Already halfway through the 2022 season, the Steelers seem poised to have their first losing season with Mike Tomlin as their head coach.
While the season is not over, things do not appear that they will improve much by the end of the season either. Leading fans and analysts to begin quibbling about what direction the Steelers will take in 2023. Face it; the Steelers have more holes than swiss cheese; they have a horrible offensive coordinator. If they want to make a splash in 2023 and improve the team, here are numerous suggestions they could take under advisement. There is no doubt they are in a team-rebuilding phase, something Tomlin has never gone through previously, and there is not much of an argument that he has done a stellar job so far.
Keep in mind it’s not all Tomlin; some of this falls on the GM, and arguably Kevin Colbert did not do a great job of keeping players under contract. Omar Kahn seems to have more of a knack for the GM position than his predecessor. Since becoming GM, Kahn has extended Minkah Fitzpatrick’s contract and re-signed Diontae Johnson, which seemed a smart move until Johnson opened his mouth after the Miami game. He also extended Chris Boswell’s contract. It appeared at least Kahn did a lot more in a short time than Cobert generally did.
Tomlin and Kahn aside, though, they still must make hard decisions come the end of the season. Who will they keep or cut? Everyone will have an opinion, and every suggestion will be controversial to someone. However, unlike years past, the Steelers can ill afford to operate in a thrifty fashion as they have for decades. They must shake things up, spend money, and make bold choices.
Here are some ideas they should perhaps place on the table. Granted, some of these ideas may be premature as we are only halfway through 2022, and anything can still happen. Nevertheless, it could give the Steelers a blueprint for what they could do to improve the team.
The Steelers will not be able to fix every possible problem, so you don’t want to go down the rabbit hole thinking you can. Yet, if you take every position, look at the potential free agents and draft choices, and know the Steelers should have a top-10 draft choice. What can they do via those two options to greatly impact the team and get them back on track for 2023? It would help if you took it position by position.
Face it; not everyone is thrilled with either Kenny Pickett or Mitch Trubisky at the moment. it’s obvious why people would tinker with that position first, it does make the best sense. In part, while Pickett is no Ben Roethlisberger, he is not playing that badly, and once the Steelers change offensive coordinators, that may help tremendously.
Plus Pickett still may improve going forward and there are enough changes the Steelers can make which would help Pickett in the long run that the quarterback is not the top concern in 2023. Plus, you can Keep Trubisky as a backup through 2024. Teams do not need a superstar quarterback. Teams can win with a mediocre quarterback if you have the right pieces around him.
Steelers running backs
Ok, if you want a change, here would be change number one. Raise your hand if you are not thrilled with Najee Harris. It’s not that Harris is bad, he’s just no Marcus Allen, Franco Harris, or Walter Payton. The Steelers need someone to rush for at least 100 yards a game, and Najee is lucky if he can pound it for 40. Now part of that is the offensive line, but a lot of that is Najee not cutting to the hole and just running the play into a pile of offensive linemen and only getting 3 yards.
So here is the proposal. Open the checkbook in 2023 and sign Josh Jacobs. He is poised to have his 3rd 1000-yard season in four years. Najee is poised to go from 1200 yards last season to 799. Still, his longest career rush is only 37 yards. That is not exactly what you expect from a running back drafted in the first round. So here is the plan. Trade Najee for at least two draft picks. The Steelers should easily be able to obtain that for Najee in 2023. Say a third and 5th or perhaps a 2nd and 4th. Either way, the Steelers can improve the backfield with a running back that can consistently rush for over 1000 yards taking pressure off the passing game.
Steelers offensive Line
It is an area of great concern for the Steelers and one they have not addressed as it needed to be in the last several years. Well, here is their chance to make a splash and build an offensive line for the next several seasons. The Steelers should either focus on signing Orlando Brown Jr. From the Chiefs to replace Dan Moore, who is not a starter. He is a backup; perhaps he is just too error-prone. Brown would come with a hefty price tag of about 16 million a season. Worth it, though, to put a quality lineman in front of Moore. Jack Conklin or George Fant might be solid options, but they play the right side, and honestly, Chukwuma Okorafor isn’t the weakest link on the line. Moore is.
However, there is a second piece to the equation. The Steelers make one free agent signing, but then they should consider at least two offensive line draft choices. After signing Brown as a UFA, then draft, say, Broderick Jones, tackle in the 2nd round and Andrew Vorhees IOL in the 3rd round. The possibilities could change after the combine; as in the 2nd round, you could have Jaelyn Duncan from Maryland or Anton Harris. The interior lineman class not being as solid as the tackles is why you wait for round three. However, you could also get O’Cyrus Torrence from Florida, John Michael Schmitz, Minnesota, or Jarrett Patterson, Notre Dame with that 3rd round pick.
The Bottom line is you’re not going overboard, but you can at least solidify the offensive line to protect the passer and open holes for the running back. If the Steelers sign Jacobs and trade Najee this offensive line scenario is not out of the question
Steelers wide receivers
Not a huge need for either position, so there is no need to monkey much with here unless you want to trade Chase Claypool either ahead of the trade deadline or in the Spring. With a Claypool trade, the Steelers still have Diontae Johnson and George Pickens and will have Calvin Austin ready for 2023. If the Steelers deal Claypool for draft picks, they could replace him with, say, Cedric Tillman, Tennessee, Rashee Rice, SMU, or Zay Flowers, Boston College.
Steelers tight End
At this juncture with Freiermuth, Heyward, and Gentry, it’s an exemplary tight end assembly, and the Steelers do not need to think tight end at least until Freiermuth’s contract is up.
Steelers defensive line
The Steelers defensive line is decent, not stellar, at least with T.J.Watt out. Nonetheless, there are a few things they can do in the off-season which would help shore it up, as the Steelers Cam Heyward is not getting younger. While it may sound a bit unconventional but just listen first.
Hopefully, T.J will play a full season in 2023. He helps the defensive line tremendously. Now how do you shake things up and prepare for the future? First sign J.J. Watt. No, he will not instantly improve the team, but he helps. Granted, he only has one or two seasons left at best. What better way for him to end his career than by playing alongside his brothers? Even J.J, at his age, causes problems for offensive lines and having to prepare to play both of them gets problematic at best. This is just a short-term attempt; there are some other moves you make as well.
Then in the draft with their 99th pick, target edge rushers Zach Harrison, Derick Hall, or Brenton Cox. You draft one keep them behind the Watts for one or two seasons, and let him develop and learn from T.J. Watt and J.J. When the elder Watt leaves, he starts. Or you can go off-kilter and go with a lineman in there, although taking the Edge rusher here would be the smartest play; you could go with defensive lineman Tuli Tuipulotu, Mazi Smith, or Jaquelin Roy. Plus then, DeMarvin Leal returns in 2023.
Not the weakest position right now, but the Steelers will lose Devin Bush in the off-season. Yet if you can get two draft picks for Najee then perhaps you, at least in the interim, for 2023, pick up in the draft, say, Jack Campbell, Henry To’oto’o, Drew Sanders, or Daiyan Henley. If not, you could always target free agents Deion Jones or Lavonte David, but probably not their best move. It might make more sense if they go free agent to shoot for Denzel Perryman, Corey Littleton, or Anthony Walker Jr. and then target a rookie linebacker in 2024.
Steelers defensive backs
Another area of need and one the Steelers should target to help make them more competitive. Anytime you can slow down Mahomes or Allen, that’s a good thing. Here is the blueprint for making an immediate impact and improving the secondary. First, you sign Marcus Peters from the Ravens. His addition would be an automatic upgrade over Cam Sutton. Any time the Steelers raid the Ravens it seems to work as it also did with Chris Wormsley. The Send Step is to draft one of the following cornerbacks with their first-round pick, such as Kelee Ringo, Joey Porter Jr., or Cam Smith.
You have automatically improved you’re secondary tremendously. With that, Minkah is under contract, so there are no changes, leaving Terrell Edmunds. Edmunds is a free agent at the end of the season. One can not argue that Edmunds has always been a solid safety. He’s not as flashy as Minkah, but he’s reliable. If the Steelers give him a long-term contract and, with Minkah, make the upgrades to the corner position, you can bet you will see a vastly improved Steelers team in 2023.
Steelers last change
In addition to player personnel, the other fix is one everyone has clamored for in the last few weeks: to replace Matt Canada with anyone. While no one expects the Steelers to fire him any time soon, a late-breaking story has hinted that the Steelers could release Canada after the Eagles game if there is no offensive improvement. Oddly he has come out trying to defend his performance, thinking his offense will greatly improve over the next few weeks. Will we have to wait until the end of the season? Whom we replace him with could be debatable. However, it might be best if the Steelers do not promote in-house on this change, as the list of in-house candidates is a bit underwhelming. Unless it’s a mid-season firing, then the offensive coordinator should only be an interim option.
These possibilities of team changes are just that, possibilities. They do not have to be exact, but if the Steelers even remotely took any of those suggestions, it could make for an interesting 2023 season, to say the least. Would the Steelers vastly improve? Nothing is a certainty except perhaps death and taxes, but any of these moves would be a step in the right direction.