Steelers coach Tomlin: Nothing is guaranteed for 2016 season
The Steelers' season was barely over, and there already was talk about next year — as in them being the team to beat in the AFC next season.
Crazy talk, right? Perhaps not.
The Steelers plowed through the league's most difficult schedule this year to go 10-6 and were three minutes away from playing in the AFC championship game against the Patriots.
That was all without Ben Roethlisberger for four games and parts of three others; without Martavis Bryant for five; without Le'Veon Bell for 12 1⁄2; without Maurkice Pouncey for all of them; and without Antonio Brown and DeAngelo Williams for the most important one last Sunday against the Broncos.
All will be back next year, including the majority of the key components of an upstart defense, thus leading to such optimism heading into the offseason.
Leave it to coach Mike Tomlin to put damper on that excitement.
At his season-ending news conference Wednesday, Tomlin made it clear that this year's success, even without a number of key components at critical times, won't necessarily translate into success next year simply with their return.
“Our experiences in '15 are just that, our experiences in '15,” Tomlin said. “I'm not seeking comfort, in terms of what happened to us this year, relative to next year. We got to lay a good foundation to chase our hopes and dreams for '16, and I don't go in it with any preconceived notions based on what transpired with us this year.”
The Steelers had a difficult year keeping players on the field, using 59 players during the season. That includes five running backs (Bell, Williams, Fitzgerald Toussaint, Jordan Todman, Will Johnson), four kickers (Shaun Suisham, Garrett Hartley, Josh Scobee, Chris Boswell), three quarterbacks (Roethlisberger, Landry Jones, Mike Vick), and they lost 40 percent of their offensive line (Pouncey and Kelvin Beachum) a month into the season.
On defense, they replaced half of their projected starting secondary (Cortez Allen, Shamarko Thomas) a few days before the start of the season and pulled Ross Cockrell off Buffalo's scrap heap and threw him into the secondary.
The offense still put up video game-like numbers at times, and the defense, somehow, was much better than last year in creating pressure (48 sacks) and turnovers (30) in Keith Butler's first year replacing Dick LeBeau.
“More importantly than anything else, as I sit here today, it's really time to start anew,” Tomlin said. “We all learn from it. We all hopefully grow from it. But by no means does it carry over into next year. It carries over in the men in terms of the experience and the understanding that they bring to the journey, but I am excited about starting the next one anew.”
That process starts immediately for Tomlin and the Steelers.
The team will continue to get through exit interviews over the next couple of days at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex with both Tomlin and the players' position coaches.
The management team — Tomlin, general manager Kevin Colbert and owner Art Rooney II — will put together a plan for the offseason, which according to Tomlin, won't deviate from the way they've treated the offseason in the past.
They will evaluate the veteran players on their roster, prioritize their 20 unrestricted free agents, look at street free agents and prepare for the draft.
However, it is unlikely they will make a splash in free agency. Last year, the only street free agent they signed was Williams.
“Our intentions or our flight plan hasn't changed in that regard,” Tomlin said. “Nothing is going to change in terms of how we go about our business. We recognize the things we think are needs for us in 2016. We have a lot of men who are on the market. We will prioritize those guys and work to do a great job of communicating with those guys and let that business run its course.
“There are a lot of lines in the water this time of year. There isn't a lot of time to feel sorry for yourself. But such is life in our business. I am excited about that.”