Steelers president Art Rooney came out yesterday to so much as tell fans the 2013 offseason was business as usual with the Steelers. He may yet turn out to be correct in that leap of logic, but based on the facts this is not an ordinary offseason for the Steelers. It is an extraordinary one.
Pretty much right before our eyes the Steelers have gone from Super Bowl contender to a team in transition.
Evaluating the various position groups:
Defensive line: Ends Brett Keisel and Ziggy Hood return. Keisel will be 35 in September. Hood has been adequate but has shown no sign of being the next Aaron Smith. Nose tackle Casey Hampton is a free agent the Steelers have no interest in signing. His backup, Steve McLendon, got a massive no-confidence vote from the team with the tender they gave him. The defensive line is trending down.
Outside linebacker: James Harrison was released. The fact the Steelers tried to keep him indicates that are not happy with his probable replacement Jason Worilds. LaMarr Woodley had a disappointing season. Trending down.
Inside linebacker: Lawrence Timmons had the breakout year that so long was expected from him and he could be on his way to being an elite player. Larry Foote is solid beside Timmons. Trending up.
Safety: Troy Polamalu will be 32 next month, missed nine games last year and when he played showed little of his once-amazing playmaking skills. Ryan Clark continues as a solid performer but he is 33. There is no designated heir apparent for either player on the roster. Trending down.
Cornerback: Starter Keenan Lewis departed via free agency. Ike Taylor will be 33 in May. Cortez Allen, with little starting experience, will replace Lewis. William Gay had to be brought back to be the nickel back. Trending down.
Offensive line: Two starters from last season, Max Starks and Willie Colon, won’t be back. But the line is full of young players with impressive credentials. They still have to show what they can do but the O line is trending up.
Wide receiver: Mike Wallace left via free agency. Antonio Brown had a disappointing season both as a receiver and a returner. Emmanuel Sanders has yet to show he can be a capable regular. The depth -- Jerricho Cotchery and Plaxico Burress is underwhelming. Trending down.
Tight end. Heath Miller is coming off major reconstructive knee surgery. There is no depth. Trending down.
Quarterback. Ben Roethlisberger remains a franchise quarterback. Bruce Gradkowski is a competent backup. Quarterback is strong and stable.
Running back: Rashard Mendenhall left via free agency. Ike Redman and Jonathan Dwyer are backups. Trending down.
A lot can change, particularly the draft, between now and the start of the season. But the Steelers have too many needs for the draft to make a significant impact in 2013 and too little salary cap space for free agency to make a difference.
It seems pretty obvious that the Steelers, as a team, are trending down.