Mike Tomlin's contract extension raises more questions than answers

Tomlin is entering his 18th season as the head coach of the Steelers. Has he done enough to truly warrant getting to his 21st?
Cincinnati Bengals v Pittsburgh Steelers
Cincinnati Bengals v Pittsburgh Steelers / Joe Sargent/GettyImages

What is the standard in Pittsburgh, really? Make no mistake, Mike Tomlin is an incredible football coach. It's not as though the Pittsburgh Steelers should have fired Tomlin instead of signing him to a contract extension.

However, the timing of the move is a real head-scratcher and raises a few red flags among even the staunchest Tomlin believers and defenders.

The Steelers, for the past four seasons, have fielded downright inept offenses that have drug down the roster. Tomlin doesn't coach the offense but is in charge of his coaching staff and who holds the positions therein.

As such, fielding those putrid offenses is an affront to the slogan "The standard is the standard."

Because of the questionable decisions in the coaching staff, schemes, and personnel, the Steelers aren't the respected franchise they have long been. Despite never having that losing season he's likely deserved, Tomlin has seen the franchise stumble after failing to capitalize on elite rosters.

Regardless, Tomlin is good at his job from the proper point of view. At the end of the day, he's going to sign a contract extension offered to him. It's good business to take job security when it's offered, after all.

So the questions go to Art Rooney II instead of Tomlin.

Mr. Rooney, what is the standard?

The Steelers haven't won a playoff game since 2016, the longest such drought in the Super Bowl era for the franchise. This is a warranted knock against Tomlin.

Somehow Tomlin kept the Killer Bs' heads on straight, which is certainly to his credit. But he still holds some of the blame for the chaotic end of that situation and how the offense failed to replace those players properly regardless of their All-Pro talent level.

Now, we have players like Najee Harris and Minkah Fitzpatrick speaking of the locker room not understanding how to conduct business in the Steelers' way. The standard upheld by former Steelers greats isn't getting passed down properly. That's a blame on the veterans and Tomlin too.

So we have a skewed perception of how to operate, headcase players, and substandard results since the roster fully became "Tomlin's guys".

Maybe that's all a bit out of focus and we can give Tomlin the benefit of the doubt for having non-losing seasons and playoff appearances despite these storms. Maybe he's showing his value and doing his job in the face of these opsticals and that preserves his job security.

After all, there are some serious bright spots over the past few offseasons that speak to the progress, right?

That's one way of looking at it, but if that's the case, another question arises.

Is Tomlin Being Rewarded for Potential Positives?

There is no guarantee this Arthur Smith and Russell Wilson combination works. There's no guarantee that Justin Fields is the future of this franchise.

Sure, the Steelers are in a better spot now, on paper with the benefit of hindsight, than they were last year - but there are no results yet. If this contract extension came next year after an acceptable performance by the offense, it wouldn't feel as misplaced.

Typically, contract extensions go to those who earn them. We're in the midst of public negotiations with Cam Heyward which the team seems hesitant to indulge in. If Heyward hasn't earned that extension, how has Tomlin?

Maybe it's more of an award for plugging the holes in an aging ship, keeping it afloat to one day dominate the seas once again (which Heyward has done too, in his own right). The captain can't be tossed overboard if there is no mutiny after all, and we know that won't happen with Tomlin.

But again, another question is in play if that's the case.

When is enough, enough?

Again, this isn't a call for Tomlin's job -- it's a question of why this contract extension right now.

The Steelers cannot create a trend of rewarding mediocrity. Mediocre has been too apt a term for this franchise for much too long as it is.

I get it, extending Tomlin in advance of the expiration after the season calms chatter and provides security for him and the franchise. However, if 2024 proves to be more of what we've seen since 2019 -- when things really started to get bad -- the loyalty to Tomlin is locked in past its expiration date.

No, Tomlin doesn't deserve to be fired, but even his greatest defenders are kidding themselves if they don't believe the 2024 season is a make-or-break kind of season.

This franchise needs a playoff win at the least. Something to show actual progress to reinstill faith in the process. Something to reclaim the Steelers standard now or in the near future.

Without that, when is it time to move on and entertain a new approach?

The reality is, Tomlin won't get fired even if the Steelers go 3-14 this year thanks to this move. They likely won't do such a thing, but the point remains: the Steelers locked themselves into an unsure thing for another three years.

Of course, we'll get our answers to these questions this year. If the Steelers can make a dent in the playoff race, the fanbase will at least have seen progress to feel better about this move. If they don't, well, Steelers fans just have to wait it all out in the face of blind hope.