Leading up to the NFL trade deadline, the Pittsburgh Steelers were in an interesting position.
On one hand, they were 4-3 and firmly in the mix for a playoff spot in the AFC. On the other, Ben Roethlisberger was clearly regressing, signaling the need for a full-on rebuild. The Steelers haven’t operated without Big Ben for close to two decades. Moving off him would not be a small decision.
The Steelers traded Melvin Ingram to the Chiefs
As the action started to heat up during the waning hours of the deadline, it looked like Pittsburgh was going in the direction of rebuilding. The Steelers traded recent free-agent signing Melvin Ingram to the Kansas City Chiefs for a late-round draft pick.
Typically speaking, a move like this signals that the front office is gearing up for the offseason. Even though Ingram wasn’t playing a massive role within the Steelers’ defense, he is still a valuable veteran pass-rusher.
However, a few days removed from the deadline, reports surfaced that Pittsburgh was more active than initially perceived — active in regards to bringing in talent as opposed to shipping it out.
The Steelers had talks with the Eagles about DT Fletcher Cox
According to CBS’ Jason La Canfora, the Steelers engaged with the Philadelphia Eagles regarding defensive tackle Fletcher Cox’s availability. The Eagles quietly started shopping Cox leading into the deadline. However, La Canfora’s report stated draft compensation was discussed between Pittsburgh and Philly:
The Steelers engaged in trade talks with the Eagles ahead of last week’s deadline centered around perennial Pro Bowl tackle Fletcher Cox, league sources said, with the sides unable to agree on a value.
The Eagles were focused primarily on moving players with expiring contracts, sources said, but Cox was brought up in some conversations, with the Steelers showing interest. Pittsburgh has a limited cap situation, but Cox’s recently restructured deal afforded the team the flexibility required to add such a player. However, sources said it would have required at least a third-round pick to pry Cox away, and the Steelers were not willing to do so.Jason La Canfora, CBS Sports
Is Pittsburgh trying to contend moving forward?
Due to Roethlisberger’s rapidly decreasing ability, common sense suggests the Steelers should be gearing up for a significant rebuild moving forward. However, being in the mix for someone like Cox suggests otherwise.
Cox is one of the highest-paid defensive tackles in the league ($17.1 million per year) and isn’t exactly in his prime. He is struggling to adapt to Philadelphia’s new scheme and only has one sack on the season. He’s also set to turn 31 years old in December.
Needless to say, this isn’t exactly a player a team looking to rebuild would express interest in. Cox is someone you target if you’re looking to go all-in on a Super Bowl run, similar to how the Los Angeles Rams spent big on defensive end Von Miller.
Ultimately speaking, the Steelers passed on the opportunity to trade a third-round pick for Fletcher Cox. However, their interest paints the picture of a front office looking to stretch out the competitive window over another few seasons.
It’ll be interesting to see how Pittsburgh approaches the offseason. It could easily revisit the Cox discussion once his cap number lowers a bit, or it could target other veterans in an attempt to compete in 2022.
All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference.