PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers are always in "win now" mode, but it doesn't make them immortal. Like all teams, sometimes, you have to rebuild.
The Steelers walked into the offseason with a strong sense Ben Roethlisberger was returning for another season. Maurkice Pouncey, Vance McDonald and David DeCastro, however, they weren't sure of. It turns out all three were gone. Bud Dupree, Mike Hilton and one of three - Vince Williams, Joe Haden or Steven Nelson - they knew for certain weren't coming back.
In Pittsburgh, they don't call it a "rebuild." No one's walking around with the thought of a few down years, followed by giant success and then a drop-off, rinse and repeat.
The Rooneys are winners. Always have been, always will be.
But the Steelers got old. They were relying on the oldest offensive line in football last season, are still banking on a 2004 draft pick at quarterback and didn't have any cap space to work with this offseason.
For most teams, this marks disaster for years to come. For the Steelers - or at least Big Ben - this could just be his career coming full circle.
For those that don't remember, Roethlisberger started his career spending most of his time on the ground. By the time he was 30-years-old, most people were asking how much longer he could take beatings like he was.
From 2006 to 2014, Roethlisberger was sacked 40 or more times six out of eight seasons. From 2006-2009, his stat sheet read 46, 47, 46 and 50 sacks per year.
He won two Super Bowls during that time.
So, here we are. The Steelers are back to square one. They have a returning starter in Chukwuma Okorafor, a hopeful first-time starter in Zach Banner, a star-in-the-making with Kevin Dotson and three guys, including a rookie, competing for center.
On paper, this season could be gruesome for their five big men upfront. Maybe that doesn't mean anything, though.
Maybe, this team has followed Roethlisberger in completing the circle of life.
JuJu Smith-Schuster is the hard-nosed, fight for every yard receiver, much like Hines Ward. Pat Freiermuth is looking for a new nickname and recycling Baby Heath might have to be considered. T.J. Watt replaced the team's greatest pass-rusher by becoming the team's greatest pass-rusher, and without comparing Troy Polamalu to anyone, Minkah Fitzpatrick isn't too shabby himself.
Oh, did anyone mention they have a new center who wears No. 53?
They've now signed Trai Turner to keep a Pro Bowl veteran presence at guard. We're not comparing him to Alan Faneca, so please don't think we are, but everyone knows having that building block on the o-line is a must.
Big Ben spent 19 years building a franchise. He was the key to two championships, more than a decade of success and, one day, another member of the Steel City to enter the Hall of Fame.
Some will laugh at the idea that Big Ben has just seen everything he could during his NFL career. But like they say, if you hang around long enough, you'll see how everything in this world comes full circle. Football included.
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