Based on the way the Pittsburgh Steelers closed the 2022 season with a 7-2 run in the second half, finishing the season 9-8, the black and gold appear to be headed on the right track back towards contention, at least according to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler.
In a piece published Tuesday taking a look at all 32 teams based on current trajectory, Fowler placed the Steelers in the “headed on the right track” category alongside the Baltimore Ravens, Detroit Lions, Jacksonville Jaguars, Los Angeles Chargers, Miami Dolphins, New York Giants and Seattle Seahawks.
“The Steelers will look to make a major jump in Year 2 with quarterback Kenny Pickett, who showed promise late in the season and will have plenty of playmakers,” Fowler writes regarding the Steelers’ outlook moving forward.
There was plenty of promise shown by Pickett and the Steelers down the stretch as Pittsburgh shook off a 2-6 record during the Week 9 bye week and went on a run, finishing 7-2 down the stretch to go 9-8 overall on the season, avoiding the non-losing season for head coach Mike Tomlin to extend the streak, while also narrowly missing the playoffs after the Dolphins defeated the New York Jets in Week 18 in the last seconds on a field goal.
Despite the good vibes the franchise is currently experiencing based on their finish to the season, a lot of work remains for Pittsburgh entering free agency and the 2023 NFL Draft, especially at the cornerback position, along the defensive line, at inside linebacker and maybe even on the offensive line and in the receiving room.
“Pittsburgh could look to add a corner in free agency or the draft. Cameron Sutton is an option to return but might have priced himself out,” Fowler writes regarding the Steelers’ outlook. “Free agent James Bradberry would be a good fit. Or the Steelers could get wild and target Ravens nemesis Marcus Peters.
“Losing inside linebackers Devin Bush and Robert Spillane leaves a void up the middle, and we should watch for draft movement there. Lastly, the Steelers must decide on the future of quarterback Mitch Trubisky, who is due $8 million — a little steep for their typical backup plans.”
As is well documented at this point, Mitch Trubisky is very unlikely to go anywhere. Steelers.com’s Bob Labriola stated Tuesday he expects Trubisky to return in 2023 as the backup, and so too did owner and team president Art Rooney II during his State of the Steelers address in late January.
There’s no decision to be made regarding Trubisky. He’s the backup and is under contract.
Losing Bush in free agency won’t hurt that much, but if Spillane is allowed to walk that would be a blow to a thin linebacker room. Spillane played well down the stretch and basically forced Bush to the bench, playing 100% of the snaps in multiple games late in the season defensively.
As for Fowler’s suggestion of Bradberry or Peters in free agency, there’s really no chance that is happening.
Peters is 30, hasn’t been able to stay healthy in multiple years and has a propensity to freelance and blow coverages on the boundary, something the Steelers do not want and can’t afford (not financially) from the cornerback position. Bradberry will be 30 entering the 2023 season and won’t come cheap, as he stated to NewJersey.com’s Eliot Shorr-Parks after the Super Bowl.
The Steelers will certainly look to upgrade the cornerback position, but they’re not going to be chasing 30+ year old defenders that have too high of a price tag and don’t quite fit exactly what the Steelers want defensively. Sutton being retained is a great bet, as is the spending of draft capital on the position early in the 2023 NFL Draft.