After consecutive losses to the Washington Football Team and Buffalo Bills respectively, the Pittsburgh Steelers find themselves at 11-2 heading into the home stretch of 2020. Currently, they hold the AFC’s No. 2 seed and can clinch the AFC North title with a win over the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday night, a Cleveland Browns loss to the New York Giants on Sunday night, or if both the Steelers and Browns tie. Considering their current standing in the AFC and cap situation, this may be the Steelers’ best chance to capture their seventh Lombardi Trophy in the near future. Between their cap casualties and Big Ben aging, the Steelers’ window may be closing.
For more on the Steelers, check out this article on how injuries have hampered their chance at a Super Bowl LV run.
Cap Casualties and Big Ben: Why the Steelers Must Capitalize on 2020
Likely Cap Casualties
The Steelers are already around $21M above the limit for the 2021 season, per overthecap.com. This does not take into account pending free agents on both sides of the ball.
On offense, receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, left tackle Alejandro Villanueva, right tackle Zach Banner, right tackle Matt Feiler, and running back James Conner.
On defense, outside linebacker Bud Dupree, corner Mike Hilton, defensive tackle Tyson Alualu, inside linebacker Robert Spillane, and corner Cameron Sutton.
As written above, the Steelers will be above the limit without these players under contract. However, this does not rule out the possibility of those players returning next season. But, they will likely have to either cut, trade, restructure, or extend contracts to bring those players back. Likely cap casualties include corner Joe Haden, tight end Eric Ebron, and inside linebacker Vince Williams, among others. It’s safe to say the Steelers are going to look much different next year.
The Decline of Ben Roethlisberger
It’s no secret that future first-ballot Hall of Fame quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is nearing the end of his career. The 38-year-old signal-caller is under contract through 2021, where he carries a $41.25M cap hit.
While Roethlisberger has performed well this season, reminding Steeler fans what they missed in 2019, father time is undefeated, and it does not appear that Roethlisberger will be any better next season. In fact, it is likely that he will regress. Couple that with the recent non-existent running game and multiple untimely drops from receivers, and the future of the Steelers offense looks bleak. In order to extend their super bowl window, Roethlisberger must fend off father time for a little while longer.
What The Steelers Can Do To Maximize 2020
Obviously, in Pittsburgh, the expectation is super bowl or bust. As it should be. However, in the last two losses and their most recent win against the Ravens, the Steelers have not looked like a super bowl contender.
In order to do this, they must run the ball more effectively. Per pro-football-reference.com, they have averaged 45.3 rushing yards per game and a measly 2.7 yards per rush in their last three games. Additionally, they must score more touchdowns in the red zone. They have not scored a touchdown on 16 of their 45 red zone trips. That must improve if they want to be playing in Tampa on the first Sunday of February. If they can clean up the run game and convert at a higher rate in the red zone, there is no reason why this team can’t compete for Super Bowl LV.