New faces: CB Steven Nelson, LB Mark Barron, LB Devin Bush, WR Donte Moncrief, WR Diontae Johnson, CB Justin Layne, RB Benny Snell
They’re gone: WR Antonio Brown, RB Le’Veon Bell, OT Marcus Gilbert, TE Jesse James, S Morgan Burnett, LB Jon Bostic
2019 snapshot: There’s no getting around it — the Steelers said goodbye to perhaps the best wide receiver (Brown) and the best running back (Bell) of the past five years. That’s difficult to swallow, but was there anything Pittsburgh could have done differently?
Bell’s departure was inevitable long ago. Letting him walk also wasn’t the worst idea given the dangers of paying running backs big money. Given how much of a distraction Brown has already been in Oakland, it’s hard to imagine any scenario in which the Steelers could have kept him.
Pittsburgh never had the leverage to bring back a big return, but it did get two picks for Brown, one of whom (Johnson) should contribute early. The Steelers found another option at receiver in free agency (Moncrief) and could get a breakout from second-year man James Washington.
They also worked to upgrade at linebacker and cornerback in both free agency and the draft. After signing Barron and Nelson, they traded up for Bush, who should step right into Ryan Shazier’s old spot in the middle of the defense. Layne brings lots of talent but has time to develop from the bench.
Of course, Pittsburgh got quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s extension done as he approached a contract year, an inevitable but important move that ensures the Super Bowl window will remain open another few years. With Bell and Brown gone, the pressure will be on Big Ben more than ever.
Get to know… WR James Washington
A deep-ball dynamo at Oklahoma State, Washington had a forgettable rookie campaign but has torn up the preseason to the tune of nine catches for 2013 yards and two touchdowns. Pittsburgh develops wideouts better than any other team, and Washington could be the next gem.
Worth the investment?
-With everyone lauding the Browns, the Steelers have flown under the radar, but their over/under win total is still just shy of double digits (9.5). We’d avoid this one.
-Roethlisberger has never come particularly close to winning MVP, but he could have the volume to get in the conversation. There are worse bets at +2500.
Bottom line: No team in the league lost two more talented players, but it should surprise no one if the Steelers still win the AFC North.