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.