Antonio Brown having a tirade in practice last week, reportedly yelling about but not formally requesting a trade, was the final nail in the coffin of a season of broken Super Bowl aspirations in Pittsburgh. Unfortunately for the Steelers, there does not appear to be an easy fix on the horizon:
- Ben Roethlisberger turns 37 in March. Tom Brady and Drew Brees have convinced us that the previous laws of QB physics no longer apply, but Roethlisberger isn’t exactly the body-obsessed health nut those two are. While his raw stats were more or less comparable this season to what they were in 2016 and 2017 (however, he did “lead” the league with 16 INTs this year), a narrow window of opportunity remains.
- Antonio Brown turns 31 in July, and he’s no longer Pittsburgh’s best receiver — that title belongs to Juju Smith-Schuster, who had more catches, yards, and yards per catch than Brown this season (though Brown had substantially more touchdown catches). Nevertheless, as PFT’s Michael David Smith pointed out, trading him would leave the Steelers stuck with over $21 million in dead cap space. What could they recoup in return that would come close to making up for the lost production and dead cap space?
- Mike Tomlin isn’t going anywhere either — have you seen some of the people who might get NFL head coaching jobs this offseason? When Adam Gase and Mike McCarthy appear to be the hot candidates, the Steelers’ best move now is to wait.
- The Steelers’ defense was a mixed bag this season. While they ranked 6th in yards given up, they were penalized for an astounding 1,170 yards, the most in the NFL.
On the bright side for the Steelers as they enter the offseason, finally Le'Veon Bell will not hang over their heads as a distraction any longer. Pittsburgh brass clearly did not foresee that he would actually follow through and forgo the full $16 million he would’ve been paid via the franchise tag this season, and the storyline lingered all season.
Given that wholesale changes presumably aren’t coming for the Steelers, their best bet is to hope that this year was a blip with the Le’Veon Bell cloud hanging over them. Without that, perhaps they magically return to contention next year. Right now, however, things look bleak in Pittsburgh, and we could be a year away from a major teardown.