The Blueprint: Rebuilding the Steelers

I can’t lie, I got this title from when I was on a plane last Friday and Girls, Girls, Girls by Jay-Z was playing through my headphones. This is a top 5 rap album all time and if you think otherwise, you’re insane. The sales this album did on the day it was dropped alone makes it eternal. Today however, I give you my blueprint but on how we fix the Steelers. It’s the perfect time to drop this plan because we are post-combine and pre-free agency. Since Big Ben retired, there’s been a lot of chatter regarding what the Steelers should do during the draft. There’s been a lot of chatter regarding what they should do in free agency. One thing that can be agreed on is that this team is in transition, and something has to be done. 

Losing your franchise QB sucks. For most of us, it’s never been experienced because Big Ben has been at the helm since 2004. We all know his accolades (and the craziest one is that he has zero all-pro selections). I loved Ben Roethlisberger. Every Sunday he gave it his all every time he stepped on that field. He brought Steeler Nation 2 rings and 3 appearances. 

But now it’s time to look into the next era. The chatter hasn’t stopped at what the Steelers should do in terms of rebuilding a Super Bowl contender. It will not be easy as these things never are due to the plethora of holes that exist on this roster. There is a plan though and the blueprint has been laid out there for us to replicate. 

  1. Extensions

We tend to forget that there are guys you need to retain in this rebuild. Retaining key pieces of the team is crucial in getting back to the promised land. Right now the two biggest names that need extended are Minkah Fitzpatrick and Diontae Johnson. Both are complicated situations but in different aspects. Minkah is a 2 time all-pro in a Steelers uniform which is something he achieved before age 25. HOFer Troy Polamalu didn’t even accomplish that. He is going to reset the safety market and deserves to. I resign him even if there is a current stigma that exists with signing safeties to big time money. He’s a pure center fielder/playmaker on the backend that just cannot be replaced. 

Minkah Fitzpatrick is a 2 time all pro and a 2 time pro bowler. He is the perfect candidate to reset the market. Could Fitzpatrick be the NFL’s first 20 million dollar per year safety?

Diontae Johnson is slightly less complicated. He’s improved every single year he’s been in a Steelers uniform including reducing his drops tremendously from 2020 to 2021. His route running was never in question though as he’s as graceful, crisp, and as clean as they come when it comes to the route tree. For 18, it’s about the money he will command. I’m not signing him to a penny over 15 million per year. That puts him above Davante Adams current figure (underpaid) and Jarvis Landry (overpaid). If he wants more, then you gotta franchise or let him walk.

Free agency

The Steelers have about 30 million dollars in cap space. That is the most we’ve had in my entire life. I’m 30 years old for reference. The bottom line is this: as long as we’ve been a fan of this team, we NEVER splurge in FA. The best signings we’ve made recently were Joe Haden and whether we want to admit it or not, Melvin Ingram.

So the biggest question is what to do here. The extensions matter when it comes to cap space for the future, that shouldn’t affect this season. I’m not a cap expert btw. The bottom line is this: spend the money to rebuild the OL. There has been entirely too much chatter in rebuilding the OL through the draft. The only way I do that is if a guy falls who isn’t expected to fall. That value matters. The Steelers had 3 first year starters on the OL in 2021. Why would another 1st year starter fix that? That philosophy makes no sense to me. Kendrick Green needs to work on technique. Dan Moore needs to get stronger. Kevin Dotson just needs to get healthy. I believe in that core and you should too. Sign a guy like Ryn Jensen and move Green to G. You can keep Green at C and sign Laken Tomlinson. Yes these guys are currently rumored to have ties to the Steelers, however, we could splurge on a guy like Eric Fisher for RT, and you got a great blend of young, protectable guys paired with veteran leadership. James Daniels from the Bears would be a great investment. He’s a swing guy between C and G to really determine where Green’s position is. 

JC Jackson is the top FA corner on the market. It will be interesting to see what his figure is. It is highly unlikely they are in on him because of the extensions, but we won’t know until he signs on the dotted line.

Another thing I do no matter what is sign a vet QB. The price tag will matter but I’m targeting anyone because anyone is better than Mason Rudolph. It actually disgusts me that people who are paid to talk about the Steelers are sort of pushing for Mason to start at QB. Ryan Clark said it best and that’s if Mason Rudolph is the starter in 2022, it is a failure by the organization. QB is the most important position in the NFL. Why would you want Mason Rudolph leading us for 2020?

There are defensive holes that need addressed including ILB, S, and CB. Retaining Akilo Witherspoon would be a priority for me as well as kicking the tires on the JC Jackson sweepstakes. Depending on his asking price, I’d try to retain Terrell Edmunds. As far as ILB, Joe Schobert didn’t do enough for me to justify retaining him. Devin Bush could benefit from another athletic ILB in Kwon Alexander or Jordan Hicks. I only say him since

The Draft

This is easily the most polarizing QB class since 2013 (EJ Manuel/Geno Smith class) and it will be interesting to see how their careers will unfold.

Ultimately, FA will determine the draft needs. As we saw this past week, the Aaron Rodgers and Russel Wilson dreamers had theirs shattered as Rodgers is staying in GB and Wilson is now a Denver Bronco. The draft has changed drastically as now Seattle needs a QB and is picking at 9 whereas Washington does not since they acquired Carson Wentz. For me the biggest draft need is simple and that’s the quarterback position. In my opinion, the best way to push the franchise into the next contention era is drafting one of my top 3 rookie QBs in Matt Corral, Malik Willis, or Kenny Pickett. Now let me be VERY CLEAR (Stephen A voice), if Sauce Gardner is there, you gotta go with him because he’s gonna be a star. If you want to draft a lineman, it better be Tyler Linderbaum. If it is any of those two or a player who somehow fell like Kyle Hamilton, I can live with that pick. I think not taking one of those specific rookies would spell disaster. 

Let’s be real for a second. In actuality, we have no idea how a QB can fare in the NFL as opposed to college because there’s no perfect QB evaluation. I’m no expert but what I do know is coaching matters. Outside of trading for Russell Wilson or Aaron Rodgers as we now know isn’t happening, there isn’t a FA QB will vault us over Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Joe Burrow, Justin Herbert, Lamar Jackson and now Wilson. I also don’t believe the Steelers on in on Jimmy G. If they are, he really doesn’t inspire me compared to that list of QBs. The bottom line is this: build the team around a rookie and declare the window around TJ Watt’s contact. The Steelers never tank, so why in blue hell are you looking at unknown QBs in 2023? Take a rookie in round 1, have a legit vet there to push him, and watch the new era cultivate.  There is not a Trevor Lawrence in this draft, but you don’t know if Mike Tomlin and Co. can turn a “guy” into a stud. Taking a rookie and letting him sit for as long as it takes, around a vet FA sounds perfect to me to begin the season. This was the 2021 New England Patriots blueprint and look how that turned out for them. 

To recap my plan: extend the guys that deserve to be paid, fill the holes through FA, draft the best talent at QB to fill the requisite hole Big Ben left. We’ve got a ton of holes and there is zero doubt about it. The Steelers will never take a “tank for a franchise QB” because that’s not who we are. You’re betting on a floor and that’s fine. But be real with yourself and admit that you have zero clue about a ceiling. Neither do I! So give me guy who needs the guidance of Mike Tomlin, does or does not need experience, and lets the chips fall as they may. 

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