Season Of Change – Letting Go Of The Past

After two straight seasons of equivalent wins and losses, it’s certainly no surprise that the front office of the Pittsburgh Steelers has been busier and more active than usual in their efforts to reshape a middling roster into a true competitor.

The past few months could be fairly described as a season of change amid the shifting fates of a franchise that had just been to the Super Bowl three times in the very recent past. It may well be that past success that has helped drag them down of late.

Of course, selecting late in the draft annually doesn’t help, nor do the big contracts going out to the players that helped you reach that success. But the true death knell has been an unwillingness to recognize when to let go.

The Steelers had hoped to hold together that championship core for a while longer, but the last two seasons have been the wake-up call necessary to introduce the wave of change that we’ve seen this offseason, designed to steer the organization back in the right direction.

The most significant change that the Steelers have made over the span of the last two seasons, in terms of sheer quantity, is simply the amount of contracts that they have either terminated or allowed to expire.

Going back to just 2012, if my counting is correct, only 24 players from the 53-man roster remain with the team, though that doesn’t include Sean Spence. The team has dumped around 20 or so non-fringe players from last year alone, when accounting for players who only spent a limited amount of time on the roster.

Pittsburgh had little need for much turnover over the course of much of the past decade. After all, they were regularly winning their division, if not making deep playoff runs. But after failing to reach the playoffs for two straight seasons, it’s no surprise to see them part with so many players during that span.

The list includes aging veterans and younger players who failed to live up to their potential. This year alone, they’ve allowed both Ryan Clark and Brett Keisel’s contracts to expire without any effort to re-sign them. They did the same for Ziggy Hood, and they terminated Curtis Brown’s contract with a failed physical, having given up on the former third-rounder.

The former grouping was part of starting lineups in Super Bowls. They knew how to win, and proved it on the field. That is what helped keep them around into their mid-30s.

The latter two players were supposed to be part of the next generation to replace the Clarks and Keisels of the 00s, but neither ever achieved anything of note.

Once upon a time, the Steelers had the luxury of time, and the ability to nurture young players, holding on to them if they weren’t quite ready in their third, or even fourth, seasons, but still displayed potential.

That might no longer be true. They need contributions from young players sooner, more so than in recent memory. That’s why we see Jarvis Jones and Ryan Shazier already starting. Meanwhile, every member of the offensive line started at least a handful of games in their rookie seasons.

The Steelers have reversed course from their conservative ways, but only because the scenario no longer calls for it. It made sense then to hold on to your roster when they produced wins, but that’s no longer the case. The front office has shown their flexibility with a willingness to remake the roster in just a couple seasons—even if much of it is the back end.

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.
  • steeltown

    Excited to see some of these young guys play this year

  • treeher

    With the speed and athleticism we have on both sides of the ball, I think we will see a return to division dominance and we’ll go deep into the playoffs. My one concern is overall depth to weather the injuries.

  • ApexSteel

    Moving on is good, but there’s something to be said about a veteran presence and veteran depth.

  • Benjamin Simpson

    The quality of depth at OLB and CB is the most pressing concern. These are the two spots that must be addressed in near future. They are the weak link IMO right now. We probably go as far as their play dictates. We have some great coaches on staff. Hopefully these positions can be coached to play at high level until it can be addressed..

  • Steel PAul

    The winds of competitive change are blowing thru the Steelers. 2014 has a different feel to it than the previous couple of years. Exciting!

  • stellarsfan

    If Jarvis Jones plays like a 1st rounder and Worilds sustains the production he had in the second part of last season, our pass rush might finally be something worth writing home about. I believe in our D Line with the underrated McClendon, rising star Cam Heyward, and a mix of Thomas/Kiesel(if re-signed) and eventually our “first-round talent” 2nd round selection Stephon Tuitt.

    If we consistently put pressure on the quarterback, we have a lot of speed/athleticism at other positions to make plays. LeBeau is likely creating all kinds of blitzes and ways to utilize Shazier’s skill set and in addition to that, I believe Mike Mitchell(who also runs a 4.3) can be trusted to make plays when there’s an opportunity. He also seems smart enough to be trusted with his assignments and to be where he’s supposed to be. And perhaps the best part is that all of this enables Troy to be freed up to be Troy again and I believe he has a solid 2-3 seasons left.

  • chris ward

    A lot of turnover with the Steelers roster, younger on both sides of the ball, looking forward to seeing the young guys step up in 14′.

  • http://www.reverbnation.com/JohnnyLoose Johnny Loose

    I’ve said this before, but this season, we’re going to learn a lot about how our Steelers will compete in the next few seasons.

  • William Weaver

    I don’t agree that they failed to recognize the players were getting too old to play and stuck with them too long. I believe it is just a natural turnover from those years to the future. Tell me one player that they held onto too long? Ryan Clark maybe but he was a very good player in 12. Ziggy just finished rookie deal. There are none. Hampton stayed on the team exact right amount of time along with Harrison, farrior, foote, Hines, etc.. You don’t have a team go to 3 superbowls in 5 years and not go through a transitional drop off. (Unless your in the weak AFC east).. Lol

  • charles

    Have not seen either Shazier or Spence play against other first stringers. Personally have my doubts about either of them being stalwart against Marshawn Lynch type back. It is why I like Williams with Timmons on the inside, and McKullers blowing up the ‘measurables’ and giving the Steelers’ D breakdown strength in the middle with speed on the edges. 3-4 D HAS TO HAVE a NT that can cause matchup problems.

  • Louis Goetz

    I understand Matthew’s point, but I don’t think the roster change since 2010 has been mostly “to the back end.” Ben and Heath are the only starters on the offense who are left, while Timmons, Taylor, Gay and Polamalu are the only starters left on the defense. And Gay will most likely be back-up this year. That’s 17 new starters over the past three years. You can’t turnover a roster much more than that.

  • Dan

    But are we patient enough to wait until Christmas to make an assessment? Last season the Steelers started 0-4, but finished 8-4. In other words, the worst start since before the merger turned into an average season. If nothing else, that’s a testament to the team’s resilience, which gives me hope for the future. So if the Steelers start the season 2-2, I hope we can still believe they have an opportunity to finish with a winning record.