PITTSBURGH -- As the Pittsburgh Steelers begin creating the team they'll use to navigate through the 2021 season, they're watching pieces they've known for years walk away.
It started with Randy Fichtner. The Steelers knew they needed a change at offensive coordinator this offseason, and to a degree, you felt Fichtner knew the change was coming as well.
The OC for the last three seasons is now on the open market, where he should become a prime target for some team, even as a position coach if not a coordinator.
Then, there was tight end Vance McDonald, who announced his retirement right before the NFL conference championships. The eight-year veteran arrived in Pittsburgh in 2017 and quickly became one of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's favorite people, both on and off the field.
And now, we wait for center Maurkice Pouncey. The All-Pro and potential future Hall of Famer has shaped an 11-year playing career into a resume Steelers Nation will never forget.
No announcement has been made on Pouncey. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Gerry Dulac reported that the center has started telling teammates he plans to retire and will make his announcement shortly. Then, former Steelers guard Ramon Foster, who spent his entire career playing next to Pouncey, shut those stories down.
If Pouncey does walk away, which is feels he will, then the question turns back to Roethlisberger. This offseason, he's lost his three favorite people to work with and will likely have to lose wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster in free agency.
It's not a totally different team for Pittsburgh, even with all these faces gone, but it will be a different team for their 38-year-old quarterback.
We don't know what Roethlisberger will factor into his decision this offseason.
"It's going to start between me and God, a lot of praying. A lot of talking with my family, discussions, decisions," he told media following the Steelers' playoff loss.
So, here's the question - does it force Big Ben to retire?
The easy answer is no. Roethlisberger has a lot of young talent around him that still shape this team. His offense is changing, but he'll continue to work with guys he's been around for the last several seasons.
McDonald didn't play much of a role in 2020, adding just 484 offensive snaps to his resume during his final season. Fichtner's offense might be gone, but if Matt Canada is the new offensive coordinator, Roethlisberger is going to have a strong input with the gameplan.
Pouncey will take a toll on the quarterback, but it could also spark a flame to go and redeem his long-time friend in 2021.
You'll continue to see the list pop up on social media. People will continue talking about how Roethlisberger's favorite people are disappearing from the Steelers, and this is a new team than the one he knows.
It is, but only in some aspects.
A return in 2021 means he has a strong defense, a young receiving core that has two very talented weapons in Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool, and hopefully a revamped running game.
Yes, it'll hurt looking to his left while sitting on his locker and not seeing Pouncey. Or sitting next to McDonald at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. But the Steelers are still his team if he decided he wants another run at a title.
Things change every offseason. It's hard to say losing some friends in the locker room is going to make someone hang up their cleats when they know they want one last chance.