What the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Plan of Attack Must Be for the 2022 NFL Offseason

The 2021 NFL season certainly didn’t go how Mike Tomlin and the Pittsburgh Steelers planned. Still, a late-season turnaround allowed this team to sneak into the NFL playoffs, surprisingly.

Pittsburgh’s postseason journey was short-lived, but you have to give credit to how the team fought for future Hall of Fame quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. The 18-year veteran hasn’t officially announced his retirement, but he seems to be trending in that direction.

The Steelers have some glaring holes on their roster, so this will be a pivotal offseason for the franchise. General manager Kevin Colbert announced he would likely be stepping down after the draft. It’s quite possible that Pittsburgh finds Roethlisberger’s replacement through the draft, so the future could be in Colbert’s hands.

With the right moves, the Steelers could potentially build on their 9-7-1 finish. Here’s how Pittsburgh should approach the 2022 NFL offseason.

Biggest offseason questions

The biggest storyline for the Steelers heading into the 2022 offseason is the status of Ben Roethlisberger. The veteran quarterback just completed his 18th NFL season and has suggested that the 2021 season could be his last.

If Big Ben does indeed retire, the front office will have the challenge of finding the quarterback of the future. It’s been a long time since anyone else played the quarterback position in the Steel City, and it will be weird to see someone else under center.

The Steelers could go in a couple different directions to replace Roethlisberger. Some big name veteran signal-callers could be on the move in the offseason. The futures of Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson are up in the air, and Pittsburgh could be a great destination for either player. Kirk Cousins and Derek Carr could be in play as well.

General manager Kevin Colbert could also opt to address the position in the class. There’s not an overwhelming level of talent in the upcoming class, but some prospects have potential.

The Steelers’ offense could look significantly different in 2022, so that’s something to watch in the coming months.

Top free-agency decisions

Key free agents: Ben Roethlisberger (QB), James Washington (WR), Joe Haden (CB), Eric Ebron (TE), Juju Smith-Schuster (WR)

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ front office may not need to make a tough decision on Ben Roethlisberger, as it sounds like he could be taking himself out of the equation.

The front office would then be able to focus on the rest of the upcoming free-agent class.

JuJu Smith-Schuster is the biggest name outside of Big Ben. It appeared that the fifth-year wide receiver would be playing elsewhere in 2021. However, he turned down more lucrative deals from the Baltimore Ravens and Kansas City Chiefs to return to Pittsburgh.

The USC product signed a one-year deal, but he’ll become an unrestricted free agent again in the 2022 NFL offseason. Smith-Schuster played just five games before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury. He caught just 15 passes for 129 yards and zero touchdowns. He did return for the playoffs, which is a good sign.

Fellow receiver James Washington saw increased opportunities in Smith-Schuster’s absence. Washington would carry the cheaper price tag if Pittsburgh could only keep one even though Smith-Schuster is more talented.

Joe Haden is one of the defensive leaders, but he’ll be 33 years old next season. Surely, the Steelers would love to bring him back. However, they may not be willing to pay the veteran corner what he wants.

2022 NFL Draft needs and potential targets

Top picks: First round (own), second round (own), third round (own)

Draft needs: QB, OT, OG, CB, DT

The Steelers are gearing up for one of their most pivotal draft seasons in recent memory. After a down year, you can bet Mike Tomlin and company want to get back to their winning ways in 2022.

Depending on what the front office decides, addressing the quarterback position early in the 2022 NFL Draft could be a wise decision. If Rodgers and Wilson stay put, Pittsburgh cannot go into the new season with either Mason Rudolph or Dwayne Haskins Jr. at quarterback.

Matt Corral, Kenny Pickett, Sam Howell, Desmond Ridder, and Malik Willis could all be viable options. Corral or Pickett would likely be the first off the board, but it would come as no surprise to see the Steelers make a play if one is available.

Outside of quarterback, no position group has more uncertainty than the offensive line. The front office didn’t properly plan for the 2021 season. Pittsburgh’s front line struggled throughout the season, which ultimately capped the potential of Najee Harris and the running game.

The Steelers could find help with potential Day 2 linemen, including Kentucky’s Darian Kinnard and UCLA’s Sean Rhyan.

If Pittsburgh decides to move on from Joe Haden, drafting a cornerback could be an option. Cincinnati’s Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner could be a perfect fit, given his physicality and ball-hawking mindset.

1 player on each side of the ball who must step up in 2022

Even though the Steelers’ 2021 season didn’t end the way they envisioned, they went out with pride. The roller-coaster season just lets this team know what it needs to work on moving forward.

Mike Tomlin needs multiple players to step up in 2022, most notably wide receiver Chase Claypool.

Claypool put together an impressive rookie campaign. He caught 62 passes for 873 yards and nine touchdowns. His combination of size, speed, and athleticism presented matchup problems for opposing defenses.

Unfortunately, the Notre Dame product hasn’t seen the same success in year two. Claypool recorded 59 receptions, 860 yards, and just two touchdowns in 2021. It wasn’t surprising to see negative regression with the touchdowns, but he just hasn’t been an impact player. Ben Roethlisberger’s decline has played a role, though.

Claypool’s biggest issue is his maturity. Coach Tomlin has addressed the 23-year-old wideout on multiple occasions for in-game behavior or postgame comments. Growth will come with time, but the Steelers need him to be better in all facets.

On defense, Pittsburgh should want to see more out of Devin Bush. The third-year linebacker had a strong rookie season. However, he could not build on that momentum due to an injury that caused him to miss most of the 2020 season.

Bush has missed three games in 2021. Still, he hasn’t made the same impact when he’s been on the field. The Steelers need the 2019 No. 10 overall pick to take the next step in 2022 and become a legitimate building block.

All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference