Are the Steelers taking a poor philosophical approach to team building?

Pittsburgh Steelers, Steelers
Pittsburgh Steelers, Steelers / Justin Casterline/GettyImages

The NFL is rapidly changing, and one of the biggest debates in recent years has to do with team-building philosophies. In today's game, many franchises are allocating most of their money to the offensive side of the football -- paying big bucks to quarterbacks, wide receivers, and offensive tackles. Other teams refuse to dish out good money to average starters. The Pittsburgh Steelers have something entirely different in the works.

In 2022, the Steelers led all NFL teams in money spent on the defensive side of the ball. According to Over the Cap, Pittsburgh dished out $109.9 million on defense while having the cheapest offense in the league at a mere $52.5 million.

This defensive spending by the Steelers is the second-highest single-season mark on this side of the ball in NFL history (next to only the 2020 Denver Broncos), and they were the only team who spent more than double the amount of cap space on one side of the ball than they did on the other.

Things aren't about to change anytime soon either. In 2023 and 2024, the Steelers are slated to have the third most expensive defense in the NFL. That number drops to fourth in the league in 2025, but a lot can change between now and then.

This philosophical approach to the game raises many questions. In recent years, it has been offenses and strong quarterback play that has been the recipe for success when it comes to Super Bowl wins. Over the past decade, there has not been an offense worth than 7th in the league in scoring to win a Super Bowl Championship.

Steelers are playing the hand they were dealt

I'm not a big believer that the Pittsburgh Steelers are suddenly going to be the team to break this trend. We haven't yet seen an NFL in this era that can bring home a Lombardi trophy by running the ball well and playing good defense. The 49ers are probably the closest team to do so, and even with an insanely talented roster and a brilliant offensive-minded head coach, they haven't been able to get the job in the post-season.

At the same time, we have to consider the situation Mike Tomlin and Omar Khan are in here. It's not like the front office got together one day and said 'We need to spend twice as much on defense as we do on offense.' This isn't the case at all.

Rather, the Steelers are simply playing the hand they were dealt. After striking gold on T.J. Watt with the 30th overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, how do you not give him a lofty second contract? After robbing the Dolphins in the trade for Minkah Fitzpatrick, how do you not give him a second deal? After Cameron Heyward has played the best football of his career, how do you not keep him around for a while longer? And after Alex Highsmith went from a mid-third-round pick to a guy putting up 14.5 sacks and 5 forced fumbles, how do you let him walk away?

These are all questions that are impossible to give a reasonable rebuttal. Sure, it's easy to say that the Pittsburgh Steelers need to spend more money on offense and less on defense, but this is why the context matters so much.

When it comes to the offensive line, the Steelers have handed out some noteworthy contracts to James Daniels and Isaac Seumalo in recent years, and they finally invested in offensive tackle with Broderick Jones. What many fans forget is that our starting quarterback and nearly every skill player on the roster are currently on rookie contracts -- meaning that they will be cheaper than many of the starting defenders by default.

Next. 3 not-so-great alternatives to Steelers paying Alex Highsmith. 3 not-so-great alternatives to Steelers paying Alex Highsmith. dark

Eventually, we will see a paradigm shift again. As older defenders exit and budding offensive players earn huge second deals, the positional spending will even back out once again. But for now, this is simply the hand Pittsburgh was dealt, and keeping a strong defense elite with the NFL's youngest offense gives them their best shot at a Super Bowl... at least for the time being.