Call me a “nervous Nellie” if you must but am I the only one that sees our championship “window” starting to close? In the era of free agency how many teams truly have an opportunity to compete for an NFL championship year in and year out?
I’m not talking about the Indianapolis Colts. Only a Colts fan thought they could win a Super Bowl in the early part of this decade. Swiss cheese had less holes than the defense they lined up with year in and year out.
I’m talking about a “true” contender – one that puts a winner on the field on both sides of the ball. A “true” contender is a balanced roster of pro-bowl players and career over-achievers. It includes a handful of undrafted free agents and second day picks who contribute much more than their six (not seven) figure salaries typically yield.
By definition alone that may exclude the very team I’m speaking of. Anyone who has watched the 2008 Steelers offense play would compare them more closely to the 2004 Colts defense than the 2005 Steelers offense. But that doesn’t tell the whole story.
When you have a two-time pro bowl RB, a four-time pro bowl WR and a 2007 pro bowl QB offensive efficiency shouldn’t be such a challenge. There’s more than enough talent at the skill positions but let’s face it. The problem is not exactly a secret (unless you work in the Steelers front office).
When I think of the 2007-08, 2008-09 Pittsburgh Steelers I think of a million dollar mansion – built on the San Andreas fault. The team (house) has been erected with great precision by skilled craftsman. It’s flashy (talented), efficient (well-coached) and strong (deep) but it rests on a surface that is shaky at best.
Like the San Andreas fault our offensive line is not going to miraculously change overnight. If we’re lucky we’ll get (1) impact offensive linemen in the 2009 draft which leaves us about 2 short of a competent group. Offensive lines are not built overnight – and overnight is about all the time we have.
Why you ask? The answer is simple. Guys like Aaron Smith (32), Casey Hampton (31), James Farrior (33), and Hines Ward (32) are not getting any younger and guys like James Harrison (2009), Ike Taylor (2009), Heath Miller (2009), Darnell Stapleton (2009) and Ryan Clark (2009) will soon be looking for pay that more closely reflects their performance.
What’s the reward for developing 2nd day draft picks and undrafted free agents? Watching them sign monster contracts – with some other team. As good as the Steelers are at discovering gems like James Harrison and Willie Parker they can’t do it year in and year out. When they strike gold you end up with the NFL’s defensive MVP and the NFL’s leading rusher. That combination can bring you the best defensive team in 10 years, a Super Bowl or both but win it when you can because they’ll soon be scooped up by a 1-15 team to be the “savior”.
The 2008-09 and 2009-10 Steelers are built to win on both sides of the ball with two glaring weaknesses – left and right tackle. A core of veteran players and a handful of young contributors have an opportunity to climb through the “window” to an NFL championship but until they are provided with a reliable “foundation” they will be hard pressed to reach that goal.
The time is now Steeler Nation. The window won’t stay open forever. If the football gods are listening I plead with you to hear our cry. Bring us the tackle(s) we need to solidify this team and climb through that window – before it closes.