Soon enough, business will open for the 2018 NFL season. The Pittsburgh Steelers will have a number of tasks at hand in order to build the latest iteration of their roster.
Here are three of those tasks which I feel will be of top priority to the team in the coming weeks.
Make a decision on Le'Veon Bell
There's a reason I phrased this as "decision" because the Steelers could decide to sign Bell long-term, tag him, or do nothing, allowing him to hit free agency.
I was once on the "re-sign Bell" bandwagon, with no chance of hopping off. However, looking at recent estimated figures for what it may cost to keep Bell, plus hints that he could have already had his tires worn down, I'm starting to think the Steelers could decide to spend the money elsewhere.
From a purely financial standpoint, the team has to make a wise decision that won't handicap them from building the rest of their roster. Add to the situation Bell's previous suspension and injury history, and I'm not entirely sold he's worth a market-setting contract.
If the Steelers aren't sold on the idea either, they may have to make another decision by moving on from Bell. Should they do that, they could look at signing a free agent or drafting another running back.
In the meantime, 2017 draft pick James Conner is waiting in the wings and could be a full-or-part-time replacement, depending on the team's vision for 2018.
Create cap room
In order to sign Bell and have any chance of making other moves, the Steelers may need to make tough calls on keeping other players. There are a handful of players under contract, such as Mike Mitchell and William Gay, who could be cap casualties. Others, such as Ben Roethlisberger, could have their contract restructured.
The league is expected to continue their trend of raising the cap, as they have for several years in a row. This will also help the team create breathing room to extend current players on the roster (like Bell) or sign free agents. I wouldn't expect them to have a ton of cash to make a bunch of splashy moves, however. Look for moves similar to signing Coty Sensabaugh or Justin Hunter, as opposed to diving into a big deal as they did in 2016 for Ladarius Green.
Why do you ask?
They won't be able to create too much space without crippling other positions.
Replace Ryan Shazier
The biggest loss during the regular season, I don't think that anyone believes Shazier will ever return to play again. Regardless if he made a miraculous medical comeback or not, inside linebacker was arguably the weakest position on the team last season. The Steelers entered the season with Ryan Shazier and Vince Williams as starters, along with 2016 7th round draft choice Tyler Matakevich and undrafted L.J. Fort as their backups.
Following Shazier's injury, Sean Spence was signed in the interim to play in his place.
Aside from the uncertainty surrounding Shazier, at this moment, a number of the linebackers are signed beyond 2018. Spence is unsigned entirely. Shazier, Williams, and Fort will become free agents after this upcoming season and Matakevich has two seasons left on his rookie deal.
That leaves a lot of movement to be made within the next two offseasons. It's all but a given the Steelers will look at adding depth via free agency and/or the draft. I could picture them acquiring a minimum of two linebackers, if not more, in their quest to shore up the position and insulate themselves from another devastating loss in the future.