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What Now? Steelers Face Uncertain Future After Quick Exit

PITTSBURGH: The Pittsburgh Steelers left little question final spring.

As quarterback Ben Roethlisberger healed from proper elbow surgical procedure, the group he’s helped lead for the higher a part of twenty years dismissed the thought of discovering his eventual inheritor following an 8-Eight end, adamant the franchise’s Super Bowl window with Roethlisberger on the controls remained open.

They used free company to herald tight finish Eric Ebron and veteran lineman Stefen Wisniewski. They spent almost $10 million on fullback and particular groups ace Derek Watt. They drafted vast receiver Chase Claypool within the second spherical. They positioned the franchise tag on outdoors linebacker Bud Dupree.

Nearly each resolution pointed towards the Steelers returning to prominence in 2020. And for 3 months, it labored. Roethlisberger performed flawlessly at occasions throughout an 11-Zero begin.

The protection continued to wreak havoc in opposing backfields, main the NFL in sacks for a fourth straight 12 months within the course of. Claypool seemed very very similar to probably the greatest rookies within the league.

Still, the indicators of weak point have been there throughout that giddy stretch. Narrow wins towards groups led by Jeff Driskel (Denver), Garrett Gilbert (Dallas) and Robert Griffin III (Baltimore). An occasional situation with giving up the large play. A operating sport that began off ample earlier than disappearing virtually solely.

Then, all of it fell aside. Four losses within the remaining 5 video games to finish the common season adopted by an embarrassing 48-37 beatdown at dwelling by Cleveland within the wild-card spherical. While the numbers look good on paper a 12-5 remaining report and an AFC North title the distress of the final six weeks erased all the great vibes that got here earlier than.

We have been a gaggle that died on the vine, coach Mike Tomlin stated.

A loss Roethlisberger and good good friend and longtime heart Maurkice Pouncey mourned on the bench late Sunday evening, questioning if their extremely profitable partnership was in its remaining moments.

I hate that it ended the best way it did, Roethlisberger stated. “I just wanted to apologize to (Pouncey) that I wanted to win it for him.”

Roethlisberger careworn he was simply speaking concerning the season. Still, it’s truthful to marvel if the period of exceptional success that started when he jogged onto the sector in Baltimore to switch an injured Tommy Maddox on Sept. 19, 2004, is over too.

The 38-year-old Roethlisberger’s present deal lasts via the 2021 season. While the two-time Super Bowl winner will take the offseason to weigh his choices, he has steadily identified that he has performed via the whole thing of each contract he’s ever signed.

I hope the Steelers need me again, if thats the best way we go, he stated. There shall be quite a lot of discussions.

Not all of them will heart across the future Hall of Famer.

SALARY CAP COMPLICATIONS

After kicking the can down the highway financially for years, the invoice could lastly be due.

The checklist of pending free brokers contains Dupree, vast receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, operating again James Conner, left sort out Alejandro Villanueva, left guard Matt Feiler, defensive again Mike Hilton and defensive sort out Tyson Alualu.

While Smith-Schuster insists he desires to remain, there’s a really actual probability he could have priced himself out of the marketplace for a workforce that’s already an estimated $13 million over the projected 2021 cap with Smith-Schuster and firm off the books.

Restructuring big-dollar contracts resembling Roethlisberger’s and defensive sort out Cam Heyward’s would possibly ease a little bit of the ache. Still the Steelers must get extraordinarily inventive to discover a approach to pay Smith-Schuster what he possible would command on the open market, notably whereas the workforce additionally finds a approach to work out a long-term cope with All-Pro outdoors linebacker T.J. Watt, who will command a large increase after main the NFL with 15 sacks.

RUNNING IN PLACE

In mid-November, Tomlin boasted Pittsburgh’s offense might give it to you nevertheless you need it.

Not actually. The Steelers completed final within the NFL in each yards speeding and yards per carry. That imbalance allowed opponents to principally ignore Conner and Benny Snell Jr. and focus their consideration on disrupting the timing within the short-passing sport. It’s not a coincidence that Roethlisberger threw 4 picks over the primary 10 video games and 10 over the past seven.

Conner continued to have damage points pop up. Snell was wildly erratic. The offensive line appeared overwhelmed when requested to mash as an alternative of drop again into cross safety.

There isn’t any inheritor obvious at left sort out for Villanueva and the thought of the road creating cohesion within the operating sport one thing it hasn’t actually had for the reason that first half of the 2018 season appears a stretch. There’s no cash to splurge on a longtime veteran in free company, making including expertise and depth within the draft a precedence.

THE STANDARD IS THE STANDARD

The Steelers haven’t endured a shedding season since 2003, the longest energetic streak within the NFL, a exceptional achievement contemplating the wage cap is designed to create parity. That sustained success is a part of what units Pittsburgh aside.

Yet the Steelers additionally play in a convention the place the 4 groups taking part in in the course of the divisional spherical are led by quarterbacks 25 and youthful. Three of them Buffalo’s Josh Allen, Cleveland’s Baker Mayfield and Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson are nonetheless on their first contracts, which supplies their respective groups cash to construct round them.

If Roethlisberger and his $41 million cap hit return, that possible received’t be the case in Pittsburgh.

The Steelers went all-in this season and nonetheless haven’t received a playoff sport since Barack Obama was president. They’ve allowed 37 factors or extra in every of their previous three postseason defeats, losses by which they by no means as soon as led.

They’ve been good for a very long time. They haven’t been nice since falling to Green Bay within the Super Bowl a decade in the past. That’s not the final word customary in Pittsburgh. And they comprehend it.

Our report is our report, Tomlin stated. Our performances are our performances. Dont run away from that.

Maybe, however it could be time to just accept it.

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More AP NFL protection: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

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