Over the past week, the Pittsburgh Steelers have announced their intent to cut ties with Hines Ward, Aaron Smith, and James Farrior, all of which were veteran leaders on the team. While Ward and Smith had been seeing limited production over the past couple of seasons, their leadership may have been their strongest quality.
The Steelers are moving into a very uncertain time. Mike Wallace's future is still in doubt, and Pittsburgh has precious little money to devote to replenishing lost talent. In simpler terms, don't expect the Steelers to sign anyone of note during free agency. They simply don't have the money.
In situations such as these, teams need to be able to hit doubles, triples, and even home runs with their draft picks.
The Steelers have been the best in the business over the past couple of decades in replenishing talent, but they've put an abnormal amount of pressure on this year's draft. They've allowed their salary situation to be somewhat more dire than most years, and the draft is their only source of fresh talent.
The Steelers may suffer from a leadership vacuum in 2012 as well. Ben Roethlisberger and new offensive coordinator Todd Haley have yet to hit it off, and it's still unclear how well they'll work together. Haley's impact in the draft room has yet to be felt as well. Last year with the Chiefs, he took a gamble on a talented but immature receiver in Doug Baldwin, who wound up on the wrong end of a locker room fight and missed a good chunk of the season.
The Steelers will need someone to step up on the offensive side of the ball to take over where Hines Ward left off. Maybe he wasn't the most productive player on the field, but Ward led by example and seemingly gave his all every down of every play.
The Steelers have always been a draft first team. That's where they put in the most effort, and it's been a system that has served them well for a long time. This season presents a unique challenge. They're not just looking for talented players; they're looking for players that can step into leadership roles and maintain the Steelers' level of play. It's not a small order by any stretch of the imagination, but it is something that is well within the realm of possibility.
Many of the Steelers questions will be answered in the coming weeks, but it seems clear that the Steelers won't be making any big offseason splashes. But then again, since when have the Steelers ever worried about making a splash? They tend to make all the right moves, and that's the type of offseason they'll need from their personnel department.
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