Steelers Face Major Off-Season Questions After Browns Defeat

The Pittsburgh Steelers suffered a stunning defeat in the Wildcard Round of the NFL playoffs at the hands of the Cleveland Browns. Mike Tomlin’s men were seemingly doomed from the first play when Maurkice Pouncey snapped the ball over the head of Ben Roethlisberger and the Browns pounced to score a touchdown. From that point onwards it was a day to forget for Steeler Nation. Roethlisberger threw for 501 yards and four touchdowns, although his four interceptions played a decisive role in his side’s defeat.

Now at the age of 38, both Roethlisberger and the Steelers have to consider their respective futures. The quarterback cut a disconsolate figure on the sideline at the end of the contest – perhaps taking in the sight of an NFL field for the final time as a player. Roethlisberger has enjoyed an outstanding career, winning two Super Bowls and competing in another when Pittsburgh was narrowly beaten by the Green Bay Packers.

However, it has been 10 years since the franchise last reached the Super Bowl. During that period Tomlin’s men have suffered one-and-done defeats against Tim Tebow’s Denver Broncos, Joe Flacco’s Baltimore Ravens, Blake Bortles’ Jacksonville Jaguars, and now the Browns led by Baker Mayfield.

The Steelers have hardly had a tough route to the latter stages of the post-season. Yet, they have progressed to the AFC Championship Game only once in the last decade where they were soundly beaten by the New England Patriots in the 2016 campaign. The defeat to Mayfield and the Browns could be the death knell for Roethlisberger and a sign that the franchise should head in a new direction.

The Steelers enjoyed an excellent 11-game unbeaten run to start the season and there was even talk of a 16-0 campaign. A defeat to the Washington Football Teamended that notion and they ended the term losing four out of their last five games. There was a time when Pittsburgh was right with the Kansas City Chiefs as the leading contenders in the NFL odds on bet365 for the Super Bowl. Now, Tomlin and his men will have to watch on as the surviving teams plug on in their quest to win the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

Pittsburgh is now staring down the barrel of a rebuild of its offense. Fortunately, their defense is well stacked with playmakers such as T.J. Watt and Minkah Fitzpatrick along with Devin Bush, who will return to the fold after missing the majority of the season due to injury. Retooling the offense could be a tough one for Tomlin and general manager, Kevin Colbert.

The Steelers were plucky in 2019 without Roethlisberger when he suffered a season-ending elbow injury but lacked quality at the quarterback position to make a playoff run in his absence. There are currently no obvious solutions to replace him should he retire. Pittsburgh will be out of contention for the leading quarterbacks in the 2021 NFL Draft, while their cap situation does not lend itself to a significant splurge on a free agent.

Pittsburgh also has free agents on offense to worry about. Juju Smith-Schuster, James Conner, and Alejandro Villanueva are all out of contract and either need to be signed or replaced. Smith-Schuster might be the casualty considering that Chase Claypool was outstanding in his rookie season. Pittsburgh has an excellent record at drafting and developing wide receivers and may have to go through that route again.

Whatever the circumstances regarding Roethlisberger’s decision regarding his future, the Steelers are certainly a team that needs a strong off-season to remain in contention in the 2021 campaign.

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