Biggest Positions of Need for the Steelers Entering 2022 NFL Offseason
Ben Roethlisberger is likely retiring, having told the press in December that "that this could be it." The franchise fielded an uncharacteristically below-average defense that finished 22nd in scoring and 24th in efficiency. The offensive line was a mess.
Essentially, the Steelers need to retool and do it fast if they intend to get things turned around.
That means addressing the biggest needs on their roster in the coming months. The good news is they are going to have the resources to do so. Unlike last year, when their salary-cap situation was tight, they are projected to have $34.2 million available to spend, per Spotrac.
That's before they go about creating additional cap space with cuts and restructures. Once they get their budget set, these are the needs that should be addressed through their draft picks and dollars.
Let's start with the most important position in football. The Steelers might be willing to go to camp with Mason Rudolph and Dwayne Haskins battling it out for the starting quarterback spot, but that's not the best way forward.
At least not without a third option coming into the fold.
Steelers beat writer Mark Kaboly of The Athletic wrote that "everything points to" the Steelers handing the reins to Mason Rudolph in 2022, with Haskins and a low-cost free-agent quarterback on the roster competing for the job.
That plan should depend on how the club views itself moving forward. If the idea is to rebuild, then that makes sense. The Steelers can see what they have in Rudolph and plan on drafting one of the top quarterbacks next season if he fails.
But if the Steelers intend to compete next season, they need to take a serious look at their quarterback options. Rudolph has not looked like a franchise quarterback in his opportunities with Pittsburgh. The team has gone 5-4-1 in his 10 starts over the past three seasons. In 2019, he threw 13 touchdowns to nine interceptions with a QBR of 36.2 as the starter in half the games.
The Steelers offense was hamstrung by two glaring weaknesses in 2021. One was the limitations of what was left of Roethlisberger. The other was an offensive line that just didn't play well.
The unit finished the season ranked 26th among all offensive lines in PFF's final offensive line rankings.
That was with the benefit of Roethlisberger getting rid of the ball rapidly. With a quarterback who doesn't have that element to his game, it could have been much worse.
They weren't great as a run-blocking unit, either. According to PFF, they created just 0.9 yards before contact per carry.
The tackle combination of Dan Moore Jr. and Chukwuma Okorafor certainly didn't help. They were graded 73rd and 63rd among all tackles, respectively.
Moore deserves another chance at earning a role next season. He started at left tackle, a position where most first-rounders struggle, as a fourth-round pick. Okorafor is set to hit free agency, and the Steelers should be looking to upgrade there for the sake of their new quarterback and Najee Harris.
Cornerback went from a position of strength and depth for the Steelers to a serious question over the past year. The franchise watched Mike Hilton walk in free agency and released Steven Nelson, which helped them with their cap situation but was detrimental to the defensive backfield.
Just like the offensive line, the unit finished 26th in PFF's end-of-season secondary rankings.
Joe Haden and Cam Sutton were the mainstays on the outside. The former will hit free agency entering his age-33 season.
The Cincinnati Bengals just won the AFC North behind Joe Burrow and the receiving trio of Ja'Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd. The Baltimore Ravens have a unique passing attack, with Lamar Jackson throwing to Marquise Brown, Mark Andrews and Sammy Watkins. The Cleveland Browns have almost no threats at wide receiver, but that's likely to change this offseason.
If the Steelers are going to be a factor in the division again, the secondary has to be better. That starts with bringing in new talent on the perimeter.