There are a lot of questions that surround the Pittsburgh Steelers heading into 2019. After the way the 2018 season ended, changes are expected in Pittsburgh. Those changes include potentially losing both Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell. Bell sat out the entire 2018 season with a contract dispute. Brown had an outburst before the season finale and was benched. He has since cut off contact with the team and appears to be pushing for a trade to the San Francisco 49ers. So if the team does, in fact, move on from both stars, how will they replace them? There are some options the Steelers have that are both in-house or as free agents.
Pittsburgh Steelers Need to Replace Production from Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell
How to Make Up for Antonio Brown
Nothing regarding Antonio Brown is set in stone just yet. Owner Art Rooney II has stated that the team will not cut Brown, despite some of the off-field antics. That only leaves a trade for the four-time All-Pro. The Steelers would have to find a team willing to take on Brown’s large contract. Because of his production and age, the Steelers would likely demand multiple draft picks. The Steelers could also try to bring in a veteran wide receiver to supplement what they have.
If there is one position that the Steelers have drafted well in recent years is at wide receiver. Plaxico Burress, Santonio Holmes, Mike Wallace, Emmanuel Sanders, and Brown are all highly productive wide receivers the Steelers have drafted since 2000. If the Steelers were to draft D.K. Metcalf from Ole Miss, Kelvin Harmon from NC State, or Riley Ridley from Georgia would all be solid players that could be turned into stars. Marquise Brown from Oklahoma is of a similar build to Antonio Brown with a similar skill set. Oh, and did I mention they are cousins?
Pittsburgh could focus their draft picks on other areas of the team and look to free agency or in-house options to replace Brown. JuJu Smith-Schuster would easily fill the role of number one on the receiver depth chart. In the 2018 NFL Draft, the Steelers went out and drafted James Washington in the second round. He had an indifferent rookie season but could be poised for a breakout year as the second option for Ben Roethlisberger. Eli Rogers has proven to be a good slot threat when healthy if the Steelers re-sign the unrestricted free agent this offseason. Golden Tate would also be a serviceable veteran that could still have some big-play ability left despite his age.
How to Make Up for Le’Veon Bell
The likelihood of Le’Veon Bell remaining with Pittsburgh next season is very small. Bell and the Steelers couldn’t agree on a new contract and will likely be leaving in free agency. The Steelers got a Pro Bowl level season out of backup James Conner, so letting Le’Veon leave should feel easier than Brown possibly leaving.
Going forward, James Conner will be the top running back for the Steelers. Combine that with backups Jaylen Samuels and Trey Edmunds, and the Steelers have a committee to work with. Conner was impressive as a starter, rushing for nearly 1,000 yards and 12 touchdowns. Samuels proved his worth in Week 15 against the New England Patriots. He rushed for 142 yards and caught a pair of passes for 30 yards. That could make for a more explosive duo next season as both are very young backs.
If the Steelers decide Edmunds or Samuels doesn’t fit the bill, the draft is an intriguing option. David Montgomery from Iowa State is a talented back, much in the same mold as Conner. Darwin Thompson from Utah State fits into a similar style like Tarik Cohen or Dion Lewis. Elijah Holyfield from Georgia is quicker than Benny Snell from Kentucky, but not as much of a power back. Both would be welcome additions if the Steelers decide to add talent via the draft.
Should Pittsburgh want a veteran presence to replace Le’Veon Bell, free agency has some interesting options. Would someone like Tevin Coleman or Mark Ingram be willing to continue timeshare roles in Pittsburgh? Maybe. Latavius Murray would be a decent power back in short yard situations. Also expect the Steelers, like most teams in the NFL, to do their due diligence on Kareem Hunt. I would consider that a long shot, but it is worth mentioning.
Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell have been two important pieces to the Steelers offensive machine for the past few years. However, after a very disappointing season, one or both of them could be on their way out of town. Art Rooney II hasn’t ruled out that either could be back in Pittsburgh next season, but the reality of the situation seems to suggest otherwise. If that is true, if Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell are indeed leaving Pittsburgh, it will certainly leave a lot of production to fill. There are plenty of options for the Steelers to pursue. In-house, free agency, or the draft are all legitimate options for the team to replace Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell. It remains to be seen if it will be needed, or if it will work.
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