Art Rooney II proud of Steelers, recognizes mistakes, likes the direction team is headed
January 28, 2016 6:57 PM
“I’m not sure I have ever really seen a season quite like it in terms of injuries,’’ Steelers president Art Rooney II told a small group of reporters.
By Ed Bouchette / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Not only does Steelers president Art Rooney II like the direction in which his team is headed, but they also might be able to help it along through free agency.
The Steelers came through a period of difficult salary-cap restrictions and are in “maybe a little better” position, Rooney said, to go after free agents than they have been the past few years. This on a team that already is listed among the favorites to win next year’s Super Bowl after it survived more injuries to key players than Rooney could recall.
“I’m not sure I have ever really seen a season quite like it in terms of injuries,” Rooney told a small group of reporters Thursday. “But our guys never let that be an excuse. They kept fighting all the way to the last minute, so I was proud of them.”
Not surprisingly, he said the main area in which the Steelers need to improve in 2016 is their pass defense, ranked 30th in the NFL last season, and they will look at free agency to possibly do that.
“We certainly made progress on defense and got better as the year went on, but I think we all agree we need to be better in general on pass defense,” Rooney said.
“We invested some draft picks in players last year that we certainly hope are going to take a step forward this coming season and be contributors. And obviously, we’ve got to look at some opportunities this offseason both in terms of free agency and the draft. It’s something we just have to keep working on.”
The Steelers made some of their worst missteps in the secondary over the past two seasons: They invested $26 million in cornerback Cortez Allen, then benched him; traded a fifth-round pick for cornerback Brandon Boykin, then didn’t use him often; traded a third-round pick to draft safety Shamarko Thomas, who could not get on the field on defense; and cut their fourth-round pick, rookie cornerback Doran Grant, before he made his way back to their roster.
“We’ve made some mistakes, there’s no denying that, in terms of some of the evaluations,” Rooney acknowledged.
In his annual series of interviews with the media a week and a half after the Steelers’ season ended with a playoff loss at Denver, Rooney touched on a number of topics. Among them:
• They want to keep halfback Le’Veon Bell beyond the end of his contract in 2016, and are not worried about his recovery from the knee injury that ended his season. “We still feel like he’s going to be a great player … we hope his future is here,” Rooney said. “Whether we address the contract situation now or later is something we still have to evaluate. I think he’s somebody we’d like to continue to have on the team for the long run.”
• The same holds true for Antonio Brown, who received a $2 million advance last season on his 2016 salary and has two years left on his contract. There is speculation Brown might seek more money again this year. “Obviously we’ve had a number of players over the years we’ve had to make contract adjustments with,” Rooney said. “We try to be cautious how we do that. We’ll just have to address that as the offseason goes on.”
• On the situation with Martavis Bryant, who was suspended the first four games of 2015 because of marijuana use: “Martavis is a player who has tremendous ability and potential, and we just have to continue to work with him to make sure he takes care of his business off the field and puts himself in a position to be as great a player that he can be. … We hope the experience he had earlier this season will have an impact on him.”
• There is no plan to look for a quarterback to groom and ultimately take over for Ben Roethlisberger, who turns 34 March 2. “I don’t think we’re starting down that road of who’s next after Ben. Obviously we’ve got some work to do in terms of who are the backups. We’ll have some evaluation to do there. As far as I’m concerned, Ben didn’t show much sign of falling off this year, so I’m looking forward to at least several more years of Ben as our quarterback.”
• The Steelers have given the Philadelphia Eagles permission to interview Brandon Hunt for the job of director of player personnel. Hunt, a graduate of Pine-Richland High School and IUP, has been the pro scouting coordinator the past six seasons.
• Rooney concurred with Mike Tomlin that he would like the coaching staff to return intact. “As always, there are contract situations that have to be worked out, but we’re happy with the staff and hoping we can get everybody back.”
Ed Bouchette: email@example.com and Twitter @EdBouchette.
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