Dynasties come in many forms, many durations, many intensities. And there is no arguing that the Steelers have been the primary force in the AFC North for a number of years. But despite their many differences, all dynasties eventually have one thing in common: they end.
I am not declaring the Steelers dynasty as over in 2012. They will still be a force this year. But this offseason revealed some cracks in their foundation that I think in the next few years will leave the fabled fortress breached, the yellow-and-black painted fans crying in their yellow hankies, and TV commentators searching for another franchise to fawn over.
Money. The team found themselves committed way over the salary cap this offseason. They were forced to cut ties with several long time players not just to get back under the cap, but also free up adequate space to try to strike a deal with phenom WR Mike Wallace.
The most notable casualty was Hines Ward. Despite his declining numbers, his absence will still be felt most because of his ability and persistence as a blocker. And it will be a little odd not seeing the old LB James Farrior roaming the field any more.
I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on the Steelers’ cap situation, but last I knew, they were only a few million under the cap. And the deal with Wallace is still lurking. Unless they have cleared out more space that I am not aware of, they are going to be in the exact same position next year when they have to negotiate with WR Antonio Brown.
This situation also puts more pressure on the front office to hit home runs with the draft. They simply do not have the money to plug holes with free agents.
Age. With the money-motivated house cleaning that moved Ward, Farrior, Hoke, Kemoeatu, Battle, McFadden and Smith off of the roster, the Steelers lost 76 seasons of experience in those 7 guys. That is a significant amount of experience to move off of the roster all at once.
But there is still plenty of age left on their roster. Take a look at how many years that a number of their starters have been in the league: Will Allen (8); Ryan Clark (10); Jerricho Cotchery (8); Larry Foote (10); Casey Hampton (11); James Harrison (8); Brett Keisel (10); Heath Miller (7); Troy Polamalu (9); Ben Roethlisberger (8); Ike Taylor (9).
That’s 11 guys — names you know well — entering their 8th season or later, and six entering their 10th season or later. They won’t all go down this year, obviously, but Father Time will not be so generous to those who do get nicked up. And with the regular pounding that Roethlisberger takes, at some point it is going to cost him. It almost did last year.
New OC. Bruce Arians made happen something that I never thought I would see: the conversion of the Steelers to a passing team. But it made sense to use the best of the tools that had been given to him. Obviously it worked.
Now the offense will be working under a new guy, Todd Haley. Sometimes the transition to a new coordinator goes smoothly, and sometimes it does not. Will Haley know how to call the plays that bring the best out of his guys? Will Haley’s reportedly sizable ego make him too rigid at times? I don’t know about these, but it is safe to say that he has huge shoes to fill just to keep pace with Arians.
Bottom line, the Steelers will still be a tough team to beat this year, but they have spent and aged themselves into a place where it is going to be difficult to maintain this success much longer. Time, injury and cap space will continue to force out the guys who have defined them for the past decade. Unless they have outstanding drafts in the next couple of years, this dynasty will be ending soon.