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Amidst another off-season filled with promises and excitement, the Pittsburgh Steelers have nothing but a 7-7-1 record to show for it. They wanted to win now with Ben Roethlisberger before he called it a career, but didn’t (or couldn’t – or wouldn’t) do what it would have actually taken to win now.
The result is a mediocre record and a middling team, one that doesn’t really appear built to win now — and one that appears to have both eyes looking at the future for when Roethlisberger retires.
I mean, does this look like a team that can seriously contend in the playoffs?
Chukwuma Okorafor has been the least of the Steelers' o-line problems this year but I am viewing the final few minutes of Sunday's game as pass/fail based on effort alone. This was a fail. Stops and gets his QB drilled. #Steelers pic.twitter.com/bJgU3tS2rs
— Alex Kozora (@Alex_Kozora) December 29, 2021
Didn’t think so.
So winning now? That seems to be off the table.
But they brought back their 39-year-old quarterback, pushing a rebuild out at least another year. And with coach Mike Tomlin speaking vehemently against going after a rookie quarterback, the team would appear to be on a trajectory to transition to Mason Rudolph or a veteran addition in the offseason.
Their cap situation is primed to be more favorable next season. But bringing in another veteran quarterback carries with it implications of wanting to win now. And, if I haven’t made that clear by now, this current roster is not built to win now. What’s the logical next step then?
A rebuild in 2022.
Albeit, it will be a revamp of moderate proportions. But a rebuild nonetheless. The fact that they didn’t go all-in on the 2021 season — when they were supposedly going to make a big Super Bowl push in honor of Ben Roethlisberger’s final season — shows they’re preparing for that rebuild.
Tomlin is a good coach. The Steelers have some incredible players. They certainly have one of the better reputations in the league. But what is their goal? What do they want to achieve? Is it yet another season of managing to win more games than they lose? Or is their ultimate destination standing on a platform hoisting the Lombardi trophy?
It felt like they didn’t really know their answer to these questions before they entered this season. They were straddling two different philosophies: win now and rebuild. As a result, they don’t seem to have done either successfully. They put together a half-baked, half-effort attempt at a Super Bowl run — while keeping from jeopardizing their future.
Millions of dollars of cap space sat untouched, and the young offensive line undisturbed, even after it proved untrustworthy. The play-calling remains stale and uninspired week after week, and the head coach has nothing to say on the matter other than vague comments in support. Primed for another early-round playoff exit (or missing altogether), this team is a tremendously confusing disappointment. If the Steelers’ brass want to see improvement in the years to come, they need to own (and know) what they are. And what needs to be done.
They can’t keep avoiding one and neglecting what’s required for the other. When the offseason rolls around, they must decide: Rebuild. Or win now.
They need to pinpoint their issues and start addressing them in a cohesive way. Otherwise things may stay ugly for a while.