Weiss: Steelers need aggressive changes

Aidan Weiss | Staff Writer

After their unsurprising loss to the Buffalo Bills in the first round of the NFL Playoffs, the Pittsburgh Steelers head into the offseason with questions throughout the organization and a lack of obvious answers. Here’s where they stand in key areas.

One such question was answered Tuesday when it was reported that Head Coach Mike Tomlin would return for the 2024 season after reports claiming he may take the year off. Concerns intensified when Tomlin stormed out of his presser Monday night when asked about his contract status, but it appears the head coach will return for his 18th season in Pittsburgh.

The bigger question rests in the future of the offensive coordinator. After Matt Canada was let go two-and-a-half years too late, Pittsburgh shuffled several inadequate underlings into interim roles. It didn’t work. Whatever they do, just please do not hire from within. All this franchise has done for the past five years is hire the same people from within and continue to spin the tires of mediocrity. Ideas from within this organization have led the offense to consistently finish within the bottom half of the league in points scored, bottoming out at 28th this season. Get someone better.

The defense is made up of T.J. Watt, Minkah Fitzpatrick, and a bunch of average to below average players. Defensive Coordinator Teryl Austin consistently gets exposed by good teams — San Francisco, Buffalo and Houston all had their way with his unit this season — but they do well enough against the bottom-feeders to shift the pitchfork-wielding mob to the offensive coordinator’s door. He is not great, but he is far from problem number one.

Quarterback: Anyone who claims they have any idea what the Steelers will do at the quarterback position is lying because I doubt the executives themselves have a plan. What has become apparent is that they cannot go into this new season with the same situation and have Kenny Pickett and Mason Rudolph (who is a free agent and may not return) compete for the starting job.

It is crucial for them to make a major addition to the QB room and push Pickett for the starting job. Even a career backup who can at least make things interesting, like Gardner Minshew or Jacoby Brissett, would be something. They can take that veteran route and sign a big name, which is unlikely, or spend one of their seven draft picks on a quarterback, which is more likely. However, the Kenny Pickett/Mason Rudolph situation is what they absolutely cannot do if they want to remain competitive.

Cuts: When it comes to the roster, there is some notable talent. But there is also a lot of deadweight, and much of that needs to be cut loose for cap purposes with the Steelers being about $13 million over the cap for 2024.

Here’s who may get the heave-ho:

Allen Robinson: nothing personal, he seems like a nice guy, but he does not do anywhere near enough to justify his $11 million cap hit. The Steelers would save $10 million by cutting Robinson.

Mitch Trubisky: Jiminy Christmas, this guy is terrible. One of the highest paid backups in the league, he goes 0-3 against the likes of the 4-13 Arizona Cardinals, 4-13 New England Patriots, and the 9-8 Indianapolis Colts. Good news for Mitch: the United Football League starts play in March. The Steelers would save $3 million in 2024 and $6 million in 2025 by cutting Trubisky.

Mason Cole: You would think Mason Cole is a bowler the way he rolls shotgun snaps back to the quarterback. Oh yeah, he’s not so good at the blocking thing either. The Steelers would save $4.75 million in 2024 by cutting Cole.

Pressley Harvin III: I don’t know how the Steelers could bear to part with Harvin’s one huge 60-yard punt followed by five 30-yard clunkers, but it may have to be done. The Steelers would save $1 million in 2024 by cutting Harvin.

Patrick Peterson: the only reason that Peterson will stay is because the Steelers have no depth at cornerback under contract next year. Otherwise, he would be gone because he is old, slow, and has way too many mental lapses in coverage, such as the Bills’ first touchdown when he let Dawson Knox roam free in the end zone. The Steelers would save $6.85 million in 2024 by cutting Peterson.

Larry Ogunjobi: the big defensive tackle might get cut, but it would be over contract issues rather than poor play. After an elite 2022 season, a quieter 2023 makes Ogunjobi a bit more expendable. However, a lack of defensive tackle depth may necessitate keeping him. The Steelers would save $6.2 million ($9.75 million if he is a post-June 1st cut) in 2024 and $7 million in 2025 by cutting Ogunjobi.

NFL Draft:
Speaking of the draft, the Steelers have some important picks to make from April 25th through the 27th. Mock drafts have the Steelers taking several different players with their first-round pick, such as Iowa cornerback Cooper Dejean, Oregon center Jackson Powers-Johnson, Oregon State tackle Taliese Fuaga, or Miami (Fla.) defensive lineman Leonard Taylor III.

Personally, I would like to see them add top-tier talent at offensive tackle or cornerback, as Dan Moore needs replacing at left tackle and Peterson just cannot be CB2 next year. I would also like to see them trade up to the top of the draft for Caleb Williams, Drake Maye or Jayden Daniels, but the world might explode before the Steelers would ever trade into the top-three.

A trade down for more capital also would not hurt, considering how many holes need to be filled. With their second and third round picks, center needs to be addressed at minimum, along with either tackle, cornerback, or potentially defensive line. A day-two quarterback would be spicy but ultimately a waste. Their Day 3 picks should solely be the best player available, although the punter position might bear consideration.

This team is tragic right now. It is impossible to be mad at their loss because a 10-7 record with a wildcard loss is realistically their ceiling. That being said, I’ll still be counting down the days to Aug. 18th, when the first kickoff of the season flies through the Heinz Field air. The Stairway to Seven will commence as the Terrible Towels wave across the country.