The Buccaneers went from 7-9 to Super Bowl champion less than a year after acquiring Tom Brady. The Rams, a 10-6 outfit in 2020, won this year's Super Bowl after trading for Matthew Stafford. The Steelers, a 9-7-1 team in 2021, are now in position to mimic the success of Tampa and Los Angeles if they are able to acquire Aaron Rodgers, who has reportedly listed Pittsburgh as one of his preferred destinations if he chooses to play outside of Green Bay.
Obviously, the odds of Rodgers becoming the Steelers' next quarterback are still slim. The Titans and Broncos were also mentioned as teams that Rodgers would be interesting in playing for if he decides to move on from the Packers. Of course, there's always the chance that Rodgers will elect to remain with the franchise that drafted him way back in 2005. For all we know, Rodgers could very well be using the Titans, Broncos and Steelers as leverage in order to sweeten the deal that he and the Packers are reportedly working on.
But let's imagine, for a moment, that Rodgers does pick the Steelers as the team that he wants to play for moving forward. Pittsburgh would surely have to give up at least two first-round picks (including the 21st overall pick in this year's draft) to acquire the reigning two-time league MVP. The Steelers have the picks to make such a trade happen. They also have the money, as Pittsburgh may have as much as $60 million in cap space at the start of the new league year.
Instead of an impending rebuild, the Steelers' championship window would be wide open if Rodgers comes to Pittsburgh. Sure, adding Rodgers doesn't solve the team's current needs on the offensive line, but he would give the Steelers arguably the league's best player at the most important position in sports. We saw how that worked out for Tampa and Los Angeles; there's no reason to think that a similar thing wouldn't happen for Rodgers in Pittsburgh.
Here's a look at what the Steelers' starting lineup could look like with Rodgers in tow for the 2022 season. It's not a perfect unit, but it's certainly good enough to compete with the likes of Cincinnati, Kansas City and Buffalo for the AFC crown.
** denotes players who aren't currently on the roster
Aaron Rodgers **
Ryan Jensen **
It's no secret that Rodgers and Adams want to continue to play together, as the duo has become the league's best QB-WR combo over the past several years. Adams is slated to become a free agent as long as the Packers don't franchise tag him. If they do, the Steelers would have to trade away more assets to acquire him. If he is able to test the market, Adams will be looking for a deal that will make him one of the league's highest-paid receivers. Pittsburgh has the money to make that happen, but it would likely come at the expense of Johnson, the team's most productive receiver since joining the team in 2019.
With Adams, the Steelers would have the skill position players to rival the Bengals, who boast quarterback Joe Burrow, receivers Ja'Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd and running back Joe Mixon. Along with Rodgers, Adams, Claypool and Johnson, Pittsburgh's offense would also include Harris, who amassed nearly 1,700 all-purpose yards and 10 touchdowns as a rookie. The Steelers also have a young, emerging tight end in Freiermuth, who caught seven touchdowns during his rookie season.
The big question is the offensive line, which started two rookies during Ben Roethlisberger's final season. Moore definitely made strides during his rookie season, but the Steelers will probably acquire a veteran for added insurance at left tackle. Green may be moved to guard after spending most of his rookie campaign at center. If that happens, the Steelers could bring in a proven center in free agency. That veteran could be Jensen, who helped Brady win his seventh Super Bowl ring in Tampa. There are several more affordable options at center if the Steelers want to use more of their money elsewhere. The Steelers will also use the draft to further strengthen their offensive line.
When healthy, the Steelers have one of the NFL's top units. Led by Defensive Player of the Year T.J. Watt, Pittsburgh led the league in sacks for a fifth consecutive season in 2021. They were also among the league's top units on third down and in the red zone. Most of their issues against the run last season was due to the absence of Tuitt and Alualu. If both players can return to their 2020 form, the Steelers' run defense shouldn't be an issue.
The Steelers could try to sign cornerback J.C. Jackson, but it's more likely that they will re-sign either Haden or Ahkello Witherspoon, who led the Steelers in interceptions in 2021. Pittsburgh will probably draft an inside linebacker given Bush's struggles last season. That could lead to the Steelers retaining veteran Schobert, despite his expensive price tag. Terrell Edmunds could return, but in the event that he doesn't, the Steelers will look to upgrade at strong safety as opposed to finding a "hold the fort" player, as Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells would say. Speaking of safety, the Steelers will have to save enough money for Fitzpatrick, who is entering his final year under contract.
To cap it off, the Steelers have one of the league's best kickers in Chris Boswell, who last year made at least 90% of his field goal attempts for a third straight year. The Steelers have the roster, the resources and the coaching to compete for a Lombardi Trophy in 2022 if Rodgers comes to Pittsburgh. Rodgers doesn't guarantee a ring, but the Steelers' odds at winning one are substantially greater with him under center.