Steelers Cannot Prolong Finding Cam Heyward's Replacement
Assuming Cameron Heyward actually returns in 2024, the Steelers must find a suitable replacement.
Keanu Benton is just one guy. He goes a long way in helping to rebuild the defensive line, but the Steelers need more bodies that are as capable as him or better like Heyward is.
For too long the Steelers have had bridge players on the defensive line next to Heyward. Every year when Heyward is forced to miss a game for one reason or another, the defensive line gets hammered by the opponent's rushing attack. Larry Ogunjobi has been the best addition, though he's still a far cry from Stephon Tuitt, who is the kind of player the Steelers need.
The Steelers gave up 4.3 yards per carry on the ground in 2023, 21st in the NFL. That's life after Heyward in a nutshell if they fail to find a suitable replacement.
Realistically, the Steelers could use an early pick on a defensive lineman. T'Vondre Sweat from Texas would free up Benton to play the three-technique more as a nose tackle, while LSU's Mason Smith and Clemson's Ruke Orhorhoro are more versatile options in Pittsburgh's scheme.
The options in free agency will be enticing, especially if the Steelers save money at quarterback. Names like Chris Jones, Leonard Williams, DJ Reader, and Justin Madubuike could be available. Any one of them would cost a pretty penny, but their value could be worth it. We've seen Khan be aggressive in upgrading the roster, but even those names might be overdoing it a bit for the Steelers.
No matter how the Steelers address the position, it's a must. If Heyward comes back, 2024 will undoubtedly be his last season. The Steelers can't pigeonhole themselves into drafting for need as they did late in Ben Roethlisberger's career.
Failing to be properly prepared for his retirement is a big reason the Steelers are in the position they find themselves in offensively, after all. Making the same mistake defensively would prove costly for the defense and the future of the franchise.