It was fun, but now it's done.
No, I can't and won't dismiss that the Steelers could still make the playoffs. If they win Sunday in Baltimore, if the Ravens rest enough starters, if the Titans lose, if the Texans rest enough starters, if the Raiders do something or other, if the Colts are struck down by a comet, blah, blah, blah.
But really, beyond the cute, cuddly aspect of completing the always-unlikely achievement of upending what should've been a disastrous season into an actual achievement, I'm not sure what more there'd be to gain from an appearance. It's not as if they've got a prayer to advance past the anthem.
What matters most now, at least from this perspective, is what 2019 will mean toward 2020. So, toward that end, here's my early, maybe premature list of three priorities, in no particular order:
• Draft a running back
Doesn't need to be the first round — obviously, it can't in 2020. Few teams do that anyway. But get a durable, dynamic ball-carrier who can relegate James Conner to backup duty. Conner's signed for another season at an affordable cap hit of $934,572, so there's no point cutting him. But his availability, now more than ever, has exposed his value. If he can only handle limited snaps, set the stage that way. Jaylen Samuels doesn't profile as a true back, and Benny Snell's got tons to prove.
• Liven up the line
Ramon Foster's fallen off, and he might need to be released for that reason alone, never mind clearing up cash in an attempt to keep Bud Dupree and/or Javon Hargrave. Foster's replacements are already in-house, with Matt Feiler capable of sliding to left guard, and B.J. Finney capable of backing up there and center. Zach Banner and Chuks Okorafor can slug it out at right tackle, with my money on Banner.
• Same on the other side
It'd feel like sacrilege to some if the Steelers invested significant resources -- top pick, big free-agency money -- on defense. But that wouldn't necessarily make it misguided. Cam Heyward's still an impact performer, but the defensive line's getting up there, too. Cam will be 31. Stephon Tuitt will be 27. Now's the time to begin grooming successors, in particular for the captain. No point in risking the defense stepping back with all it's progressed.
Sure, there's little stuff, too. A stretch-the-field receiver, for instance. A push at left tackle for Alejandro Villanueva. Some safety depth.
But you know what I won't add here?
In fact, I won't even seriously entertain it beyond this single paragraph. Ben Roethlisberger will be back. He's stated as much emphatically, and the Steelers themselves were prompted to confirm that anew in response to an erroneous ESPN report yesterday. He'll be fresher and more energized, I'm betting, than he's been in years. Mason Rudolph showed legitimate improvement over a challenging season, physically and mentally, and he's absolutely an NFL-level backup. I'd apply the same thought to Devlin 'Duck' Hodges, who'll have more experience in the league than almost any No. 3 anywhere.
Fix what's broken, fine-tune the rest, and hope for the best from the franchise's star.
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