Will Steelers loss lead to major change?
Tim Tebow ended the Pittsburgh Steelers season on Sunday.
What remains to be seen is whether Tebow also ended an era.
Because the Steelers will have a interesting offseason as they face what could be some uncomfortable decisions with players who have been the core of a run of excellence the past decade -- especially on defense.
Pittsburgh has been a rarity in the salary cap era. They have been able to keep a standout group together, one built largely through the draft. That group was able to win 12 games, and Sunday it bounced back from a 20-6 deficit to score the final 10 points of regulation and force overtime on Denvers home field with more injuries than any team should survive. After the defense finished the season first in the league in points and yards allowed.But none of the Steelers are getting younger, and even Chuck Noll recognized with his great players of the Steel Curtain era when it was time for them, as he said, to get on with their lifes business. Joe Greenes statement when Pittsburgh failed to make the playoffs in 1980 might also apply to this version of the Steelers: If this is the end of an era, I dont want it to be a funeral. Weve had some great moments.
Pittsburgh has earned the respect of anyone who likes tough, hard-nosed, winning football by finishing with winning seasons in 10 of the last 12 seasons (with one at 8-8). It has won 10 or more games in eight of those seasons, including two Super Bowls.
But Brett Keisel (33), Casey Hampton (34), James Harrison (33), Aaron Smith (35), James Farrior (37), Ryan Clark (32), Ike Taylor (31) and Troy Polamalu (30) are in the post-30 time when injuries and not winning prompt questions. That list is the heart and soul of a dominant defense. And that defense is run by Hall of Fame assistant Dick LeBeau, who is 73 and also getting to the point where the future might be a year-to-year decision.
Then theres the offense. Hines Ward had become a part-time player by years end, offensive coordinator Bruce Arians always seems to be the subject of speculation, and the Steelers offensive line all season was held together by garden twine.
One option the Steelers could follow is to maintain the status quo, keep the veteran core for one last run at a title while working in more young players like Ziggy Hood, Cameron Heyward and Jason Worilds. This is still a team one year from a Super Bowl, and one electric play from advancing this season.
But in the NFL change can be inevitable, and even the Steelers might have to make tough calls with some of the guys who have carried the banner for years.
The Steelers have been patient and supportive with Harrison, but even they might be weary of his suspensions and fines and outrageous statements and photos with handguns. Harrison was at nowhere near the same level of aggressiveness after he was suspended for a vicious shot to the head of Browns quarterback Colt McCoy on Dec. 8. Sunday in Denver, his only noticeable plays resulted in a roughing the passer and a serious knee injury for Denver receiver Eric Decker.
Harrison is a former Defensive Player of the Year who had one of the more memorable plays in Super Bowl history, but he could be at the point where the cost-benefit analysis does not favor him staying.
Farrior was the last big move the Steelers made via free agency on defense. Hes a captain, a leader, a pro, but at times this season he was a part-time player.
Hampton has been a stalwart at nose tackle for 12 years, with Keisel and Smith perfect complements at end in the three-four system. Smith has ended the last three seasons on injured reserve, and Keisel and Hampton watched the second half from the bench in Denver after getting hurt during the game.
Polamalu has been beyond great since he joined the Steelers in 2003. Prior to this season, Pittsburgh signed him to a four-year contract extension, which they said would ensure he retired with the Steelers. In Denver, he played his typical game -- being aggressive and guessing on routes. But Denver recognized the guessing and used it to their advantage for some big plays. Without the underrated Ryan Clark to back him up -- Clark was held out for health reasons related to a sickle-cell tendency -- Polamalu looked vulnerable. Even with that, he and Clark are probably the most likely to remain.
These guys can play. All of them. The question is how much longer. The Steelers have to at least have the discussion.
Pittsburgh might even face the dreaded transition year (or two). Its offensive line needs a lot of help. Running back Rashard Mendenhall has an ACL injury. No team can retool everywhere and win, especially a team like Pittsburgh that does not sign many free agents.
Perhaps on Sunday Pittsburgh was a victim of some higher power, some weird, eerie Tebowian happening. The guy who sometimes wears the bible verse 3:16 on his eye black threw for 316 yards and averaged 31.6 yards per pass. Not even a Hall of Fame coach and Hall of Fame players can compete with that force.
But its just as likely the Steelers are victims of something much more ordinary and inevitable. Perhaps they are at the age and time of major decisions.
Source: Yardbarker: Pittsburgh Steelers