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.
Mic Drop: Adam Zielonka of Washington Times on McFarland, Brooks
Instead of trading for a proven running back like Leonard Fournette, the Steelers simply drafted a rookie with their 4th round pick. That rookie is Anthony McFarland out of the University of Maryland. To fully explain what McFarland brings to the table, Mike Asti was joined by Adam Zielonka, who is a sports reporter for the Washington Times. Zielonka also touched Antoine Brooks, the other Maryland product drafted by the Steelers.
Colbert Explains Why He Wanted Three Rounds Added to 2020 Draft
Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert is offering an explanation as to why he wanted three rounds added to the 2020 NFL Draft.
Speaking with NBC Sport’s Mike Florio on the PFT PM podcast Tuesday, Colbert took the opportunity to clarify his suggestion.
“The reasoning was, part of it was selfish,” Colbert said. “You wanted to have a safety net because we’re dealing with less information, and the more picks you have, maybe you’ll have a little bit of a safety net again.”
With the league’s self-implemented travel restrictions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, clubs were unable to conduct their normal scouting activities prior to the Draft. This included Pro Days, private workouts and in-person interviews.
Less opportunities to watch and speak with prospects results in a larger margin for error.
Colbert went on to say that it also would have benefited some of the fringe prospects in the Draft that never had the chance to showcase themselves at a Pro Day or other setting.
“The other thing was it would give the marginal player that didn’t get his opportunity to go to a Pro Day and to perform. Maybe there will be more players drafted and then those players will then again have the chance they might not get.”
Now without rookie minicamps, the challenges are mounting for clubs and NFL hopefuls.
“Every year a team might stumble upon a tryout player,” Colbert said. “Maybe if we ever get on the field, we can think of a way to help those because there’s a big group of players that aren’t getting opportunities because of the situation.”
Colbert reminded Florio that the Steelers discovered Devlin “Duck” Hodges as a tryout in camp last year.
It is unclear when teams will be allowed to return to the practice field for their offseason programs, with clubs currently conducting theirs entirely from home.
Mic Drop: NFL Draft Recap Show
It was eat, sleep, draft coverage, repeat for Mike Asti and the Steelers Now crew this past week. And now that the draft is over, Mike Asti evaluates each pick and gives his thoughts on some moves he says the Steelers should have made.