by David Kuklis
Photo courtesy of Joe Sargent/Getty Images.
Another season has come and gone for the Steelers, and most of the same questions need to be answered during the offseason and the draft. Coach Tomlin is returning for the 2024 season and the Steelers have a new offensive coordinator in former Atlanta Falcons’ Head Coach Arthur Smith.
There are two sides to Arthur Smith—the former Titans coordinator that led Ryan Tannehill and Derrick Henry to their best two seasons, and the other side as the head coach for the Atlanta Falcons, who failed miserably to activate his best players in Bijan Robinson, Drake London and Kyle Pitts. Some believe Smith could be a great coordinator again but just could not cut it in the NFL as a head coach.
Tomlin’s first order of business begins at starting quarterback. Do they have that “player” on the team or do the Steelers need to sign, draft or possibly trade for one? One thing is for sure, Mitchell Trubisky is going to be cut after his performance when taking over for an injured Kenny Pickett. But does Mason Rudolph get re-signed as the starter or as the backup for Kenny Pickett? If he leaves in free agency, do the Steelers draft another quarterback or look to add a veteran to the team?
Ryan Tannehill is one such possibility since he thrived under Arthur Smith in Tennessee. Or if the Steelers want to go big, they could try to nab Kirk Cousins as a free agent and let Pickett learn behind someone who plays a similar game. Many doubt the Steelers will spend another high draft pick on a quarterback and chance another large learning curve at the position unless they truly feel Pickett is a bust and Rudolph taps out at the quality backup level. And many think Tomlin’s still all in on Pickett.
With Arthur Smith’s arrival, the Steelers will look to continue to be a run first offense and with the team’s two strong but different style running backs in Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren, this perhaps could be a strength if the team improves the offensive line. As the Steelers establish the run longer into their games next year they could use another back later in the draft or sign a free agent just to fill out the running back room.
At the wide receiver position, stats were down all around based on quarterback play and limited chances for a high number of catches and touchdowns. Another big letdown was the signing of Allen Robinson, especially at the cost of his contract. All season, it appeared that Robinson was open frequently but was not targeted enough to make a difference. Johnson needs to be more reliable or move on at the end of 2024, and Pickens needs to mature not only as a route runner, but as a professional. His antics sour the locker room and are very un-Steeler like. The pair have done little to help the team or the players around them. The Steelers will need to bring in another veteran to replace Robinson and there are multiple veterans on the market and at a lower cost. Michael Thomas of the Saints is available and although supremely talented, can be a bit of a prima donna. He has been injured, made his big money and could sign at a reasonable price as a replacement. The Steelers should also do what they do best—draft a receiver around the 3rd or 4th round that usually turns into a solid pick.
With tight ends Pat Freiermuth struggling to remain healthy, 2nd year man Darnell Washington will need to improve in his second season with the team. And with Connor Heyward proving to be a serviceable third tight end, the Steelers will not be spending a high pick or bringing in a high-priced tight end this offseason.
And at last, and the most logical position to be addressed in the draft is the offensive line. The line started to improve after they drafted Georgia product Broderick Jones in the first round of the 2023 draft and signed impressive guard Isaac Seumalo, who didn’t give up a sack all year. The team’s main concerns will be at center and at tackle. Broderick Jones is expected to move to his natural left tackle role in 2024, replacing the underperforming Dan Moore Jr., but will then need to replace him at right tackle. Overpaid and underperforming backup Chuks Okorafor is expected to be cut and there is a thought of moving Moore to the right bookend. But if Moore struggles, how will the team address this?
Also, free agent to-be Mason Cole is likely not coming back, leaving an obvious hole at center. The Steelers will need to replace him either in the draft or in free agency. Cole unfortunately was one of the league’s worst pass blocking centers last season and had too many bad snaps during games. There are several solid free agent centers available to them, or they can get one in the draft in the
Lastly—the special teams. The Steelers are likely to re-sign special team demon Miles Killebrew, who made the Pro Bowl this year. Kicker Chris Boswell would be a pro bowler if Justin Tucker was not in the AFC, but a new punter should be on the offseason shopping list. Pressley Harvin III has been extremely inconsistent, and the Steelers need more chances to flip the field against their opponents and Harvin failed to do that for the greater part of his career.
In the end, Draft Nation expects the Steelers to swing for at least one offensive lineman in the first or second round in next year’s draft while also dipping into the free agent market to fill holes. GM Omar Khan and Assistant GM Andy Weidl have their work cut out for them, as the team’s offense was at the bottom of the NFL in many major categories for the last several years. Thankfully for fans of the team, free agency starts soon.