2023 Steelers Season Recall: The offseason begins

Steel City Underground presents our 2023 Steelers Recall: a look back at Pittsburgh Steelers games and storylines from last season.

The Pittsburgh Steelers 2023 offseason began much faster than many fans would’ve liked, as the team fell short of expectations and missed the playoffs.

That also got the rumor mill running a lot sooner, rather than later, as every interview and press conference was picked apart to figure out how the next season could turn out.

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Mike Tomlin

Pittsburgh Steelers President Art Rooney II sat down with Missi Matthews on Steelers.com and discussed several items, so of which weren’t far off of the mark from what we will experience during the 2024 offseason. Among the topics was whether or not Mike Tomlin would still be the head coach of the Steelers going forward:

While he declined to comment on yet another extension for Coach Tomlin, Rooney was quoted as saying:

“I don’t really evaluate Mike on anything other than I’m glad he’s our coach.”

Among the paraphrased statements is that Rooney hopes Tomlin will be here for a “long time” and he’s pleased that the Steelers are always in a position to compete for a championship with Tomlin at the helm.

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Matt Canada

With one more year remaining on his current coaching contract, Steelers offensive coordinator Matt Canada was a major topic of discussion as to whether or not he would return for another season. Rooney was quick to point out changing Kenny Pickett‘s offensive coordinator and starting over from scratch, could prove detrimental to Pickett’s development:

“Yeah, I think so,” Rooney said. “I think we’d like to see the improvement and you know, with a rookie quarterback, they seem to work well together. They built a good working relationship. And so to kind of sort of start over again with a new offensive coordinator, could wind up back in the same situation again, where the first half of the season you’re breaking into new coordinator, so, we just felt like there’s enough there to build on that, we want to continue to keep that group together.”

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Mitch Trubisky

Trubisky’s name sparks the beginning of last year’s offseason, as well as this one. Rooney’s interview on Pittsburgh local KDKA-TV generated some buzz, when he mentioned that he’d like Mitch Trubisky to return next season:

“I expect Mitch will be on the roster next year and be an effective backup if we need him,” he said. “I think he showed that he can be that. We can win with him.”

Trubisky was set to earn over $10 million, but his contract was signed with him remaining the starter into year two of the deal. The could’ve saved $8 million by cutting him during the 2023 offseason, however, the now former Steelers quarterback was extended an additional two years based on the vote of confidence by the owner and the need to drag some of his 2023 salary out into subsequent years for cap relief.

Unfortunately when we write this article one year from now, we will see that decision proved to be a poor one by the front office.

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Omar Khan era begins

Speaking of the front office, the 2023 offseason as well as the 2023 NFL Draft would prove to be firsts for new general manager Omar Khan, who’s season officially began without the oversight of previous GM Kevin Colbert following the conclusion of the 2022 NFL Draft.

Khan would have a lot of work to do with other headlining stories taking center stage…

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Pending free agents

The first order of business in the Omar Khan era would be which current Steelers remain and which ones are let go.

Among the major names that were set to hit free agency were defensive starters, including Larry Ogunjobi, Cameron Sutton, and Terrell Edmunds. A number of inside linebackers were also scheduled to test the market, with Devin Bush and Robert Spillane being two of the three rotational starters at inside linebacker that were unlikely to return.

The well-documented dilemma with Mitch Trubisky’s contract also paired with Mason Rudolph‘s contract expiring left many wondering who the Kenny Pickett’s backup could be.

Some other longer-term Steelers were also on the bubble, as Tyson Alualu, Chris Wormley, Derek Watt and Zach Gentry were all scheduled to becomes free agents as well. (And in the case of this list, none of the four would be on the 2023 Steelers roster.)

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Three top 50 draft picks

By virtue of trading WR Chase Claypool to the Chicago Bears during the season, the Steelers picked up an additional second round draft selection. It would turn out that the Bears would be the worst team in the NFL and the position of that pick would be number 32: a rare occurrence as the top pick of the second round, as the Miami Dolphins forfeited a first round choice as punishment for free agency tampering.

That meant the Steelers were set to have three picks in the top 50 selections of the 2023 NFL Draft, picking at numbers 17, 32 and 49.

Fans were abuzz all offseason trying to figure out which top names the team could land, and in a future article, we will detail that this draft class didn’t disappoint!

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Alex Highsmith extension

The last big order of business that was looming large over the Steelers 2023 offseason was an extension for LB Alex Highsmith, who was entering the final year of his original four-year rookie contract.

During the 2022 season Highsmith finished sixth in the league with 14.5 sacks – which was also a team best. Since replacing Melvin Ingram as a starter in Week 6 of 2021, Highsmith had 20.5 sacks in 29 games.

That’s why it made sense for the Steelers to start talks with Highsmith rather than waiting. Getting ahead of inflation and making sure they keep their homegrown stars in-house should is always a priority and Khan was sure to see to it that Highsmith would be a Steelers for years to come.

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