This week Steelers President Art Rooney II sat down with some savvy old news hounds and gave his review of the 2013 Steelers season. In his reflection he was positive about the way the team ended, confident in Mike Tomlin’s coaching, and pleased that Ben Roethlisberger was able to remain healthy the entire year. Rooney does this every year as he rarely speaks to the media during the season. In spite of the Steelers bad start in 2013 and the impending salary cap and free agency Armageddon around the corner, Rooney is optimistic about 2014 and so am I.
Rooney believes the Steelers should be in the playoffs right now, along with apparently an inmate of Mercer County, PA. This is pretty accurate considering how things transpired in San Diego in Week 17 but there’s no reason to dwell on that. The biggest takeaway is that it means the Steelers finished strong as opposed to their 2012 finish. I can vividly remember freezing my butt off for the final game of the 2012 season at home against Cleveland in a game that meant nothing except for attempting to finish without a losing season. The Steelers were coming off three straight losses, particularly two straight which eliminated them officially from playoff contention after a 6-3 start. This season, the Steelers’ final game still meant they were in playoff contention; they were coming off back-to-back wins and were coming off of a 3-6 start to the season. The way they finished this year, while still disappointing because it produced another 8-8 season with no playoff appearance, is a world apart from last season. Art Rooney II agrees.
“I certainly liked the way we finished. As far as I’m concerned, we should be in the playoffs. On the other side of it, we made our bed. Unfortunately, we got off to a slow start. I liked the way we finished, I liked the fact that we got better as the season went on, which is what you want. You want a team that’s playing its best at the end. I think for the most part that’s what we did, and that leaves me excited for next season already. We’re looking forward to getting started on preparing for next year.” – Art Rooney II
Rooney also expressed confidence in head coach Mike Tomlin, citing that he attributes the teams’ end-of-year success to its coach. He wouldn’t comment on any further coaching changes but obviously the Steelers have already fired their OL Coach Jack Bicknell Jr. Bicknell was brought in last season to implement the zone-blocking scheme that first; attributed to the season-ending injury to Maurkice Pouncey, and secondly never got off very successfully. When Tomlin said that he decided to go in a different direction, it’s pretty clear that means the zone-blocking scheme is out. Rooney is confident with Tomlin going forward, as he should be based on his performance as a head coach thus far.
Rooney was even optimistic about the fact that the team as 21 players set to hit unrestricted free agency soon and a number of high-salaried veteran players still on the roster taking up cap space. That’s 21 unrestricted free agents, which means that come March 11th, the team could be looking to replace 40% of its current roster just from free agency loss. Still, Rooney isn’t worried about what some might call a dire situation.
“I wouldn’t call it dire. It’s somewhat similar to what it has been over the last few years. So, we have decisions to make. I think the one thing that may be a little different this year from past years is we do have quite a number of free agents, unrestricted free agents. So there is some work to be done there because there are a number of those guys we’d like to try to figure out a way to keep. As I said, there is work to be done.” – Art Rooney II
This is the only part that gives me a little anxiety. At the same time though, I am optimistic like Rooney is. I think that the fact that there are so many unrestricted free agents, so many veterans they’ll have to make decisions on (particularly on defense), that it will force them to make the changes necessary to keep building on the positive note they ended this season on. Rooney noted that he was pleased with offense’s performance but disappointed in the defense, which is I think a sentiment a lot of us have. The personnel on the defense either weren’t able to or just plain weren’t making the plays that they should’ve/could’ve made. Now, they’ll be forced to make some changes to the personnel either way.
I agree with Rooney’s assessment that the arrow is pointing up for the Steelers. They finished strong and they have the right parts in their core to keep improving and hopefully keep the momentum from this finish going into 2014.