The Pittsburgh Steelers are in the middle of transitioning to a new era in their franchise history. After watching longtime quarterback Ben Roethlisberger retire this offseason, Pittsburgh knew heading into the 2022 NFL offseason that they were going to have their work cut out for them.
Despite the daunting task of replacing Roethlisberger, the Steelers have generally put together a solid offseason. They have solidified their defense, and it looks like it could be one of the better units in the league. They also used their first-round draft pick on Kenny Pickett in hopes that he will be their next quarterback of the future. He may not even start the season under center for Pittsburgh, but if he does, he will have a lot of weapons at his disposal.
Even with all the good moves, Pittsburgh's path to the playoffs looks pretty improbable at the moment. And while the quarterback issue looms large, there were also a couple of moves that the front office made that almost certainly won't bode well for this season's roster. Let's take a look the Steelers two worst moves of the offseason that will come back to bite them.
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Pittsburgh Steelers worst moves of the 2022 NFL offseason
2. Letting JuJu Smith-Schuster sign with the Kansas City Chiefs
After a solid 2020 campaign, it seemed like JuJu Smith-Schuster was set to depart from Pittsburgh in free agency. The Steelers had virtually no cap space, and it seemed likely that Smith-Schuster would command a deal for much more than Pittsburgh could offer. That never happened though, and Smith-Schuster returned to the Steelers on a cheap one-year deal for the 2021 season.
While it seemed like a steal for Pittsburgh at the time, it ended up being a fairly unimportant move. Smith-Schuster only played in five games during the regular season due a shoulder injury, and in those contests he was ineffective. He finished the season with 15 catches for 128 yards and no touchdowns. He would make a surprise return for the Steelers Wild Card round loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, but failed to make much of an impact again, hauling in five passes for just 26 yards.
Whereas it seemed like Smith-Schuster was bound to depart during the 2021 offseason, the stars were aligned for him to return to Pittsburgh in 2022. Coming off an injury-plagued season in which he got passed over on the depth chart by Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool, his value had never been lower. The Steelers had the money to sign him, so it seemed likely that would return this time around. Instead, he signed a one-year, $3.25 million deal with the Kansas City Chiefs.
The Steelers probably didn't need Smith-Schuster as much as the Chiefs, especially after they dealt away star wideout Tyreek Hill to the Miami Dolphins, but allowing him to walk feels like a mistake on Pittsburgh's part. They are going to be starting a new quarterback in the 2022 season, and giving him as much as talent possible is going to be the key to success. Smith-Schuster formed a solid trio alongside Johnson and Claypool, giving the new starting quarterback the weapons needed to succeed in the offense.
Pittsburgh moved to replace Smith-Schuster by adding George Pickens in the second round of the 2022 NFL Draft, and while Pickens will be eased into the offense behind Johnson and Claypool, counting on consistent production from Pickens when the starting quarterback isn't even known yet feels risky. If the Steelers got priced out of the Smith-Schuster sweepstakes, it would have made sense, but they had the means to bring him back and didn't, and that feels like it could be a mistake given all the question marks on Pittsburgh's offense.
1. Signing Levi Wallace at cornerback over Joe Haden
For as good as Pittsburgh's defense figures to be, their secondary appears to be a key weakness heading into the season. Minkah Fitzpatrick and Terrell Edmunds are a solid safety duo, but their cornerback depth chart is woefully thin. Cameron Sutton, Ahkello Witherspoon, and Levi Wallace figure to be the three starting corners, and chances are they aren't going to hold up throughout the entirety of a 60 minute NFL game.
Of course, it's worth noting that Pittsburgh decided to bring in Wallace to replace Joe Haden, one of their starting cornerbacks who remains a free agent. Haden struggled through the 2022 season due to injuries, but when he's on the field, it's clear that he would be an upgrade over Wallace. Wallace, after all, only got on the field last season with the Buffalo Bills because of Tre'Davious White's ACL injury.
Replacing Joe Haden with Wallace feels like quite a sizeable mistake given the state of the Steelers secondary. Wallace excelled in the Bills league-leading defense because he had a lot of protection around him. He was good, but he's not going to have that same type of protection around him in Pittsburgh.
On the other hand, Joe Haden's last full season in 2019 was a Pro Bowl campaign. He's regressed a bit over the past few seasons, but he still has more to offer than Wallace, who figures to be lining up in the slot to start the season. Pittsburgh's cornerback situation is in rough shape, and it feels like replacing Haden with Wallace will only exacerbate the issue. The rest of the Steelers defense is great, but if their pass coverage can't hold up, it may not matter.