The Pittsburgh Steelers entered 2019 with one purpose: to make it back to the playoffs. Instead, they missed out on the postseason for the second year in a row.
Starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger went down with a season-ending elbow injury in Week 2, and the Steelers didn’t have much consistent success with backups Mason Rudolph or Devlin Hodges. Other injuries — including to Hodges, receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, and running back James Conner — didn’t help. Neither did center Maurkice Pouncey’s two-game suspension for his involvement in the Steelers-Browns fight.
Despite the setbacks, the Steelers were able to finish at .500 and Roethlisberger will be back for 2020. Unfortunately, Pittsburgh doesn’t have much capital to fix their depth issues.
Pittsburgh Steelers (8-8), missed playoffs
The Steelers are without a first-round pick thanks to their trade for Minkah Fitzpatrick during the season. They also don’t have much spending money to make major pickups in free agency. However, there are still things the Steelers can address this offseason.
Before free agency:
- Defensive tackle: The Steelers won’t be able to afford to re-sign versatile DT Javon Hargrave, who had four sacks in 2019. He was also an important part of their run defense. Pittsburgh can try to fill the void at defensive tackle with a cheaper free agent or a mid-round draft pick.
- Offensive line: The Steelers have a solid unit, but it’s one that includes four starters ages 30 or older. It also has the job of protecting the 38-year-old Roethlisberger. If Pittsburgh parts ways with the oldest player on the line, Ramon Foster, it could save $4 million in cap space. The Steelers probably won’t do a complete overhaul of the line this offseason, but slowly adding some youth in free agency and the draft would be wise.
- Tight end: Vance McDonald took a major step back last season, finishing with just 273 yards and three touchdowns on the season. The Steelers do have the club option for McDonald, which means they could move on from him, but he’s hoping to get another shot in Pittsburgh. If not, there are several tight ends guys in the draft with upside. Notre Dame’s Cole Kmet or Missouri’s Albert Okwuegbunam will likely be around as Day 2 picks.
What Behind the Steel Curtain wants most this offseason: The Pittsburgh Steelers don’t have many options when it comes to offseason needs. They don’t have a first-round draft pick after trading for Fitzpatrick, and they don’t have much salary cap space. But if I were to list what the team needs the most, I would start with the offensive line. The Steelers have a great unit, when healthy, but they are getting a little long in the tooth. It is time to start restocking the shelves with talent who can keep Roethlisberger healthy and help make the Steelers offense a force to be reckoned with again. — Jeff Hartman
After free agency:
The Steelers filled two immediate needs with the high-ceiling tight end Eric Ebron and interior offensive lineman Stefen Wisniewski. They’ve been spending smartly, which is important given their lack of cap space and draft picks, and managed to restructure the contract of six different players to facilitate their moves thus far.
- Defensive tackle: Chris Wormley was a nice addition, but he hardly fills the hole left by Javon Hargrave. The Steelers need to spend their top pick on a tackle if there’s one who makes sense when they finally get around to selecting at No. 49 overall.
- Offensive line: It’s still a good idea to draft an offensive lineman or two for depth and to compete for starting roles on their aging offensive line.
- Wide receiver: The Steelers have some great receivers, but injuries decimated the position a year ago and they could always use more offensive talent to maximize the final year(s?) of Roethlisberger’s contract. This is THE draft to snag a receiver, too.
After the draft:
The Steelers addressed the wide receiver position immediately, snagging Notre Dame’s Chase Claypool. At 6’4, he’s a big target who also brings speed and versatility to the position. Maryland running back Anthony McFarland, taken in the fourth round, could be a hidden gem. Louisiana-Lafayette guard Kevin Dotson will give them some OL depth.
Pittsburgh didn’t land a defensive tackle until the seven round (Carlos Davis of Nebraska), though Charlotte pass rusher Alex Highsmith is a great fit for its front seven.