking papers.
The Steelers need to bring in someone that would be able to solidify the secondary, and keep teams from spreading the field against them.
Sure, it is nice to think about the Steelers signing someone like Nnamdi Asomugha. Someone that would shut down the one side of the field, forcing the other team into trying to either throw on Ike Taylor or run the ball, but that simply is not going to happen.
Some would even like to see someone like Champ Baily come to the Steelers, and so would I, provided it was at safety.
Who I think the Steelers could sign? I would like to see the Steelers go after either Jonathan Joseph of the Bengals or Carlos Rogers of the Redskins.
Joseph is probably going to be franchise tagged, but Rogers is a real possibility. The Redskins are not high on Rogers because he does not intercept a lot of passes. He is more like the NFC version of Ike Taylor.
Personally, I would take someone that is going to keep the other team from catching a ball instead of Will Gay.
Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark. I love BOTH of these guys. They play the perfect combination with each other.
Both of them have plenty of ability, and gas left in the tank. However, injuries are always a concern, especially when it comes to Polamalu. When Polamalu does not play, the Steelers defense suffers because of it.
PLEASE do not say we have Ryan Mundy or Will Allen as back ups. Both have had chances, and neither of them showed that they are NEAR starting caliber.
Personally, I believe that Ike Taylor is going to make a great safety some day, and could even be used their now, if Keenan Lewis or Crezdon Butler could become starting caliber. If not, and the Steelers do bring in one of the guys that I mentioned, he would be a great back up to both positions.
There really aren't a lot of issues with the safety position that need addressed, other than depth. Sure, it would have been nice to get someone last year in the draft like Taylor Mays, but if the Steelers can draft someone in the mid to late rounds, and allow them to groom behind Polamalu and Clark for a couple years, they could be set at the positions.
The Steelers were good enough to get to the Super Bowl, and are not that far off from getting there next year.
There are a few areas that need to be addressed, but none that would kill the team going forward.
If Pittsburgh makes the moves I have written about here, there is no reason that they won't become a dynasty for the better part of the next decade.