The Steelers have the rare opportunity to focus solely on upgrades
At the close of every NFL season, each team knows this is the last time the men that shared the locker room throughout the season will all be together in the same place. While some may retire, others will depart in free agency or simply be released from the team. The 53-man roster doesn’t carryover to the next season as free agent signings and draft picks get thrown into the mix.
Many times to close the season, teams look at impending free agents to see if it’s possible they could retain them or what they will do to replace their potential departure. As the playoffs of wind down, several NFL commentators have brought up on social media which players are set to become free agents once each team was eliminated. Sometimes it looks bleak, and other times it’s not so much.
For the 2023 Steelers, it is very surprising how many players from their current roster are under contract for 2024. It’s not that every player has a least one year left on their deal, but looking up and down the roster it appears as if every “starter” from last year is currently under contract for next season.
Before diving into it, I know there can be some discrepancy over who is considered a starter or not. Mason Rudolph started the last four games for the Pittsburgh Steelers and is a free agent, but Kenny Pickett is still in Pittsburgh after his 12 starts before missing time due to injury. Players on the defense like Levi Wallace and Montravius Adams begin the season as starters, but by season’s end 2023 draft picks had taken their place in the lineup.
It’s very rare, but the Steelers appear to not be losing any starters from 2023 going into next season. Although this does not mean that every player that started the majority of games at their position will be here next year, right now it appears to be the Steelers decision. Players such as Mason Cole or Patrick Peterson who could save the Steelers significant money against the salary cap could be on the chopping block. Then again, they might not. The Steelers longest tenured player in Cameron Heyward has stated he doesn’t plan to retire so he is under contract for one more season with the Steelers, but whether or not his contract remains the same is an interesting question.
With the Pittsburgh Steelers not meeting their ultimate goal of winning a World Championship for the 2023 season, staying with the same starting lineup for next year isn’t something the team should look to do. I very much doubt that is their mentality as well. So how will the Pittsburgh Steelers handle the 2024 offseason?
Perhaps more than ever before, 2024 should be the offseason of upgrades.
The Steelers don’t have to worry about spending money in free agency or using high draft picks to replace some thing that they lost from the previous season. The Steelers have the opportunity to basically run it back if they so choose. This is actually a luxury. Instead, rather than having to fill specific holes where the Steelers lost players, they can target positions on the team where, even though they might still have their player from last year, they could use a serious upgrade.
How many times have Steeler fans gone into an offseason wanting to be able to replace someone at a certain position but the team simply had too many other needs? This time, there’s not holes to fill. Instead, it’s all about identifying where the Steelers can get better and if there is the opportunity to do so.
Keep in mind, simply because the Steelers would like to upgrade a position, or need to upgrade a position, does not mean that there is one available. As much as the Steelers need to have improved play from the center position, is there a better center on the market they could find in free agency? Is it realistic they would sign for what the Steelers can or are willing to offer? Is there a center in the draft who would be ready to take over right away? These are the type of things that Steelers are looking for in 2024, especially before they decide how they handle the final year of the contract for a player like Mason Cole.
Also, sometimes it depends on if the Steelers view a player as ascending. Maybe the Steelers didn’t get the best they felt they could at a given position, but the player there is on the rise and should give much better results next season. In this case, this position wouldn’t be deemed to be in need of an upgrade, they would simply be looking for improved play.
As the Steelers head into the 2024 offseason, they don’t have to worry about filling holes from losing players. Instead, they can look at every position and ask themselves the following questions:
- Do we need an upgrade at this position?
- Is there an upgrade available at this position?
- What must we do to make sure we secure the upgrade?
As the Steelers ask these questions, their answers will ultimately be the driving force behind how they handle their roster cuts, free agency, and the 2024 NFL draft.
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