The Steelers System: A Lasting Legacy


I know that many Pittsburgh Steelers fans believe that the Steelers let talent walk out the door, sometimes at the most inopportune times. I am one of those fans. However, over the years I’ve realized something about the organization, and that is the Rooneys look at a player’s value to the organization ahead of their talent. Having lived in San Antonio for many years, the approach reminds me of what the Spurs do in the NBA. They utilize a system, and no one player is bigger than the system as a whole. To that end, it’s no surprise the Spurs have five titles in 15 years.

Using this logic, the Steelers aren’t saying the players they let go in free agency don’t have value. They’re not even saying they don’t have great value. It means their value to the organization always has a limit. This principle also applies to players they draft and sign in free agency. That’s why the Steelers draft great character players, and players that have the skill set that fits into the system.

Let’s examine a recent example, Jerricho Cotchery. I will begin by saying I initially thought this was a huge error letting him go, when we had the cap room to sign him without risk to signing other players. If you have the money, why not pay him? Looking at his stats though, averaging three catches and 38 yards a game doesn’t exactly have defenses game planning against him. The red zone presence and ten touchdowns last year certainly makes an impression. However, the stat should be taken with a grain of salt since three of those came in one game (which was also a loss.)

Did Ben simply lean on him because of injuries? The prior two years however he struggled to even be a fourth option in the offense. He averaged once catch per game, and had only two touchdowns in two years combined. He’s also 32, with two tall, talented and much younger players behind him (Derek Moye and Martavis Bryant) who could very well make great red zone threats. Additionally, the return of Heath Miller to full health changes the offense dramatically.

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In my opinion, this thinking contributes to the some of the Steelers salary cap issues. By maximizing value, you have to spend and spend in the right areas. Your draft picks have to hit as well, or at least cut them loose before they become a liability. It’s certainly not a perfect science, but as fans isn’t it worth the risk? Would you rather be a Cleveland or Cincinnati fan who never worries about salary cap issues? By using their philosophy, they also never have to worry about spending money to make space for Lombardi trophies either.

The reason the Steelers are so beloved is they are who they are. The Rooney family has always stood on principles: find players that fit, have great character and pay them to their value and nothing more. It’s also the reason they continue to need room for display cases in the Great Hall at Heinz Field.