Mark Madden: Steelers fans can feel good again
It’s a good time to be a Steelers fan. Finally. The disenfranchised can return to the fold. The lapsed can be born again.
The Toxic Twins are gone. As your favorite super genius said when Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown first reached prominence, you don’t win with guys like that. They promote brands, indulge agendas, chase stats, wallow in social media and keep score with money.
Winning is far down their list of priorities, if it’s there at all. They’re ringless Russell Westbrooks chasing triple-doubles.
All that got proven in Pittsburgh and will be confirmed in New York and Oakland, respectively.
Ben Roethlisberger is the last man standing. His window is short, but offers hope.
Those who question Roethlisberger getting his mammoth contract extension don’t remotely understand the price of quality quarterbacking. They also don’t have a Plan B, either at QB or how the Steelers could better spend the money.
Roethlisberger posted career highs in yards and touchdowns last season. Both figures will shrink in Brown’s absence.
But without Brown’s constant whiny drone about getting his, Roethlisberger will manage games better. The lone concern will be winning. A football IQ honed over 15 seasons of elite quarterbacking will be even better used.
Roethlisberger’s interceptions will shrink, too. He won’t be forcing the ball to Brown by way of minimizing the aforementioned drone. Nor will receivers get Roethlisberger in trouble by improvising routes. Sometimes that helped, but sometimes that hurt.
Nobody’s going to hold out.
Nobody’s going to walk out.
There’s not a single Steeler to be embarrassed about anymore. (Give it time.) It’s still unlikely coach Mike Tomlin can fix the negative culture he enabled. But the current roster gives Tomlin a fighting chance.
An efficient offseason got its exclamation point Thursday when the Steelers traded up to get Michigan inside linebacker Devin Bush with the 10th pick of the NFL Draft.
The Steelers had never seriously attempted to replace Ryan Shazier after he was grievously injured in 2017. Bush offers a very reasonable facsimile, his 4.4 speed enabling him to make plays sideline to sideline.
As Bush said, “I can cover. I can blitz. I can play the run. Play the pass.”
The Steelers’ other inside linebackers don’t check nearly as many boxes. (Some don’t check any.) Bush offers a quantum leap in quality. Tomlin is already talking about Bush as an every-down player.
Trading up to get Bush was a bold move by a franchise that doesn’t often make them. General manager Kevin Colbert likely delighted in saying that draft choices acquired from Oakland in exchange for Brown facilitated the deal.
Bush isn’t a project. He can play right away. That’s invaluable given Roethlisberger’s ticking clock. (Or maybe Roethlisberger will play five more years. Roll over, Josh Dobbs, and tell Mason Rudolph the news.)
This offseason feels like a legit Steelers renaissance.
The Steelers might be the Steelers again. The unfettered object of Pittsburgh’s affection, and not a fantasy football GM’s dream.
Cleveland is hype, not substance. The Browns didn’t build a team. They collected football cards.
Cincinnati is, well, Cincinnati.
There are too many question marks to predict truly great things for the Steelers.
But the AFC North seems more than winnable, and the Steelers will win it.
At the very least, the Steelers are more likable, and headed in the right direction. That’s after being none of the above for too long.