The Pittsburgh Steelers have been chasing another ring for years. Regardless of this season’s outcome, they might blow things up once this campaign ends.
As they say, all good things come to an end. At some point or another, men get older, coaches get tired, and fans demand change. With the Pittsburgh Steelers, we are reaching that juncture on all three fronts.
Ben Roethlisberger is 36 years old, and no matter how much he wants to complain about Mason Rudolph, both he and the Steelers know he’s toward the finish line. Roethlisberger annually muses about retirement, and although his contract runs through 2019, nobody would be stunned if this is his swan song. The two-time Super Bowl champion has been battered more than most quarterbacks in this generation, and although the $46.4 million over two years is appealing, another injury or a third ring could very well have him moving on.
Le’Veon Bell appears destined to play on the franchise tag for the second consecutive year, with the animosity only growing between he and the organization. Bell has nobody to blame but himself, reportedly turning down a $60 million offer in hopes of a larger payday. History tells us he’ll get it with another monster season, but history also says it won’t come from Pittsburgh. The Steelers don’t overpay, and giving a would-be 27-year-old running back a lucrative, long-term deal is salary cap suicide.
Of course, the questions aren’t confined to the offense. The defense very likely has to face the prospects of Ryan Shazier never stepping on a football field against following his tragic spinal injury in December. Without Shazier, the defense is compromised significantly. Joe Haden is signed through 2019, but it’s practically a year-to-year deal. He could be given his walking papers with another injury-plagued season.
At best, the Steelers have a two-year window with the current group. Within that span, the contracts of Bell, Roethlisberger, Shazier, Marcus Gilbert, Maurice Pouncey, Ramon Foster and Chris Boswell are all up for renewal. Due to age, injury history and other contracts, keeping a majority of those players is impossible to fathom.
If there’s a silver lining, the Steelers have their best chance to reach the Super Bowl in some time. The New England Patriots are vulnerable after a rough offseason, the Kansas City Chiefs are transitioning into a new phase, and the Los Angeles Chargers and Houston Texans still have much to prove. The Jacksonville Jaguars are a threat after beating Pittsburgh twice in Heinz Field, but can they turn the trick of surviving Blake Bortles again?
Pittsburgh plays in an easy division and a horrid conference. It has what could be a trio of Hall of Famers offensively and one of the better coaches in the league. Now is the time for the Steelers to make their move or forever wonder what could have been.