The NFL season is inching closer. Through July, Shutdown Corner will examine three big questions for each NFL team as it heads to training camp.
Report date: July 27
Where: Latrobe, Pa.
1. Will Le’Veon Bell have a new contract?
Technically, this is something we’ll know before training camp, but the resolution to this question will have a significant impact on the Steelers’ 2017 … and beyond. Bell and the Steelers are playing a little game of you-blink-first, each trying to get the other to knuckle under at the bargaining table before the sun sets on July 17. At that point, Bell will be playing out the 2017 season on a franchise tag, and there’s every reason to assume that it could be his final one in black and gold.
There’s no indication that the sides are close, but then that’s always the case with these deals; Von Miller, Dez Bryant, and Demaryius Thomas all saw their negotiations take until the last minute before signing their current deals. If Bell’s on a one-year deal, that makes the next question an even more important one.
2. Is this Ben Roethlisberger’s last training camp?
Roethlisberger is entering the “how much longer has he got?” stage of his career, and the Steelers should’ve been a lot more prepared than they are. Roethlisberger has missed six games over the past two seasons, and Pittsburgh has gone 3-3 over that time, compared to 17-8 with him under center. Roethlisberger waited until April of this year to confirm he was actually returning, which led some observers to speculate that he was weighing the pros and cons of returning. He’s not getting any younger or more mobile, and the Steelers are virtually helpless without him in the lineup.
The current roster includes three other quarterbacks: longtime backup Landry Jones and two rookies in Bart Houston (Wisconsin) and Josh Dobbs (Tennessee). Nothing against either of the rookies (yet), but Pittsburgh passed by DeShone Kizer and Davis Webb, among others, before selecting a QB in this year’s draft. Rookies can come from deep in the draft to produce—fella by the name of Prescott comes to mind—but the time is drawing near when Pittsburgh is going to have to think hard about the unthinkable.
3. How many freaking wide receivers does one team need?
On paper (or screen) you’ve got to love the Steelers’ receiver situation. Antonio Brown, right there with Julio Jones as the league’s best, leads the charge, and Martavis Bryant returns from a year-long suspension. It’s after that where matters get crowded. Pittsburgh has 11 receivers coming into camp for six spots, and that means we’re in for some serious positional battles. Veterans like Sammie Coates and Justin Hunter will jockey for playing time, as will hyphenate all-stars Darrius Heyward-Bey and JuJu Smith-Schuster. It’s a nice problem to have, and it’ll make for one of the preseason’s best intra-team battles.
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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports and the author of EARNHARDT NATION, on sale now at Amazon or wherever books are sold. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.