The Pittsburgh Steelers still have a slight chance at playoffs this season despite falling flat in their last several games. This is nothing new as Mike Tomlin has kept the Steelers at or above .500 in every season as the Head Coach.
However, despite that continued success, which I'm not saying is a bad thing, the Steelers haven't won a Playoff game in quite a while by their standards. It is fair to wonder, is this team's outlook in the long-term positive?
Kenny Pickett has yet to Prove Himself as the Clear Franchise Quarterback
While Kenny Pickett has shown flashes as the starting quarterback of the Pittsburgh Steelers since he entered the league, it is without question that he has been disappointing thus far, and hasn't proven himself as the clear-cut long-term answer at the position.
Unlike many others, I do believe he could be the long-term answer, but acknowledge he still has to grow as a passer and has a lot of work to do, to become that. Add to this the fact that he has struggled to stay healthy thus far, and there's another thing he has to prove he can do if he wants to become the long-term answer in Pittsburgh,
Pickett will likely enter next season as the starter and will have an opportunity to secure the job long-term if he can perform well, and stay on the field. If he doesn't do either of these the Steelers will be forced to make a significant addition to the quarterback room following next season, whether that be a draft selection or a veteran to take over the reigns.
The Stars on Defense Aren't Getting any Younger
Here lies the true issue with Pickett not yet establishing himself as the franchise quarterback. When Pickett was drafted he was expected to be Pro-ready and have a super high floor, which would allow the Steelers to compete right away. This was the route the team went because they had plenty of talent already on the roster that was ready to compete right away. While they have been competitive, they have yet to make a playoff run, and while that could be in the cards one of the next two years, the clock is ticking.
Cameron Heyward is 34 years old and has one year left on his contract after this year. While he is still playing at a high level, a drop-off is inevitable at some point given his age. His play has stayed at a high level, but his body has begun to show its age, as injuries have piled up over the past two seasons. Heyward is the leader of this Steelers team, and losing a player of his caliber will be a tough blow, due to what he does on and off the field for them, but that loss will come sooner rather than later.
In addition to Heyward, TJ Watt is not getting any younger either. While he has more time in the tank than Heyward, Watt just turned 29 in October. He should be expected to age well, as he has shown no reason to believe that he won't, however, it's fair to wonder how much longer he will be a perennial Defensive Player of the Year Candidate.
Watt and Heyward, with the help of Minkah Fitzpatrick, have been the cornerstones of this roster for several seasons now. With next season potentially being Hewyard's last in a Steelers uniform, and Watt turning 30 next season, it's fair to wonder if the Steelers missed their window of opportunity with this current cast of players.
The team has talent in other positions as well, but they don't have any established superstars aside from those three, and unless Pickett establishes himself as a bona fide franchise quarterback by next season, it's fair to wonder if the Steelers will have wasted the final years of Heyward's tenure, as well as the prime year's of one of the greatest pass rushers in the history of the NFL.
Only time will tell how the Steelers look long-term, and as many other teams have proven, if you get the quarterback right the rest of the roster can be worked around. But, if Pickett is not the long-term answer, the Steelers could be looking at a very different team after next year, with potentially no Cameron Heyward, and a potentially no longer in his prime TJ Watt.
If the Steelers don't have a legitimate franchise quarterback by then, the team could be in for a long few years, with the defense likely taking a few steps back.