For the $100 million offense: The time is now
The time is now! As 26 of the league’s 32 teams get set to kick off their regular season, the Steelers apparently are still in preseason mode as they prepare to face the win desperate Browns. All jokes aside, I think we all learned this past Thursday, that we cannot doubt anybody coming into the season, even if that means whoever is playing the Super Bowl champion Patriots, as the Kansa City Chiefs ran all up and down Gillette Stadium as if it were Arrowhead beating the Pats, 42-27 in comeback fashion.
Let’s be honest here, the Browns? Sure they’ll find the end zone…at least the red zone, and I’m sure they’ll make some good plays on defense but have you seen the Steelers offense lately? I’m still in shock the Steelers are coming into week one healthy and nobody on suspension. So with that being said, you can’t doubt a guy who will have every offensive asset at his disposal who on top of that, has more wins in Cleveland (10-2) as a starting quarterback than any Browns quarterback since 1999 except for one, Derek Anderson (10). To add more insult to injury, last years drubbing of the Browns put Big Ben at a whopping 21-2 record overall against the Browns. Looking to expand on that tomorrow, it’s hard to believe Roethlisberger will squander such an opportunity to pad an eye popping stat.
While many including myself, are expecting to see what looks like the most talented and exciting Steelers offense in franchise history, it’s a guarantee that we will be seeing the most expensive and financially high maintenance offense in Steelers history.
We often hear at the start of minicamps and OTA’s that teams want to lead the league in points per game or to have the best defense this season and of curse, to get to and win the Super Bowl. Yes, that all sounds good and puts the fans at ease when a team is working towards such goals, but the fact of the matter is, only two teams can go and only one will make the front page of sports in February. Judging by the Steelers payroll, these “goals” are mere expectations.
Take a look: No team is dishing out more cap space to its offense than the Steelers. Once you factor in the $99 million quarterback (a 5-year deal Big Ben received in 2015), the highest paid base salary running back in the league (soon to change...hopefully), the richest total contract for a wide receiver and an offensive line that cherishes two $11 million defensive line nightmares in Maurkice Pouncey and David DeCastro (all according to the Sportrac contract database).
I’m almost certain we know who the “Big 3” in Pittsburgh are, but what about the supporting cast that adds to Ben’s embarrassment of offensive riches?
Wide receiver Martavis Bryant who looks to be on track to pick up where he left off in 2015, can stretch the field and take the top off of any defense creating more room for Antonio Brown to do what he does. Third year tight end Jesse “The Outlaw” James, who is a superb blocker and hot read red-zone target in the passing game looks to expand on his starting role this season. Tomlin also didn’t hesitate putting James and backup tight end Xavier Grimble on notice, trading for former 49ers tight end Vance McDonald who in 48 games, has 64 receptions for 866 yards and seven touchdowns. The Steelers even went out and grabbed the long and lengthy receiver in Justin Hunter, who is playing with the best quarterback he’s ever played with in his five years in the NFL.
Take a look at how the Steelers drafted in this year’s draft, grabbing JuJu Smith-Schuster the 6’2’’ productive receiver out of USC (3,092 yards and 25 TD’s in three seasons) in the second round then coming back in the third round to select the once cancerous (missed his junior season due to Hodgkin's Lymphoma) Pittsburgh workhorse, James Connor with the role of backing up and lightening up the workload for Bell.
As Colin Cowherd said this past Friday, bolstering up a team being conscious of the salary cap, it’s like being on a budget trying to afford a brand new kitchen or landscaping therefore taking a second family vacation is out the window. He then goes on to say that just like family’s on a budget, they have to make decisions on things, so if you’re budgeting for all new landscaping, that means that brand new kitchen will have to take backseat for a while. So in retrospect to football, when you choose to spend and overload on offense or defense, you can expect holes on the other side of the ball.
So what’s this have to do with Pittsburgh? Look back I don’t know…four to five seasons ago when the Steelers defense was in shambles. Making do with what they had on offense, they had to revamp and start over on defense. Still working out the kinks, the defensive side of the ball is now young, clicking and learning to play as a collective unit, and now that all but one or two pieces are set in place, they can now address the offense (which is what they did this offseason) and establish consistency and balance which make the Steelers an almost completed project.
I had been saying it since 2014, that with Big Ben's age becoming a factor, the window to win big has been decreased to three years, but with him coming off his best season of times sacked (17) and the retooling and spending on added offensive assets, the Steelers are in their best position to make this season a 19 game season. With each year being an improvement from their three year rebuilding project, getting closer and closer to a February appearance, the Steelers are now in year three, with all offensive weapons healthy and ready to go and a defense looking to make a statement and redefine that smash mouth mentality, this should be the year the Pittsburgh Steelers dethrone the Pats from their AFC kingdom and send Big Ben out on a high note.