Tim Benz: Steelers’ offseason turning Pittsburgh into ‘Spin City’


Mar. 29—Join the conversation


The Steelers’ spin cycle is moving so fast this offseason that I get dizzy every time I turn on my computer.

No matter the situation, someone is there to spit-shine the prospects for the 2021 campaign, whether it’s the fans, media or team itself.

A few examples popped up recently. Consider Friday’s report from the NFL Network’s Aditi Kinkhabwala on 93.7 The Fan regarding the release of cornerback Steven Nelson.

Not only do I buy Kinkhabwala’s report, but I’ve also heard the same thing. So I completely believe that’s what some in the organization are saying. And, as I’ve written many times, I’m a fan of Sutton as a player.

But is the team trying to sell us on the notion that he is good enough to be two guys at once? Because remember, for the week in between nickelback Mike Hilton’s departure and Nelson’s, Steelers fans kept saying Sutton was going to be an “upgrade” on Hilton in the slot. Now Sutton is going to be better than Hilton and Nelson …combined?

I mean, I like Sutton, but let’s not turn him into Deion Sanders. Plus, let’s also keep in mind that the comp isn’t necessarily Sutton vs. Nelson. It’s more like Justin Layne or James Pierre vs. Nelson. Or, if Sutton stays outside in nickel packages, then it might be Layne or Pierre vs. Hilton in the slot.

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And is anyone within the Steelers organization willing to float the “upgrade” theory on that front?

I don’t think so either.

Not to mention that if the organization truly felt that way, with the defense sliding in the manner that it did late last season, they could’ve benched Nelson for Sutton at any point over the last six weeks, knowing what the offseason salary-cap situation would look like.

Furthermore, if the front office or coaching staff had this opinion about Sutton being better than Nelson, why didn’t they release Nelson at the outset of free agency to maximize cap space instead of waiting until many available players — including some of their own — were off the board?

I posed that question previously when I wondered about the tie between Nelson’s release and JuJu Smith-Schuster’s return. I was met with a wave of responses from people saying, “Well, they were just trying to rework an extension with him to lower his cap figure.”

Why, then, would they bother doing that with a relatively expensive, declining veteran corner if a younger, cheaper, (allegedly) better replacement was waiting in the wings?

Let’s pick a narrative because it can’t be both. And let’s pick it before similar quotes are filtered from the front office through the media. Because they are coming.

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You can soon expect various outlets to report, “Sources within the organization tell me they expect (fill in the blank: Alex Highsmith/Robert Spillane/Zach Banner) to be an upgrade on (fill in the corresponding blank: Bud Dupree/Vince Williams/Alejandro Villanueva).

Then there is the Tyson Alualu twist. Over the weekend, the Steelers nose tackle changed his mind and decided to stay in Pittsburgh after telling the Jacksonville Jaguars he’d sign with them 10 days earlier.

Alualu is another player I praised quite a bit last year for his smooth transition from backup defensive end to starting nose tackle. I’m pleased he reconsidered.

While I previously bemoaned his planned departure for Jacksonville, I saw many people claiming he was “just” a nose tackle who doesn’t play all that much and is easily replaceable.

Yet when news broke of Alualu’s change of heart, you would’ve thought a 2004-era Casey Hampton had decided to come out of retirement or something.

So please clear it up for me, Steelers Twitter. Is Alualu important or not? I think he is, but many of you seem confused.

I’ve come to the conclusion that there is really no reason for any sort of critical analysis of the Steelers because the collective “group think” opinion on social media always seems to default to, “It’s the Steelers. They’ll be fine. History shows they know what they are doing. So we are on board with whatever they do.”

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If by “history” we mean the last 40 years, sure. But if we look at the last 10 years, then what they have done is fail to win a playoff game eight times in that stretch. So is that the new “standard” we are talking about when we parrot Mike Tomlin’s favorite cliche, “The standard is the standard”? Is the standard “just don’t finish below .500”?

Let’s see how that goes with a 17th game likely added this season and the Steelers’ recent propensity to fade late in the calendar.

Although, I’m sure that won’t be a worry either, and they’ll be right back atop the AFC North in 2022.


Tim Benz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tim at [email protected] or via Twitter. All tweets could be reposted. All emails are subject to publication unless specified otherwise.


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