The Steelers are a proud and respected franchise, but their poor management over the past few years makes them deserving of missing the playoffs.
The Steelers are one of the most consistent and talented franchises in NFL history. While the team has had its fair share of down periods, they are a franchise built around sustained success. Even in years when talent wasn’t richly available, Pittsburgh would still be seen as a tough competitor and couldn’t be counted out of the playoff hunt.
Fast forward to 2022 and it has been quite the opposite. While talking heads made mention of this team being a potential sleeper, it was due to that being the case in the past. Don’t count out the Steelers, because they always find a way to win, yet the team meandered into the season with little direction and few answers to a growing list of questions.
This has been a long-time coming
The Steelers have been a franchise on the decline. While regularly competitive during any given season, the bar began to shift for what made the team the praised franchise that it was. Super Bowl aspirations became simply playoff win goals, which eventually faded to just making the playoffs. This team has only won three playoff games in ten years and hasn’t been to a conference championship since 2016.
Decline is natural in a franchise even when you still have talented pieces in place. An elite defense aided the Steelers during their three Super Bowl appearances between 2005-2010. That defense got old and retired though. Likewise, future Hall of Fame quarterback Ben Roethlisberger manned the helm early in those runs but began to show his age and limits as time went on.
The team did adapt, prolonging Roethlisberger with a safer offense and adding elite weapons to surround him. That ushered in the next era filled with promise but ultimately lacked results. Then we got to the end of Roethlisberger, a dying gunslinger whom the team continued to rally behind. The results weren’t great, but the hope was always there.
The Steelers were too conservative during this span
The problem with the team during this span became their conservative nature. Despite the usual ebbs and flows any team has, they never made any big moves with the future or a Super Bowl in mind. Free agency remained a mystery for the team despite an occasional “big” move. The draft yielded fine results, but it was never enough to overcome the team’s issues.
By the end, the proverbial powerhouse Steelers were never Super Bowl favorites. While other teams aggressively built teams in an arms race, the Steelers were content with playing second fiddle. They were competitive in the AFC North and made the playoffs, but beyond that was a surprise as opposed to the expectation for the team.
Let me be clear, the issues came from a multitude of directions. While having a successful NFL record over the span of ten-plus seasons is quite the feat (and yes, it takes some good coaching), the team got too relaxed in its ways. Looking at the current group, the team is suffering because of this. Mike Tomlin is a fine coach and should be commended for the success he has brought this team. He also needs to take responsibility for the struggle that this team is currently going through.
The Steelers never properly conformed
The Steelers have botched their roster construction over the past five seasons. For most of that span, their free agency period has been disappointing. Granted they didn’t have a surplus of money to spend, but their choices were poor. It was more about finding band-aids as opposed to finding long-term fixtures.
No, a successful team isn’t built through free agency but targeting smart signings at positions of need is a smart move. The Bengals proved that last year, as they had a team made up of smart free-agent signings that helped aid them in getting to the Super Bowl. They adjusted their strategy as the league changed. The Steelers never did.
The team failed to build through the draft
A moderate free-agent strategy is fine if you are succeeding in the draft. The Steelers haven’t had many great draft picks in recent years. Sure, they have had quite a few solid additions, but they haven’t found many long-term answers.
Worse yet, the team has failed to target really important positions in the draft. They seem to get fixated on one position and ignore other positions of need due to the band-aids they found in free agency. This really stems back to the Artie Burns pick. The team needed a cornerback, they focused in on the position and took the highest player there no matter who else was available.
A similar thing occurred with Devin Bush, albeit this time they traded up for him. I’ll be honest, while the pick hasn’t worked out, the team did show more conviction with Bush. They made an aggressive move for a player they genuinely believed in as opposed to just waiting as they did in the past. That said, they still forced themselves into a corner by needing a player as opposed to taking the top talent at the pick.
Worse yet has been the past two seasons. Nothing makes me more upset than the process of selecting Najee Harris. For starters, they made their affection for Harris obvious in the draft despite having other needs. They took a devalued position with their top pick with the expectation that he would overcome the other issues on the team.
Meanwhile, the offensive line was a wreck, and the team wasted a third-round pick on Kendrick Green and got a mixed bag from Dan Moore in the fourth. The offensive line was a major need, but the team fell in love with Harris and looked past selecting anyone other than him in the first.
Kenny Pickett was a similar story. The team was lacking a quarterback, but instead of building a talented offense and finding their quarterback, they keyed in on a passer which limited their other options. Obviously, you need to find a quarterback to compete, but a rookie quarterback’s best friend is a talented offense.
The Steelers never planned ahead
While all of these mistakes were happening, the team was never properly planning for the future. Even as Roethlisberger aged, there were still plenty of chances to compete. Towards the very end though, the team continued to find band-aids despite the fact they weren’t close to competing. It kept them in mediocrity and has left them in an even worse spot since they now lack quarterback talent.
All the while, they never planned for the future. Sure, I get that they spent a third-round pick on Mason Rudolph, but there was never an active attempt to find the next quarterback until they were scrambling to find one after Roethlisberger retired.
When you look at this track record of poor decisions and mediocre team building, it isn’t shocking that this team has struggled the way that they have. Had better decisions been made in the past, this team wouldn’t be in such poor standing right now.
This doesn’t mean that everyone needs to be fired or the entire roster needs to be scrapped, but the point is, the history of how this team has been built recently has caused the issues today. If the poor decisions continue, the Steelers will shift farther away from their winning ways and continue to shift into mediocrity.