PITTSBURGH – Ben Roethlisberger’s running mates disappear. At least on the football field. Tight end Vance McDonald retired in January. Longtime Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey followed suit a few weeks later.
Roethlisberger, at least for the moment, is not going anywhere. The 39-year-old has restructured his contract to make it more user-friendly and ensure he could stay for an 18th season. The move freed up some money – the emphasis is on little – to keep players like wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and cornerback Cam Sutton.
Still, that couldn’t completely stop the attrition the Steelers knew to come after a 12-5 season that ended in an embarrassing home loss to Cleveland in the first round of the playoffs.
With no money to spend on the open market, Pittsburgh must rebuild its talent base through the draft. The urge for immediate help is a little stronger now than it has been in recent years after linebacker Bud Dupree, running back James Conner and cornerback Mike Hilton all left for the agency. free.
Still, there’s a need in the quarterback too, a position the Steelers have been kicking the road through for years. Now is the time to make a decision. Maybe it’s already there.
At the moment, the Steelers have four quarterbacks on the roster. Roethlisberger’s three replacements are either on one-year contracts (Josh Dobbs and Dwayne Haskins) or in the final season of his rookie contract (Mason Rudolph)
There is a chance that Roethlisberger will play beyond 2021, but with Smith-Schuster, cornerback Joe Haden and right-guard David DeCastro potentially nearing the end of their time in Pittsburgh, next season feels like it will be over. ‘one last round.
The Steelers took advantage of the 2020 offseason to give Roethlisberger everything he needed on his return from right elbow surgery, including taking on former Notre Dame wide receiver Chase Claypool in the second round of the draft . Claypool was a revelation, scoring 11 touchdowns and giving Pittsburgh a legitimate threat on the pitch.
The way the Steelers are approaching the project this time around could give a glimpse of their vision for 2021, whether it’s the final year of one era or the start of the next.
HOLD THE LINE
Everyone from team president Art Rooney II to general manager Kevin Colbert to head coach Mike Tomlin has spoken about the need to approach the running game 32nd overall in the NFL.
The inability to get the ball to run allowed the defenses to start Pittsburgh’s short passing game, one of the main reasons an 11-0 start turned into a 1-5 result.
Finding a competent replacement for Pouncey – himself a first-round pick in 2010 – would make a lot of sense. Perhaps in the form of Alabama center Landon Dickerson. Or maybe a left tackle to protect Roethlisberger’s blind side like Oklahoma State’s Teven Jenkins.
“The draft itself, it is stronger at the tackle position than inside”, Colbert said in February. “The center and the guard, traditionally, is not a very strong group. Whatever the draft, the tackles are exceptionally deep this year. I think we can add players through the draft. “
Having a grader along the offensive line would help, but also find someone who can emulate Le’Veon Bell, a two-time All-Pro in his five seasons at Pittsburgh. Najee Harris of Alabama does the trick here.
Harris can catch the ball out of the backfield (43 receptions in 2020) and has size and speed. Conner offered these during his tenure, but only occasionally as he struggled to stay healthy. Harris is 6 feet 2 inches tall and 230 pounds and has proven to be very durable while playing for the Crimson Tide.
QB OR NOT QB
Or maybe the Steelers finally manage to find a possible heir to Roethlisberger. The draft is rich in quarterbacks, and there’s a chance a coupon will be available at 24.
Still, that would have little effect in 2021. And the idea of Roethlisberger preparing someone for what could amount to a farewell tour seems overdone. Still, Colbert indicated in February that nothing the Steelers in free agency (which they were using to re-sign Dobbs) would stop them from watching the quarterback in the draft.
There will be a post-Roethlisberger era. The Steelers started when they signed Tomlin for an extension until 2024. Perhaps finding someone – really anyone at this point – to play quarterback in 2022 might be the next logical step, whether Roethlisberger is comfortable with the idea or not.