The Pittsburgh Steelers offseason and especially their 2021 NFL Draft class reek of a team desperate to avoid going under .500 rather than a team with a plan for rebuilding after quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's decomposing husk finishes bleeding the team of another $41 million.
A play for the collective egos of head coach Mike Tomlin, general manager Kevin Colbert as well as Roethlisberger as opposed to an accurate evaluation of where the team really is may end up going more harm than good for the long term vision of the Steelers.
Great news for the rest of the AFC North and particularly the Cleveland Browns, but an unsettling reality for the Pittsburgh Steelers, who have dominated the division for touching on five decades.
This isn't a criticism of players like Najee Harris, their first round pick out of Alabama. He could help the Steelers quite a bit and seems like a tremendous human being in addition to being a great talent. Harris may even mitigate some of the issues the Steelers have, potentially opening up the middle of the field in the passing game.
None of that changes the fact that the Steelers lost a significant number of starting snaps this offseason including OT Alejandrio Villanueva, OL Matt Feiler, CB Steven Nelson, EDGE Bud Dupree and CB Mike Hilton. C Maurkice Pouncey and TE Vance McDonald both retired. The team also replaced a significant amount of their coaching staff.
They also still have to get some deals signed such as T.J. Watt's lucrative extension, the Steelers aren't going to be getting much cap relief in 2022 either, so they aren't going to be in a position to reload in free agency next year.
The Steelers will likely be pretty good at guard between David DeCastro and Kevin Dotson. Their plan at center is a pretty solid one that could produce nice returns between getting back veteran B.J. Finney and then adding Kendrick Green in the third round of the NFL Draft.
The problem is their tackle position. Heading into the 2021 NFL Draft with a group of vending machines for tackles between Chuks Okorafor, Zach Banner and Rashaad Coward, arguably the worst in the league, they didn't address offensive tackle until round four with the selection of Dan Moore from Texas A&M. They opted to select Harris and tight end Pat Freuermuth as well as Green, who at least attacked another issue up front in center, before addressing the biggest problem area on the team.
In fact, the Browns, who currently have at least three tackles better than what the Steelers have to offer between Jedrick Wills, Jack Conklin and former Steelers reserve Chris Hubbard, drafted an offensive tackle before the Steelers did.
Perhaps the Steelers were out of position, particularly in the second, when they selected Freuermuth. They found themselves in a relative dry spot to address the position.
Harris can be a great player, but it's difficult to ask a rookie to overcome a pair of tackles with their feet stuck in concrete. The rest of the division got faster in the offseason on the edges and the Steelers countered that by getting slower and heavier. Maybe simply being big enough it takes a while to get around them is a viable strategy for Roethlisberger to get the ball out in the passing game quickly, but there's little reason to expect these two to get a consistent push in the running game.
Thinking bigger picture, imagine if the Steelers had taken an offensive tackle with either of their first two picks that could come in and play immediately or in the near future. If the Steelers find themselves in position to draft a talented quarterback in the 2022 NFL Draft, they have some improved protection waiting for them, setting them up for success.
With zero plan for the quarterback after Roethlisberger outside of a long shot in Dwayne Haskins as a reclamation project, they also have no real plan at offensive tackle.
It's not difficult to imagine the Steelers waking up in three years, still have questions at the quarterback position and they're forced to reckon with the decision of picking up Harris's option and extend him after a few great years with few wins to show for it.
The Steelers secondary is also going to be worse than it was last year. The Steelers released Steven Nelson, arguably the team's best corner last year. That position may end up going to Cam Sutton, who has almost no experience on the outside and the Steelers will have to determine who their primary slot will be to replace Mike Hilton, now a member of the Detroit Lions.
The team also decided not to pick up the option for safety Terrell Edmunds. Minkah Fitzpatrick is the only good defensive back in the Steelers secondary heading into this year.
All of this is happening and despite how poorly the Steelers finished the 2020 season, where the team fared about as well as the Plymouth Belvedere in Tommy Boy. They did hang on to win the AFC North division, which means they have a first place schedule in 2021.
In order to avoid getting under .500 for the first time in 14 years and breaking the hallowed streak, they have to come away with nine wins on a schedule that includes home games against the Tennessee Titans and Seattle Seahawks as well as road games against the Buffalo Bills, Green Bay Packers and Kansas City Chiefs. That's beyond a pair of matchups against the Browns and Baltimore Ravens.
That's nine of their games in 2021.
If they can sweep the Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, Los Angeles Chargers, Minnesota Vikings, Las Vegas Raiders, Denver Broncos and Cincinnati Bengals in both games, they still have to find one more win to get to 9-8. One tradition the Steelers have had under Tomlin is dumping a game to an inferior opponent every single year, which is something this team cannot afford.
So even if their entire 2021 NFL Draft class hits the way the Steelers hope, none of it addresses the two overwhelming weaknesses this team has. Their defensive line is still arguably the best in the NFL. Linebacker should improve this year. The passing game might be more efficient in 2021 too.
Everything about this team looks more likely to completely crater in 2021 than compete. And that might be the best outcome for the Steelers in terms of finding their future at quarterback, but this draft class missed the mark on setting them up for success even if they get the quarterback they'll need.
Plenty have given the Steelers high marks for their draft class and maybe they're right when it comes to adding talent, but the lack of foresight by this organization could see them see an extended run of mediocrity in a division where both the Browns and Ravens are built to withstand. The Cincinnati Bengals are in a better position to get into the division mix in the next few seasons than the Steelers.
This offseason was always going to be an incredibly difficult one for the Pittsburgh Steelers, but they seemingly have opted to deny reality rather come to grips with the fact 2020 was their last big run for the Super Bowl with this group. They are banking on Roethlisberger returning to the form he last showed in 2018 and even if he's somehow able to reclaim it, that might not be enough to save this Steelers team from a dismal 2021 season.