Steelers Offseason Needs
The defense was the strong point of the Steelers this season as Minkah Fitzpatrick alone forced 5 turnovers. (Joe Sargent/Getty Images)

Steelers Offseason Needs 2021

The Steelers started off hot in 2020, going 11-0. Pittsburgh then completely fell apart. The run game was nonexistent, and Ben Roethlisberger struggled to move the ball and throwing picks. The defense exceeded expectations, dominating the trenches, racking up the most sacks in the league with 56. The Steelers find themselves in a tough spot having a negative $28 million cap space, they must cut some players this offseason. A first-round playoff exit to Cleveland gives them the 24th pick in the draft that they look to use wisely. This Steelers offseason is crucial to building pieces for the future.

Roster Needs: RB, CB, OT, EDGE, QB

Offense

Steelers Offseason Needs
Juju Smith-Schuster bounced back from an injury-riddled 2019 but may not receive a contract extension this Steelers offseason. (Joe Sargent/Getty Images)

The Steelers offense cooled down significantly to end the year. Statistically, the ground game was the worst in the league averaging a mere 3.6 yards per attempt and totaling 1,351 rushing yards, both league lows. James Conner led the poor rushing attack and should not be resigned this offseason. Anthony McFarland and Benny Snell did not impress but flashed promise going into next season. The Steelers may stick with the two to see if any can improve and be the bell cow going forward.

The most likely scenario is the running back position is tackled in the draft. Najee Harris, electric Alabama running back, could be available with their first round. Harris would immediately become the leader in the running back room, being a strong north-south runner and an excellent pass-catching back. If the draft goes differently, free agency would be the other option to add talent to the running back room. As absurd as it may seem, Le’Veon Bell is a solution. One of the cheaper options through free agency, Bell has the receiving chops to make an impact and still runs well between the tackles.

Roethlisberger has said how he will not retire after the 2020 season, but it is looming, and Pittsburgh lacks options going forward. The signing of Dwayne Haskins to a one-year deal is smart as Haskins can prove if he has the talent that made him a first-round pick and could potentially be extended going forward if he shows promise. Mason Rudolph was given ample opportunities last season after Roethlisberger’s injury without doing anything significant. Realistically, the Steelers address the quarterback position with a late-round draft pick or save it for the next offseason, as they lack the cap space to sign a quarterback through free agency.

Juju Smith-Shuster may hit free agency depending on if Pittsburgh wants to pay up for him. If the Steelers decide to let Smith-Shuster walk, then James Washington would step into the outside role, allowing the gifted Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool to work out of the slot.

The offensive line could use work as well during the Steelers offseason. The impending departure of Alejandro Villanueva leaves the Steelers lacking options across the line. Chukwuma Okorafor came along at the end of the season and showed upside at the tackle position, but struggled with penalties. Projected starter Zach Banner got hurt in week 1 and never saw the field. But the right tackle position remains vacant. The cheapest option that would be a significant upgrade is Kelvin Beachum from Arizona. Fantastic as a pass blocker, Beachum has graded poorly in the run game, but his skill set will be valuable in protecting an aging Roethlisberger.

Defense

Steelers Offseason Needs
TJ Watt led the league in sacks with 15, and will be signing a hefty contract extension in the coming years. (Joe Sargent/Getty Images)

Pittsburgh featured yet another dominant defensive front last season. They consistently stuffed the run giving up the 11th least amount of rushing yards. They also gave up the 3rd least amount of points in the league. The secondary helped force the second-most turnovers led by stud safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. To free up cap space, Joe Haden is a key candidate to be cut and will save Pittsburgh $12.5 million. Haden is beginning to show signs of decline as he enters his 12th year.

Cameron Sutton has been the best coverage corner on the Steelers and will hit free agency. Boundary corner Steven Nelson has been solid in coverage and will surely start on the outside next season. Slot corner, Mike Hilton, missed extended time due to a shoulder injury and is also an impending free agent. That leaves a hole on the outside and slot in the secondary. Sutton will be a cheap option and will likely be resigned to remain an option that can play both in the slot and outside.

Free-agent Chidobe Awuzie from Dallas would also fit Pittsburgh’s zone-heavy defensive scheme. A breakout 2019 season was followed up by an extremely disappointing 2020 outing as Awuzie got toasted multiple times in man coverage. Awuzie excels in zone coverage and jumping passes, a strong fit for Mike Tomlin’s defense. Awuzie will also be a cheaper option than trying to retain Mike Hilton.

The fearsome Iron Curtain of Pittsburgh featured TJ Watt and Bud Dupree tearing up opposing offensive lines and sacking the quarterback. Bud Dupree’s imposing 2020 season will lead to him receiving a massive payday for a different squad. Tyson Alualu similarly had a great 2020 season that will end up with him playing elsewhere. Fortunately for the Steelers, Stephon Tuitt and Cameron Heyward are still under contract, playing at all pro levels. The edge position, therefore, may be addressed but is not necessarily an urgent need.

Third-round pick, Alex Highsmith came along strongly towards the end of the season. Since becoming the full-time starter after Bud Dupree’s ACL injury, Highsmith garnered 5 quarterback hits and 2 tackles for loss. A promising five-game stint during his rookie year. Highsmith is still unpolished but has the potential to flourish into a quality edge player opposite of Watt. Another edge rusher should be added though in case Highsmith does not develop as Pittsburgh hopes.

Romeo Okwara is one of the least expensive pass rushers in the free-agent class. Okwara ended the year on a hot streak in Detroit, totaling 4 sacks and 2 forced fumbles in the final five games. Teams will be wary of Okwara as his previous four seasons lacked any kind of production. If he has truly turned a corner, Pittsburgh will remain with a fearsome defensive front going into 2021.

It is imperative that there are no massive free-agent signings for Pittsburgh this offseason, as next year TJ Watt will be off his rookie deal. And Watt will be expecting a contract that projects him to be the highest-paid Steeler defensive player ever.