So, what’s next for the Pittsburgh Steelers?

GLENDALE, AZ - SEPTEMBER 25: Free safety Tyrann Mathieu
GLENDALE, AZ - SEPTEMBER 25: Free safety Tyrann Mathieu /

Mike Mitchell is gone and the Pittsburgh Steelers finally freed up efficient cap space. But now, they have another hole they need to fill by the end of the offseason.

It seemed as though the need for a safety and linebacker wasn’t as pressing when the Steelers had options. Maybe Mike Mitchell wasn’t going to lead a defense, but he was at least a starter.

If nothing worked out, worst case you kept him around and worked on upgrading next offseason. With the talent the NFL Draft has been producing in recent years, finding a young stud to complete the secondary probably wouldn’t be an issue.

That meant this offseason the focus was finding an inside linebacker. Leighton Vander Esch, Malik Jefferson, Rashaan Evans, the list is full of instant starters. Without an instant need at safety, drafting a starting back No. 28 and then waiting until the second round for a safety was a safe idea.

Releasing Mitchell certainly didn’t make things easier, but it did provide more options. Pittsburgh now enters free agency with $6,512,746 in cap space, according to NFLPA public salary cap report. 

Not much to work with in the free agent market, but it doesn’t mean they’re out as possible landing spots for some of the high-end safeties available. As Pittsburgh enters their “win now” stage, mixing up their roster to find the most complete unit of players could take priority over keeping this team together.

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Which means no one’s safe. And by no one I mean Le’Veon Bell.

Bell is currently franchise tagged for $14,544,000 this season. As negotiations seem to be getting no where for the second consecutive year, Pittsburgh could be turning away from signing the running back long-term.

Despite being arguably the best back in the NFL, it’s hard to keep someone around who’s more focused on being paid than winning. If the Steelers believe that’s the case, it wouldn’t surprise anyone if they made this offseason even more interesting.

Tyrann Mathieu, Morgan Burnett, Tre Boston, Eric Reid. All names the Steelers would love to consider but can’t afford. But if Pittsburgh wants to take full advantage of a Pro Bowl caliber defensive back, one that can complete one of the best secondaries in the league, they’ll consider moving on from Bell.

This puts a significant gap in the offense. Bell is more than a running back, he’s a dynamic playmaker. Running, catching, blocking, he can do it all.

Pittsburgh would need a player they believe can be an instant star. Free agency isn’t going to be the answer, but the draft can be.

Towards the end of the first round, Derrius Guice, Sony Michaels, and Nick Chubbs will all be sitting there. They aren’t Le’Veon Bell, but surronded by the talent on this offense, they could easily strive in their rookie year.

It’s certainly a downgrade, but a manageable one. It leaves Pittsburgh with a high quality running back and a top tier safety. Which only leaves inside linebacker.

Unfortunately, this is a position that could take some hurt next season. Without using their first round pick or free agency, the Steelers will have to rely heavily on the second round of the draft.

Your best bet at this point is to believe in Josey Jewell. The Iowa product was one of the most efficient linebacker in the Big Ten last season, but his expectations in the NFL aren’t as promising.

As someone who looks like he needs some work, especially in coverage, the Steelers would be relying on their supporting cast to make up for the lack of talent in the middle of the field.

It’s not the perfect plan, but one that would bring in the most efficient talent. Securing a reliable secondary and keeping a running back that can play at a Pro Bowl level is top on the list. The linebacking core outside of Jewell would be productive enough to keep up and the rookie would add an asset much more productive than LT Fort.

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It brings back unstoppable Pittsburgh defensive football. Maybe not something everyone wants when you have to ditch someone like Bell. But if it works, this team would be more complete than any in the NFL. By far.