There is a question the Pittsburgh Steelers franchise is no doubt considering. Do the events of the Steelers’ season suggest it is time to rebuild?
For the 4th time in the 12-year Tomlin era, the Pittsburgh Steelers won less than 10 games and failed to make the playoffs. When the Steelers have a valley in the ups and downs of a teams record it has never been particularly low or gone on long. Though the most recent has also been a shallow valley, the events surrounding raise the question of whether a more significant retooling is in order.
The answer we can expect from all parties asked is a given if you’ve followed Steelers football for any amount of time. Steelers ownership, management, and coaches are sure to think, and certainly to say, that there is no need to overreact. Steady as she goes. On the other hand, a sizable and less than quiet chunk of Steelers fandom are sure to want to burn the whole thing down and start over, firing and trading anyone ever associated with a lost game or dropped pass or miss tackle.
So who is correct?
Should the Steelers Rebuild?
Perhaps this is the end of an era. Perhaps the dynasty that never was has passed without a Super Bowl due to contract disputes and drug suspensions and Vontaze Burfict purposefully injuring Steelers stars late in the season on a yearly basis for half a decade. If that’s the case then better to start building towards the next great team than to wait until the current one fades and disappears when Roethlisberger retires.
Big Ben is the center of the current team and the leader. He continues to play well and surely has some quality seasons left in him. However, given the current state of the team, is it possible for any of those quality seasons to lead to a Super Bowl? And if not, then what’s the point? Might as well expedite the assembling of a team that can lead the franchise to a ring.
What the Steelers confront now that they did not in previous valleys is Big Ben’s age of course, but more than that. There is the loss of Le’Veon Bell and Ryan Shazier, two players whom the Steelers expected to build a future on and make a smooth transition beyond the Roethlisberger era, will likely no longer be with the team.
There is also considerable drama around the team. There is drama with Le’Veon Bell, with the team in the contract disputes and off the field with suspensions. There is drama with Antonio Brown, with the team in the trade rumors and public complaints and off the field with recent legal and domestic issues.
Furthermore, J.J. Watt recently made some headlines when he threw his brother T.J. under the bus on Late Night with Seth Meyers, reporting,
"“It does seem very dramatic. It’s like somebody that’s watching the Kardashians and I can call one of the Kardashians. I’ll call my brother, see everything on TV, and I’m like ‘Ok, give me the real story.’ And um … it’s pretty wild.”"
Maybe there’s no chance the Steelers win a Super Bowl in the next few years. If that’s the case, then the Steelers should ignore what their record will be in the next few years and focus on what it will be five years from now.
Should the Steelers Stay the Course?
Throughout history, the Steelers fanbase has counseled panic. Every lost game or difficult season, Steelers fans will take to social media and local sports bars and their own couches to declare every one should be fired and traded and thrown into the mouth of a volcano. The Steelers ownership, management, and coaches always do the exact opposite, and history has shown the philosophy of the franchise is the better approach.
The Steelers, as previously pointed out, have missed the playoffs before. Furthermore, the record was 9-6-1. If the Browns had a record like that there would be parades in the street. With all the turmoil, this wasn’t a terrible season.
The Steelers defense began the season poorly but improved throughout, becoming a league leader in sacks. The offense has Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown. They’ve got one of the best offensive lines in the NFL. James Conner and JuJu Smith-Schuster proved to be emerging stars with a Pro Bowl season. It is far from impossible that the Steelers could reach the Super Bowl in the next few years.
So the Steelers should allow players to develop behind the current stars at their own pace. Does it serve a young QB to be thrown in the fire and gain experience? Or will they just be eaten up like so many QBs before who were made starter before they were ready? The existence of current stars does not preclude the development of future ones, as Conner and Smith-Schuster have shown us.
As far as the drama, the Steelers, like all teams, have had engaged in it before. The thing about drama is, the only thing you need to do to stop it is to stop it. It’s entirely within the hands of those engaged in the drama. They made it and they can stop it. Sometimes, due to pride or grudge, it is easier said than done.
But the notion of blowing up a team is motivation to move forward. A player does not want to take their children out of school and move out of their house to a new city, meet a new team, and play next to new players if they don’t have to. In addition, the rats and roaches of negativity live in the darkness and given Watt’s comments above as well as recent ones from Steelers alumni and others, the light is shining brightly on the Steelers. Maybe this could bring a little shame or cause the Steelers to look at themselves.
If the Steelers can resolve the drama, then there is no reason to overreact because there is more than enough talent on the team.
The question is obvious. The arguments are laid out. The decision maker will be Steelers ownership and management. What they will decide will become apparent over the next few months. Whether it’s the right decision we will have to wait longer to find out.