Would Steelers have won Super Bowls in the ’70s if free agency existed?

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw #12. (Photo by Fred Roe/Getty Images)
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw #12. (Photo by Fred Roe/Getty Images) /

The Steelers won four Super Bowls in the decade of the 1970s, but would we have won any had free agency existed? 

So, this is again one of those hypothetical discussions that is rooted in asking several ‘what if’ type of questions.  For the Steelers, an organization that won four Super Bowls during the decade of the 1907s and more specifically, four Super Bowls in a six-year span, I think the hypothetical questions need to be asked.

I think it is fair to say that we were able to build a dynasty in the ’70s thanks to stellar drafting, stellar coaching, and stellar play by future Hall of Fame players.  What did not exist in the 1970s that exists today is free agency.

Before we delve into this particular discussion, let’s recap the free agency model that existed prior to the free agency model of today which we all know and love.  Plan B was the free-agent model that existed, for the most part, prior to the current free-agent model.  Essentially, a team was allowed to protect a certain number of players.

Players who were not protected were ‘free agents’.  As a Steelers fan during this awful time and it was an awful time, make no mistake, we lost players like the caliber of Mike Merriweather.  He was not the only player we lost, but suffice it to say, it was not a good time to be a Steelers fan.

The Steelers would have been hard pressed to win four Super Bowls in the ’70s if the free agency model of today existed

When I say the Steelers of the ’70s would have been hard-pressed to win four Super Bowls if the free agency model of today existed back then, here’s what I mean by that:  Think about the Steelers who were four-time Super Bowl champions.  It stands to reason that we would have lost at least one player on each side of the ball.

Let’s assume we would have lost two prominent starters to free agency, say Terry Bradshaw and Mel Blount.  Not to say they would have accepted an offer from another team, but you know as well as I do that teams would have been ‘champing at the bit’ to sign both of these players.  Who would have replaced them?

Since the Steelers have always been an organization that has prided itself on building through the draft, had Bradshaw left after our first Super Bowl win, the starting job would have most likely fallen to Terry Hanratty or Joe Gilliam or to a QB whom we may have taken in the 1975 draft.

No disrespect to either Hanratty or Gilliam, but neither was on the same level as Bradshaw.  As far as Blount is concerned, it is really the same situation in that a backup would have had to have stepped up, but backups are backups for a reason. Personally, I think Blount was the greatest corner of his era.

We could ‘go on and on’ naming players we probably would have lost to free agency, but the point is this:  Other AFC teams during the decade of the 1970s not named the Steelers were trying to emulate us so they could beat us.  As the old saying goes, ‘if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em’.

The Steelers have always been known to be a frugal team when it comes to free-agent spending but had free agency existed back then, I do not think we would have been able to keep our core players on the roster long enough for us to be able to win four Vince Lombardi Trophies.

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Teams would have paid a premium to lure our best players to their side, if for nothing else but to keep them from re-signing with us.  I dare say that some of our Hall of Fame players who were four-time Super Bowl champs may have been Hall of Fame players for another organization.

The thought of that sends shivers down my spine.