As NFL training camps get underway - and the preseason kicks off in Canton, Ohio - the excitement and realization that football is just a few short weeks away certainly peaks the excitement.
Fantasy football players, sports bettors, and armchair GMs alike begin entering football mode. Every Sunday morning is like Christmas morning. The crisp fall air, the morning coffee run to Starbucks in your favorite NFL team jersey blasting your team’s anthem on the way there. There’s only 17 gameday’s a year. They’re treated like royalty as they should be.
The Steelers enter 2021 in uncharted territory. (NOTE: if you could link my previous story there, that would be AWESOME!)
It’s all but assured this will be the final chapter in quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s Steeler career. Hopefully, he won’t play in another uniform next year and will ride off into the sunset happy with all he’s done in his time with Pittsburgh.
There is no current heir apparent. Sure, either Mason Rudolph or Dwayne Haskins could be that guy. We haven’t really seen enough from either player yet to make that assumption. The point being that franchise quarterbacks don’t grow on trees. If you have one, you’re going to be successful.
That’s why, when considering the landscape of the AFC North’s quarterbacks, it’s conceivable that the Pittsburgh Steelers could be a bottom-feeder in the division they’ve so frequently dominated in the past two decades. Baker Mayfield and Lamar Jackson are moving swiftly into their prime. Joe Burrow will return from an ACL injury and, if fully healthy, is going to begin his ascent into the league’s top young quarterbacks.
That won’t be an easy fix. Yes, Aaron Rodgers becomes a free agent after this season and he’s already been linked to the Steelers. It makes plenty of sense. But unless he’s the answer next season, the Steelers would have to be very bad to get a good enough draft pick to take a young, stud quarterback. I just can’t see that happening.
On the bright side, the defense is still going to be successful this year. The Steelers are reportedly working on signing T.J. Watt to an extension. He’s going to get paid handsomely. Probably even quarterback money. With Roethlisberger coming off the books next season, they will be able to afford that contract.
Signing Watt to a monster extension leaves you with less money to continue suring up other places, though.
The offensive line goes into this season full of potential. But that’s really it. Until it proves it can perform to a satisfactory level, they’ll have their skeptics. In just a few short seasons, we’ve watched one of the best units in football decimated by injuries, retirements, and players pricing themselves out of the Steelers’ range by superb play. They’re back to square one as far as this is concerned.
And let’s not forget about Mike Tomlin.
The prized head coach enters his 14th season with Pittsburgh. They’ve never had a losing record under his tutelage. That’s insane. While they may not have made the playoffs every season and have been hindered by the Tom Brady Show over that time span, Tomlin has kept them competitive for 14 years without losing the room. I don’t care who you are, it takes a special person to do that. That’s especially when you haven’t had the world championship-level success that’s commonly associated with such a tenure in sports.
Who’s to say that Tomlin, 49, won’t retire upon Roethlisberger’s eventual exit? He’s already hinted he doesn’t want to do this forever. Maybe he won’t be interested in grooming the next quarterback of the Pittsburgh Steelers. The job is his for as long as he wants it. That’s been made clear. Any Steelers team without Tomlin’s guidance won’t be a better team because of it.
So while you’re on your couch rooting for the Steelers to wipe the floor with their opponent on game day, take a second to soak in and appreciate what we’ve seen over the past 15 or so years. Since 2002, when the Patriots dynasty began, only three teams - Pittsburgh, the New York Giants, and Tampa Bay - can claim to have won multiple titles in the Brady era. Heck, even Tampa used Brady to win their most recent one. So only two Brady-less teams have won multiple titles since 2002. The Steelers are one of them.
Maybe the last few years haven’t gone to plan. They’ve certainly had more than enough talent in some seasons to have made it deeper into the playoffs than they did. But that happens to everyone.
Just appreciate Roethlisberger, Tomlin, and the Steelers in general as they try one more time to break through and win a third title together. Because there is a very good chance that things could begin spiraling downward as early as next season.
You May Also Like: