Earlier this week, it was reported by ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler that Mike Tomlin sat down with defensive coordinator Keith Butler and had a “productive” meeting, leaving the door open for the possibility of Butler’s return after so many had pegged Butler to lose his job following the conclusion of the 2018 season.
After the hiring of former Bengals defensive coordinator Teryl Austin as a “senior defensive assistant/secondary coach”, it was also announced that Butler would handle duties of coaching the linebackers following the departure of Joey Porter.
If any hope amongst a disgruntled fan base still resonated for Butler to find his bags packed and ready to go, that door was shut within the last few days. Butler has yet to make a public comment about his job status, but the Steelers have already made a statement through their actions: We’re not making any serious changes for 2019.
With the coaching staff largely intact from this season, the change now rests on the gridiron and the players who step foot on it to right the ship in 2019 and return to the playoffs.
Enter the draft class of 2019.
We are three months away from the 2019 NFL Draft, yet the nameless players that will become the newest additions in Pittsburgh will step foot into the Steelers facilities with pressure already applied to perform. Why?
2019 could be boom or bust, for many reasons. The Steelers Super Bowl window is closing, perhaps at a faster rate than projected thanks to an underperforming coaching staff, a few select superstars on the verge of leaving and a team that hasn’t lived up to expectations. It might be now or never for these Steelers to bring the Lombardi trophy back to Pittsburgh.
Another reason the draft class of 2019 carries such significance can be found within the Steelers own draft failures through years past. General Manager Kevin Colbert is expected to select another defensive player in this year’s first round, which would extend his streak to seven consecutive first round picks spent on the defensive side of the ball.
His track record?
2013: Jarvis Jones (Hasn’t played in the league since 2016)
2014: Ryan Shazier (Great player, currently working on making his way back to the football field)
2015: Bud Dupree (Has one year left to prove he isn’t Jarvis Jones 2.0)
2016: Artie Burns (After a great rookie year, has regressed substantially)
2017: T.J. Watt (Phenomenal pick, potential cornerstone player)
2018: Terrell Edmunds (Too early to tell, but not an impressive rookie campaign)
Will 2019’s first round pick fall to the same fate as majority of the pack? If so, jobs are seriously in danger on all fronts. The decision to keep Butler essentially ties the team’s immediate performance in 2019 to their job status, as Pittsburgh could very well wave good-bye to the likes of Tomlin, Butler and even Colbert should the team not hit its goals.
With the team’s cap situation tied to a number of different factors including situations with Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown, it’s unknown the spending power Pittsburgh will tout in free agency, although the franchise historically prefers to focus on in-house players and forego big names in free agency.
So where will the team turn to get the proper chess pieces to conquer the board in 2019? You guessed it, the NFL’s annual collegiate entry draft.
There’s a lot riding on 2019, as whichever way the pendulum swings will determine the direction the franchise moves going forward. A strong rookie class could bail the Steelers out of problems that plagued them in 2018, while also holding the potential to put Pittsburgh in rebuild mode. With recent drafts falling subject to criticism and judgement on Colbert’s scouting department, it’s imperative the Steelers emerge as winners when the draft concludes.