The Pittsburgh Steelers 2019 season went better than most people expected after a Week 2 injury to Ben Roethlisberger that knocked him out for the year. Even with starting running back James Conner and receiver Juju Smith-Schuster also missing significant time, the Steelers went 8-8, just missing the playoffs, and could’ve won a few more, losing one-possession games against the Seahawks, 49ers, Ravens, Bills, and Jets. Led by a solid defense, Pittsburgh should look to improve in 2020, but they have some issues to deal with first.
1) Should they extend Bud Dupree?
It took longer than some fans expected for Dupree to live up to his first round status, but his 68 tackles, 11.5 sacks and 4 forced fumbles set career highs as he formed a formidable pass rush from the outside linebacker position with TJ Watt.
There is an argument that Dupree hasn’t been consistent enough to warrant a big long term deal, but if Pittsburgh thinks he is starting to reach his potential, he may be worth it. The franchise tag is an option, but that would cost between $16-19M. With the Steelers projected to be tight on cap space, only $2.4 million of projected cap according to Over the Cap, moving on from some higher-priced veterans such as Mark Barron or Vance McDonald and giving Dupree a long-term deal seems to make sense.
There are also the matters of re-signing Javon Hargrave and Mike Hilton, but with the lack of depth at outside linebacker, Dupree should be the Steelers top priority this offseason, a sentiment echoed by head coach Mike Tomlin. As much as the team likely wants to keep all three players, it doesn’t seem very likely based on cap, and with Tyson Alualu providing solid depth on the defensive line, and Joe Haden and Steven Nelson at corner, Dupree seems the most likely and most deserving of a long-term contract.
2) What to do at the quarterback position?
The Steelers offense struggled this season with Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges at quarterback, they were the only team not to score 30 or more points in a game this season, so neither seems to be a long-term solution. Some may argue the Steelers could have made the playoffs if Ben Roethlisberger wasn’t injured in Week two. Coming back from elbow surgery, we don’t know how he’ll respond, especially since he will be turning 38 in March. Assuming Roethlisberger suffers no major setbacks and can start the season on time, Pittsburgh will likely just be looking for an insurance policy outside of Rudolph and Hodges.
There should be some veteran options in free agency, but again, cap space could prevent any big-name signings there, so looking in the draft will more than likely come into play. Chase Daniel, Case Keenum or even Marcus Mariota could all end up being looked at by the Steelers brass over the offseason. It would be smarter for Pittsburgh to add one of those veteran names over another rookie, considering Roethlisbebrger’s health and age, and how the young quarterbacks played last year. But if the team sees someone they really want in the later rounds of the draft, they may jump at the chance.
3) What moves should be made in the draft?
Trading away the team’s first-round pick the same day as announcing Roethlisberger would be out for the season seemed questionable at the time, but Minkah Fitzpatrick made an immediate impact for the league’s 5th-ranked defense. Even if it ended up costing the 18th overall pick. The trade with the Seattle Seahawks for Nick Vannett also cost the Steelers a fifth-round pick in this seasons draft.
The Steelers now don’t contain a pick until #52 overall, and they weren’t supposed to have a third-round pick due to last year’s trade up to select Devin Bush, but they received a compensatory pick in the third round thanks to LeVeon Bell. Draft Wire has them selecting edge rusher Jonathan Greenard out of Florida with their first pick; a solid move based on linebacker depth, and even more so if Dupree ends up signing elsewhere. Edge rushers Julian Okwara out of Notre Dame or Terrell Lewis out of Alabama could be names to watch here as well, as could Missouri tight end Albert Okwuegbunam.
Selecting a quarterback could be an option in the later rounds, with Nate Stanley or Anthony Gordon as potential candidates. Tight end, wide receiver, and the defensive line should also be addressed in this draft. General Manager Kevin Colbert may think about trading back into the first round, although the Steelers aren’t normally ones to make aggressive moves in the draft, especially with the limited draft capital they have this year.
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