Andrew Dawson, Staff Writer |
The Pittsburgh Steelers had a disappointing end to the 2020 NFL season after a loss in the Wild Card round against the Cleveland Browns. Despite their 11-0 start, the team struggled to generate offense as they finished the season averaging only 19.6 points per game. The Steelers fell short and lost five of their last six games, including their playoff loss to the Cleveland Browns. Now the Steelers have 24 free agents they need to address this offseason.
After rumors circulated that the 38-year-old quarterback would retire, Roethlisberger said he would like to honor his contract and play another season. Pittsburgh’s owner Art Rooney said, “Ben Roethlisberger and I met yesterday morning and we had a productive meeting. We were able to discuss a lot of things that relate to where we are and where we want to go. Ben assured me he is committed to coming back to help us win, and I told Ben we would like to have him back to help us win a championship. We both understand the next step is to work out Ben’s contract situation.” On Mar 4th, Roethlisberger and the Steelers came to an agreement on a new contract that will save Pittsburgh 15 million dollars. The new contract confirms that Roethlisberger will be the starting quarterback next season.
Pittsburgh is projected to be 3.6 million dollars under the salary cap for next season. General Manager Kevin Colbert has begun restructuring other players’ contracts, including that of defensive end Cameron Heyward. Heyward will still make 10.5 million dollars next season, but his base salary and roster bonus were converted into a signing bonus. This move frees up a much-needed seven million dollars for their salary cap.
Pittsburgh is rumored to address the following positions in the 2021 NFL Draft: offensive line and running back. Their running game ranked last in the league (32nd), making Roethlisberger throw the ball an average of 40 times per game. The Steelers were a one-dimensional team this past season and need to create a strong running game if they want to be successful on offense and be considered Super Bowl contenders in the upcoming season. One player they have been scouting is Alabama running back Najee Harris. Harris has taken college football by storm and is one of the best running back prospects to enter this year’s draft. Several teams are interested in Harris including the Miami Dolphins who have two first-round picks before Pittsburgh’s twenty-fourth overall pick.
The Steelers also need to address their offensive line if they want to be a threat next season. Center Maurkice Pouncey retired after playing 11 seasons with Pittsburgh. Left Tackle Alejandro Villanueva is expected to leave because he is searching for a higher-paying contract.
Two big-name free agents the Steelers have are wide receiver Juju Smith-Schuster and outside linebacker Bud Dupree. Dupree was drafted by the Steelers back in 2015 and has become an important part of their defense. Alongside T.J. Watt, they were one of the best outside linebacker duos in the league before Dupree ended his season early with a torn ACL. Dupree had eight sacks and two forced fumbles in only 11 games. It’s unclear if Dupree will remain a Steeler. Dupree has earned a high-paying contract but the Steelers don’t have the cap space to offer it to him.
Smith-Schuster is the number one wide receiver for the Steelers but is currently a free agent. The Las Vegas Raiders and the New York Jets have been rumored to be interested in Smith-Schuster. He is another player that has earned a higher paying contract that the Steelers can’t afford to offer. Pittsburgh also has three other wide receivers that could take over that number one position. However, Smith-Schuster has stated that he wants to remain a Pittsburgh Steeler but it’s unclear if a deal will be made.
The 2021 NFL offseason could be the most important offseason for the Steelers in recent history. The one thing that remains clear is that Pittsburgh will look different in the 2021 season.