Where the Steelers Need to Step Up
Described as “The Kardashians of the NFL” by JJ Watt, the Pittsburgh Steelers have been a constant soap opera, says our guest writer Owain Jones.
After losing two of their maverick but deviant playmakers, in Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell, the Steelers are now in a position to move on from the turmoil.
But, where do the Steelers now stand?
The Steelers are a proud franchise and they are in an unfamiliar place in their history.
How they overcome the public humiliation and embarrassment will define Mike Tomlin as a head coach and he is undoubtedly on the hot seat in 2019.
As part of the front office in Pittsburgh, Tomlin has to take some responsibility for the disorder of the Steelers franchise.
After all, management allowed the chaos to spiral.
Even after his multiple displays of undesirable behaviour, the Steelers kept rewarding Brown with new contracts and huge signing bonuses.
Brown missed three games due to a failed drugs test in 2016, but the Steelers then extended Bell’s contract that included a $15 million signing bonus.
The Steelers front office now needs more accountability
Pittsburgh lost out drastically in the Brown trade – getting a third and a fifth round pick in the 2019 NFL draft.
Compare this to the third round pick the Steelers got when trading Martavis Bryant to Oakland in 2018 – it is clear cut who the real winners were.
The Steelers also take on $21.1 million in dead cap space in 2019. The most in the history of the National Football League.
That is 11% of Pittsburgh’s overall cap space, a big price to pay to lose one of the best receivers in football.
Now Brown has been traded and Bell is hitting the open market, Steelers fans are left wondering what could have been.
Fans will be rightly asking questions of the Steelers front office, they will be keen for the drama to end and change the philosophy of the locker room.
After months of disharmony, the Steelers need to prove that no player is bigger than the team.
As the race between the Steelers and New England Patriots for a seventh Superbowl win hots up, the Steelers need to start doing their talking on the field.
We now take a look at who needs to step up in 2019.
Big Ben Roethlisberger is an elite quarterback. Now he needs to start acting like one.
Big Ben has been quick to criticise his teammates for poor play over the last couple of seasons.
With no one left to blame he needs to take some responsibility himself.
Big Ben is entering the last year of a four year contract and the Steelers will be looking to extend and restructure a new contract.
As an experienced leader, the future of the Pittsburgh franchise falls at the feet of Roethlisberger.
Ben threw a NFL high 16 interceptions in 2018 and better production will be needed if the Steelers are to go deep in to the playoffs in 2019.
Tomlin’s job may rest on getting success out of his quarterback.
Getting Roethlisberger playing to his best will be vital to the success of the Steelers in 2019.
Tomlin had completely lost control of the locker room and to turn this team around could be his greatest achievement.
It takes more than superstar players to win a game of football and reach the playoffs.
He will now have to show skill and direction to get this illustrious franchise that seventh Superbowl win.
The running back and wide receiver core need to raise their game.
For wideouts JuJu Smith-Schuster will become WR1 and with that comes onus to perform.
James Washington was a first round draft pick last year and will get plenty more receptions in 2019.
There is not a deep wide receiver market in free agency so Pittsburgh will have to spread the load.
James Conner did a good job replacing Le’Veon Bell last year rushing for 12 touchdowns and receiving 1.
Conner is a vertical runner and will need help in the backfield if they are to keep a successful running game.
The Steelers need to add depth at running back with only Jayden Samuels to fall back on.
Samuels showed what he can do catching out of the backfield in the later stages of 2018 and he will need to be an improving factor coming off his rookie season.
The Steelers defence need to get more consistent, instinctive and hostile.
They get all these with T.J. Watt and giving him some help on the defence is a priority.
The defence was susceptible to big plays and needs to be more forceful and imposing.
Devoid of leadership since Ryan Shazier’s injury, the defence needs to intensify and become more aggressive if the Steelers are to enhance their playoff hopes.