The Steelers have sustained a lot of success in recent years, but the bid for a Super Bowl seems to end after the 2020 season.
The Steelers Super Bowl window closing has become almost a joke amongst the fanbase. Every year the media hypes that “this year is it”, only to have the Steelers come around in the next season and contend again. The boy who cried wolf is calling for the Steelers window to win another Super Bowl to close after this season.
This isn’t due to one particular thing though. Typically, the culprit of the cries that the window is closing is Ben Roethlisberger celebrating another birthday. While he is in the twilight of his career, he still seemingly has enough talent to keep the Steelers competitive. While Roethlisberger will be another year older come this season, the roster around him is what is causing the window to finally close.
Steelers roster will be different next year
The list of free agents in 2021 that the Steelers will be starting in 2020 goes as follows: Bud Dupree, Cameron Heyward, Alejandro Villanueva, Matt Feiler, Mike Hilton, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Daniel McCullers, Jordan Berry, and James Conner. On top of, key reserves like Cameron Sutton, Tyson Alualu, and Zach Banner are set to see their contract expire as well. While some of these names won’t inspire much sadness if they left next year, the majority of them are key contributors and will be hard to replace.
Now, not all of these players will leave next offseason. The Steelers will sign at least a few of these players to contract extensions at some point, and they can always utilize the franchise tag if they need to. That said, it isn’t unrealistic to think that over half of them will be on a new team next year. Replacing four-five starters in one year is a recipe for a lackluster 2021.
While in-house replacements are typically preferred after that free agents are the most likely answer (rookies tend to need at least a year to develop). While the Steelers have been more active than before in free agency, next year that may come screaming to a halt.
As of now, the Steelers have just over 186 million dollars counting against their cap for 2021. Typically, the NFL cap rises each year to accommodate for larger contracts. This is all based on yearly revenue though, and if that number suffers this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it isn’t unrealistic that the NFL cap will not grow as it has in the past. There are even some rumors that it could be less in 2021 than it was in 2020.
This would poise the biggest issue for the Steelers, as not having extra cap space to help replace departed players will lead to bargain free agents trying to start (think Jon Bostic from a few years ago). Even if the cap does continue to grow, it doesn’t change the fact that they already have a lot of cap space allotted to other players. After handing out a couple of contracts to the inhouse free agents may push the Steelers over the edge.
The simple solution next year would be to add draft picks to some of the critical losses and expect a rebound year in 2022 after those rookies have developed more. The issue is Roethlisberger doesn’t have that extra season necessarily to wait and let those rookies develop. Given his age, his last season will be sooner than later, so banking on developing rookies for what could be Roethlisberger’s final year isn’t a sure thing.
What all of this means is that the Steelers need to be aggressive again this year. If they find a weak spot on the depth chart in camp, they should be willing to make a trade to fix it or add a free agent to fill it. The Steelers have an incredible roster assembled this year and have a returning QB. 2020 should be Super Bowl or bust.
While some media outlets have hyped the Steelers window as closing for years, on paper the Steelers odds to win the big one shrink drastically after this year. With the upcoming free agents and the questions on cap space, the Steelers must do whatever they can to contend for the Super Bowl this year.