Are the Steelers stuck in the past with this outdated philosophy?

The Pittsburgh Steelers have the highest-paid defense and the lowest-paid offense in the league. Is this a viable path to success in today's NFL?

AFC Wild Card Playoffs - Pittsburgh Steelers v Buffalo Bills
AFC Wild Card Playoffs - Pittsburgh Steelers v Buffalo Bills / Sarah Stier/GettyImages

The age-old adage in football is that defense wins championships. This is something that has always rung true for the Steelers, as the Steel Curtain Defense in the 1970's is one of the best of all time, and led them to 4 championships, while the two Ben Roethlisberger-led Steelers Super Bowls, both boasted teams with elite defenses as well.

Meanwhile, when the Steelers became a high-flying offense during the 2010s with the Killer B's, the team had little success come the postseason, and never even made it to the Super Bowl.

Fast forward to 2024, and the Steelers have the league's highest-paid defense, and the lowest-paid offense, according to Spotrac, implying they may be back to their old ways. Is this a smart strategy by the Pittsburgh Steelers, or are they stuck in the past?

The modern NFL favors offense, but the Steelers are spending their cap on defense

There is something to be said about zigging while everyone else is zagging, however, the Steelers have taken that to the extreme this year. The modern NFL is so tailored towards offense, as the league is super pass-friendly, and features numerous penalties and rules that heavily aid the offense.

Despite all of this, the Steelers have decided that their identity is on the defensive ball, and their salary cap situation reflects that. While there are positives and negatives to this, it is clear that the Steelers are operating under a very different philosophy from the rest of the NFL.

Some of this spending is warranted, as the Steelers possess T.J. Watt and Minkah Fitzpatrick who it can be argued are the two best players at their respective positions, and several other players who are high-quality pieces. However, they also have role players on defense making more than their top players on offense, which is questionable, considering their struggles on offense.

The Steelers' defense is not good enough to justify this cap disparity

The Steelers' defense is a strong unit but is not good enough to justify how much they are spending on them. Maybe the additions of Patrick Queen, DeShon Elliott, and Donte Jackson will help make them the best unit in the league, but they haven't been that the past two seasons.

While they are among the best at bringing down the quarterback and taking the ball away, they have been very flawed as a unit. They do make those aforementioned splash plays, but they also get gashed for big yardage and have not been strangers to giving up points.

To justify the money they are spending on that side of the ball as a whole, this unit needs to be far more consistent and has to keep the Steelers in every game on their own.

There is no issue with spending on some top-level pieces on defense, however, the Steelers are doing all of their spending on that side, and have not been willing to pay anyone on offense. Eight of the ten highest cap hits on the Steelers this year are on the defensive side of the ball, and the only two offensive players in there are offensive guards.

You can only go so far on the back of a good defense in the modern NFL

At the end of the day, the NFL today is all about offense and that is not going to change. The teams who have won the Super Bowl in recent seasons have done so on the backs of their superstar quarterbacks, and high-flying offenses.

Teams such as the 49ers have made it to the Super Bowl in recent years, but due to them not having elite quarterback play have not been able to get over the hump. However, they are at least attempting to surround their signal caller with elite talent at every position, to make up for their lack of elite talent at that position, and to make him the best he can be.

While the Steelers don't have a franchise quarterback proving that they are ready to elevate to a Super Bowl-caliber team, they also aren't surrounding their signal callers with as much talent as they can to elevate them. George Pickens, Pat Freiermuth, Najee Harris, and Jaylen Warren are all good players and players that the team is smart to hold onto and attempt to build around, but none of them are making big money.

That is not a bad thing, but with the Steelers trading Diontae Johnson away, they traded away the only weapon that is not on a rookie contract. Additionally, the only pieces that are making money on offense are the offensive guards, which is a position that before this year, didn't make big money on the open market.

This begs the question of whether the Steelers are willing to spend on offense, or if they believe they can bargain bin hunt on offense while letting their defense carry them to the promised land.

Omar Khan has shown a willingness to make the aggressive moves that the Steelers have not typically been willing to make. If he wants to build a team that competes for a long time, this team will have to spend some money on the offensive side of the ball, as that is where championships are won in the modern NFL.

Hopefully, Russell Wilson or Justin Fields can prove themselves as the franchise quarterback this year, and the Steelers can lock one in for the foreseeable future while spending money around them on offense to make them the best player they can be.