After the Seattle Seahawks won Super Bowl XLVIII, all 32 teams officially entered the offseason and started plotting how they could position themselves for a shot at Super Bowl XLIX. Shutdown Corner will look at the offseason blueprint for each of the 32 NFL teams, presenting one team a day (using the 2014 draft order, starting with the Houston Texans and finishing with the Seahawks), leading you right up to the start of free agency on March 11.
2013 record: 8-8
Projected current salary-cap space (according to OverTheCap.com): $8.7 million over the cap
Key free agents: DE Brett Keisel, S Ryan Clark, WR Emmanuel Sanders, DE Ziggy Hood, WR Jerricho Cotchery, OLB Jason Worilds.
Draft situation: Have 15th overall pick, own all of their original picks except for their third-round pick (traded to Cleveland via Miami).
Revisiting 2013: Things looked dire early for the Steelers, who appeared old and slow during an 0-4 start that included home losses to the Tennessee Titans and Chicago Bears. They warmed up a bit in winning five of seven games, as the defense picked up the pace and the talented receivers made plays. But there were enough shocking moments along the way (allowing 55 points to the New England Patriots, losses to the Minnesota Vikings and Oakland Raiders, for instance) to make people wonder if big changes were not in store, even as the Steelers finished the season with an 8-4 mark. Health was an issue, but so was age on a no-longer consistently dominant defense.
Reasons for optimism: The team still has a franchise quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger, who will be 32 and who still accounted for 29 touchdowns last season. He has a great target in Antonio Brown, and the run game could be much better if Le'Veon Bell remains healthy. He shouldered a big load in college and could be a bell-cow back in his second season. The offensive line played better at year's end, and the defense still has some solid performers. Plus, until proven otherwise, Mike Tomlin remains an upper-echelon head coach, backed by a strong staff and front office.
Glaring hole to fill: The biggest hole is financial. The Steelers have one of the worst salary-cap situations in the NFL — not quite as dire as the Dallas Cowboys, but still a fiscal hurdle to overcome if the Steelers want to improve their ballclub this offseason. At nearly $9 mil in the red, the Steelers must clean up the books with a combination of salary-cap cuts and contract surgeries while maintaining enough talent on the roster, which will be a hefty chore. There's a delicate balance to staying competitive with a veteran corps and full-scale slashing for the future. Steelers fans expect a competitive team every year, as does Tomlin.
Toughest decision: Polamalu is due to make more than $8 million, and though he had a stronger season in 2013 than in his injury-riddled 2012, he's turning 33 before the draft and is no longer an elite player. Also, Polamalu's expected replacement, Shamarko Thomas (for whom this year's third-rounder was traded last year) is already on the roster. That said, Polamalu is the heartbeat and the engine of Dick LeBeau's defense, and it would be an upset if he wasn't back in '14. But at what salary? The Steelers must work on him and Taylor if they want to keep both on the back ends of their careers.
Best-case offseason scenario: There will be change. It might be shocking to see Woodley or Miller go, as both are good players. Miller probably returns, as do Polamalu and Taylor, but Woodley might have to be sacrificed (along with letting Keisel and Hood go in free agency) to keep a budding player such as Worilds for the long haul. The team must add youth and depth to the defensive line and secondary, as well as on the offensive line and at receiver, where some height will be sought. It won't be easy, but GM Kevin Colbert has no plans of a wholesale rebuilding process. That's not how the Steelers plan to operate, and they expect to compete again in 2014.
Previous Blueprints: 32. Houston Texans; 31. Washington Redskins; 30. Jacksonville Jaguars; 29. Cleveland Browns; 28. Oakland Raiders; 27. Atlanta Falcons; 26. Tampa Bay Buccaneers; 25. Minnesota Vikings; 24. Buffalo Bills; 23. Detroit Lions; 22. Tennessee Titans; 21. New York Giants; 20. St. Louis Rams; 19. Chicago Bears
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