Our tour through the NFL’s current rosters heads to Pittsburgh as we assess the strength of a Steelers’ roster that missed the playoffs for a second straight season. That marked the first time the Steelers have missed consecutive post seasons for the first time since missing three straight from 1998 to 2000.
In spite of missing the playoffs the Steelers came back strong after a very slow start to the 2013 season and have a lot of good pieces in place going into the 2014 league year. Unrestricted free agency only takes away a couple of contributors from the Steelers’ 2013 roster leaving few startling holes and what looks like a solid base for a strong rebound this fall.
Unlike other franchises around the league (and within their own division) the Steelers are forged on stability which Mike Tomlin and his staff will hope to capitalize on and capture the momentum that nearly gave them the most unlikely of playoff bids in January after an 0-4 start in September.
– Player markers are colored per class on a six-step ‘Poor’ to ‘High Quality’ scale based on their overall performance and the league’s elite are marked separately in blue.
– Colored outlines suggest a potential change in class.
– Underlined players will be 30+ years old for the 2014 season.
– Red player names suggest injury risks.
– Click on the image to enlarge.
Without much by way of gray (unknowns) or orange (subpar starters) on this chart Pittsburgh find themselves with a reasonably talented roster that with the right investment could see the Steelers elevate themselves back towards the top of the AFC North at the very least in 2014. Led by the ever excellent Ben Roethlisberger the Steelers also have quality in some of the key spots that has ensured that even through their “struggles” missing the playoffs in two straight seasons they have never bottomed out.
If there is one area of concern it is an aging defense where the young players aren’t quite pushing through to spark a new generation just yet. The first sign of that new generation is Cameron Heyward who finally got his chance to play in a more expanded role in 2013 and showed signs to suggest that he is ready to take another step forwards in 2014.
The secondary will be an area of pressing concern for Pittsburgh this off-season where Ike Taylor continued his decline and with the loss of Keenan Lewis a year ago they look short of quality young corners to push through and elevate this group to former glories. Troy Polamalu’s position as the leader of this secondary and defense seems assured for another season after a largely strong 2013 campaign. That said there were still worrying displays (-4.7 at New England, -5.0 vs Detroit) that raised questions over whether a decline could be just around the corner.
On offense Le’Veon Bell only earns the adequate starter grade for now but he is certainly capable of making that jump higher. In his rookie season there were sparks and consistent spells to suggest that an even higher caliber of player is in there ready to break out in 2014 if he can put a full season together.
2014 Cap Situation
At present only New Orleans and Dallas are projected to be further over the 2014 cap than the Steelers ($12.6 million over according to overthecap.com). The Steelers are firmly in a rebuilding/restocking phase and, barring some creative accounting or aggressive slash and burn to big cap numbers, are in for another offseason of frugal spending.
The Steelers need to create space and they can save in excess of $5million by jettisoning any one of five players. Veterans in the secondary Troy Polamalu ($8.25million saving) and Ike Taylor ($7 million saving) offer the greatest relief while aborted in-season acquisition Levi Brown seems an obvious cut candidate saving $6.25million in cap space with no dead money being added to the cap.
Opportunities from the Roster
The vacancies for players to fill on the Steelers may not become obvious until the Steelers are forced to jettison veterans in order to get under the cap and cheaper, younger players are required to fill the void. At corner Cortez Allen saw his snaps increase from 2012 to 2013 and should the Steelers jettison pricey veteran Ike Taylor then Allen’s 2012 form (+9.8 overall) offers some hope that there is some quality making the slow climb up the depth chart in the Steel City.
Projected lineups by team:
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