Steelers' Biggest Keys to Having Successful NFL Offseason
The Pittsburgh Steelers are entering perhaps the most critical offseason in recent memory. With longtime quarterback Ben Roethlisberger headed into retirement, Pittsburgh is kicking off a new and uncertain era.
There are plenty of reasons for optimism, though. Head coach Mike Tomlin—who has never had a losing season as head coach—is still in charge. The Steelers are also in a good cap situation with $29.5 million projected to be available.
While there has been some coaching turnover, the additions of new defensive coordinator Teryl Austin and senior assistant/linebackers coach Brian Flores are good ones.
However, there's also plenty of work to be done in the coming months. Here, we'll dive into the three biggest keys to the Steelers having a successful 2022 offseason.
Find a New Quarterback
This, of course, is the big one. With Big Ben out, Pittsburgh needs to find its next franchise quarterback.
The Steelers might be able to navigate the season with some combination of Mason Rudolph, Dwayne Haskins and Joshua Dobbs as placeholders. However, Rudolph isn't the future. Haskins has shown little at the pro level, and Dobbs is an unknown. Simply getting through the season would likely mean waiting until 2023 to find a franchise signal-caller.
If the Steelers' offseason is to be a complete success, it will require finding that quarterback now. With underwhelming options like Teddy Bridgewater and Mitchell Trubisky headlining the free-agent class, it'll probably have to happen in the draft.
Pittsburgh, by the way, is reportedly high on Liberty prospect Malik Willis.
"An NFL source told me yesterday that the Steelers clearly prefer Liberty QB Malik Willis to Pitt QB Kenny Pickett," Thor Nystrom of NBC Sports Edge tweeted.
Whether it's Willis, Pickett or another rookie quarterback, finding the long-term starter must be priority No. 1.
Improve the Offensive Line
Regardless of whether the Steelers find their next quarterback this spring or defer the decision to 2023, they need to upgrade their offensive line now.
The Pittsburgh line, which underwent multiple changes in 2021, wasn't good enough. It allowed 39 sacks on the season and frequently caused Roethlisberger to rely on check-downs and hot reads instead of buying time for the big play. It also "paved the way" for a very underwhelming run game.
Despite getting solid all-around work from rookie running back Najee Harris, Pittsburgh averaged just 3.9 yards per carry as a team. That was good for 29th in the NFL.
Fortunately, there are some attractive options scheduled to hit the free-agent market—including left tackle Orlando Brown Jr., guard Brandon Scherff and right tackle Morgan Moses.
There are intriguing options in the draft too, though Pittsburgh won't be able to grab one of the top prospects if it opts for a quarterback in the first round. If the Steelers are comfortable delaying their quarterback succession plan, however, guys like Northern Iowa tackle Trevor Penning and Central Michigan tackle Bernhard Raimann could and should be first-round targets.
Bolster the Run Defense
Defensively, the Steelers have to focus on their ability to stop the run. No team was more ineffective at containing the ground game in 2021 than Pittsburgh—except, for some reason, when they played the Cleveland Browns.
Overall, Pittsburgh ranked dead-last in both rushing yards allowed and yards per carry surrendered.
Again, there are some great options expected to be available on the free-agent market. Pro Bowl linebacker De'Vondre Campbell and linebacker Alexander Johnson are tremendous run-stoppers when healthy—Johnson is working his way back from a torn pectoral—and could help Pittsburgh's second-level defense tremendously.
Defensive linemen like Akiem Hicks and Larry Ogunjobi should also be on Pittsburgh's radar.
Finding run defenders in the draft should also be a priority, with only the need for a quarterback and for high-upside offensive linemen taking precedence.
It's imperative that Pittsburgh improve its run defense. The 2022 schedule—which features matchups against the Cincinnati Bengals, Indianapolis Colts, Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots—will be littered with opponents who can pound the ball on the ground.
Contract and cap information via Spotrac.