The Pittsburgh Steelers were an 8-8 football team last season. They missed out on the playoffs and didn’t have a winning season for the first time since 2006. Since the end of the regular season, the Steelers have suffered loss after loss on their roster.
Former number one wide receiver Mike Wallace was the marquee free agent signing for the Miami Dolphins. Young and emerging starting cornerback Keenan Lewis signed on with the New Orleans Saints. Veteran running back Rashard Mendenhall left to become the feature back with Bruce Arians’ Arizona Cardinals.
While those are the most publicized certain losses, there are a plethora of less talked about losses that will dramatically alter the shape of the Steelers’ roster.
Former starting left tackle Max Starks doesn’t look like re-signing with the team. Starting left guard Willie Colon was released from his long-term contract before he signed with the New York Jets. Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders is a target of the New England Patriots, who have a few weeks to decide on whether or not to sign him. Long-time starting tight end Heath Miller is unlikely to be ready for the start of next season because of a torn ACL.
All of that could mean that the Steelers enter this coming season with just two players playing the same roles on offense that they were playing entering last season.
Isaac Redman will either give way to Jonathan Dwyer or a draft pick as the starting running back. Max Starks‘ spot at left tackle will be filled by Marcus Gilbert. Willie Colon should be replaced by Ramon Foster. David DeCastro is expected to slip into Foster’s vacated right guard spot. Mike Adams is the favorite to land in the right tackle spot vacated by Gilbert. Leonard Pope, David Paulson and Matt Spaeth will compete for Miller’s starting spot. Antonio Brown moves up from WR2 to WR1, with either Sanders moving from WR3 to WR2 or Jerricho Cotchery and Plaxico Burress/draft pick moving up the chain of command.
That leaves the Steelers with just quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and center Maurkice Pouncey as carryovers from the start of last season. Nine players are either completely new or have moved position.
Outside of the roster losing significant talent, it is also losing the continuity that has been so strong over the past few years. While the offensive line has always been in flux, the Steelers haven’t suffered these kinds of losses on the whole without a clear backup plan in place with promising players who had already made significant contributions.
When Brown, Sanders and Wallace were pushed into the starting lineup, each of them had already carried a relatively large load for the offense. That gave the Steelers confidence that they had the weapons capable of making big plays and helping their offense return to the Super Bowl. With Cotchery and Burress as the backups now, the Steelers have players on the opposite end of the spectrum looking to fight off the effects of father time.
Even if the Steelers have Roethlisberger at quarterback, and they still fully believe in him as an elite playmaker at this level, they can’t honestly expect to get better offensive production this season with such changeover and a perceived loss of talent around him.