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Tim Benz: Steelers brass hated the word circus. What do they think of rebuild? |
Tim Benz, Columnist

Tim Benz: Steelers brass hated the word circus. What do they think of rebuild?

Tim Benz

For two guys who didn’t want to admit the Steelers were a “circus,” they sure are doing a lot to tear down the big top.

Team president Art Rooney II bristled at references to the Black and Gold being a “circus” after a chaotic 2018 came to a disappointing close. It featured a season-long contractual absence from star running back Le’Veon Bell. And, at the time, former All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown still hadn’t been heard from since he was suspended for the club’s finale against Cincinnati.

“As far as I’m concerned, it’s nonsense,” Rooney said on Jan. 16.

Before the season even began, general manager Kevin Colbert scoffed at the tag of “Team Turmoil” for the Steelers.

At the time, they were just a few months removed from a 2017 campaign that featured:

• Martavis Bryant’s in-house social media suspension

• Brown’s Gatorade cooler toss

• Bell’s first training camp absence and ill-advised social media activity before the Jaguars playoff game

• Ben Roethlisberger’s “maybe I don’t have it anymore” routine

• Todd Haley’s “Tequila Cowboy” incident

• Marcus Gilbert’s four-game suspension for a banned substance

• James Harrison’s release for insubordination

• A protest that put the franchise at the center of the entire national anthem firestorm

Just to name a few.

But those two men are right. Nothing out of the ordinary around these parts the last few seasons!

Even today, if you ask Colbert and Rooney on the record, they’ll probably take the same stance and say the same things they’ve been saying the last few seasons: “All teams deal with things like this … that’s just how it goes in modern professional sports … we’re just a year removed from 13-3 … we were just a few plays away from the playoffs.”

Off the record? Well, you don’t even need to ask them off the record. Their actions are speaking for them.

Bell is being turned loose on the free agent market. Brown is publicly on the trade block. Harrison was cut. Bryant was traded. Haley was fired. And loudmouth Mike Mitchell was dismissed, as well.

The circus is getting rid of its dancing bears.

That’s good. I’m glad to see the Steelers going down this path. They couldn’t keep the same cast of characters and expect better results. In fact, it would’ve gotten worse.

But since Colbert and Rooney had such a hard time acknowledging the words “circus” and “turmoil,” I bet they are going to have an even harder time coming to grips with another term that could accurately describe the 2019 team: “rebuild.”

Ooh. I can see them cringing now.

“Rebuild” is seven letters long. But it’s a dirty four-letter word in the Steelers offices. With just one losing season in the Heinz Field era, the organization would like to believe it hasn’t been through such a process since Bill Cowher took over for Chuck Noll in 1992.

Make no mistake, though, it’s on the verge of happening.

Some say you never truly “rebuild” unless you are changing a coach, a quarterback or both.

Granted, most of those people live in New England.

So call it whatever you wish. And the Steelers will never wish to call it a rebuild. But that’s what is beginning.

Along with the departures — or looming departures — of those players listed above, a hole still exists at Ryan Shazier’s linebacker spot. Ladarius Green came and went in one season. Now Morgan Burnett may do the same.

Either Ramon Foster or Gilbert, or both, may not be back along the offensive line in 2019. Tight end Jesse James and punter Jordan Berry are free agents. Kicker Chris Boswell is in danger of being on the street only a year after signing a long-term deal. And former first-round pick Artie Burns has been demoted.

So, from the projected depth chart to open 2017, 11 of the 25 starters could be gone by opening day of 2019. That’s not counting Harrison or Burnett.

It’s also not counting eight other Steelers on the current roster — in addition to Foster and Gilbert — who will be at least 30 by the start of training camp. Nor is it counting Bud Dupree who may play on a fifth-year option.

In Pittsburgh, we’ve seen rebuilds before. They’ve been starker and uglier.

The Pirates of 1993. The Penguins after the Jaromir Jagr trade, the dissolution of the Kovalev-Lang-Straka line and Mario Lemieux’s second retirement, leaving Sidney Crosby to drag along a tattered roster for one year.

This Steelers process is subtler. Maybe we would have never noticed if the massive talents of Bell, Brown and Shazier had stayed on the field in Pittsburgh long enough to bridge the gap.

Now, though, it’s obvious.

The challenge for Rooney and Colbert is too see how fast they rebu… — um, sorry — retool, reload, reconstruct, before that other “Killer B” — Big Ben — decides to retire.

Because at that point, much like the circus, we’ll have no debate over what words to use.

Tim Benz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tim at [email protected] or via Twitter. All tweets could be reposted. All emails are subject to publication unless specified otherwise.

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