I won’t fib. I thought it was funny and intriguing some time ago when Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams of the Green Bay Packers posted the same photo on their Instagram story. If you’re a little out of the loop, Michael Jordan referred to the “Last Dance” as basically his last go around with the Chicago Bulls back in the ’90’s because of issues going on with team management.
This is it. In essence, Rodgers and Adams are saying this is it for their time in Green Bay. This week, however, the Pittsburgh Steelers veteran cornerback Joe Haden made the following tweet:
— Joe Haden (@joehaden23) September 1, 2021
The more I thought about it, he isn’t the only one who could be entering their final season in Pittsburgh.
While there is always the opportunity for these guys (four that I think of immediately) to return to Pittsburgh in 2022, it may not be that simple. Some of these will make perfect sense, be tough realities, and not even be guaranteed one way or another. However, the NFL is a tough business to be in. For these four Steelers, this could very well be… the “Last Dance”…
1. Terrell Edmunds
Of the 4 on this list, I believe Terrell Edmunds is the least likely to get away easily. Yes, the Steelers elected to not pick up his fifth-year option. However, if he has another solid year—but nothing spectacular—he could be a bargain for the buck retention.
His 2020 year was a step up and he has slowly progressed since being drafted in 2018. Is he at the same level as his fellow 2018 classmate starting at the other safety spot [Minkah Fitzpatrick]? Certainly not. However, Edmunds has improved his tackling, coverage, and ball instincts. They aren’t where they could be—but people forget that progress is progress. Expecting every player every year to make All-Pro leaps is unrealistic.
Edmunds will enter this contract year with a lot to prove. The intriguing spectrum is this: if he performs poorly or phenomenally, he won’t be back in Pittsburgh next year. Why? The former is one you can probably deduce on your own. The latter? Simple. If he performs at a phenomenal level—like the 2019 Bud Dupree type of leap—he will get a rich deal in 2022 free agency.
2. JuJu Smith-Schuster
He almost left in 2021. The issue was simple though: the money from other teams wasn’t really there. The cap drop hurt a lot of teams. Most of the teams with the most money didn’t need a wide receiver or were in the position to get rich, high-pick talent in the draft. Despite being offered deals upwards of $12M & $13M (including incentives), JuJu decided to return to Pittsburgh with the return of Ben Roethlisberger.
JuJu has become a fan favorite and has been an asset to the Steelers receiving corps the past four years as he approaches his 5th season. The crazy thing about this is that he would have five years of experience under his belt and be a free agent at the age of 25. He will have suitors in an increased 2022 cap market—make no mistake about it.
There could be a chance he returns to Pittsburgh in 2022. However, with the Steelers in a position to pay T.J. Watt and Minkah Fitzpatrick, needing to retain other free agents, and the fact the Steelers are in a class of their own in finding WR gems in the draft… this could be it.
3. Joe Haden
Well, you could see this one coming from the foreshadowing earlier. Joe Haden has been arguably the best corner the Steelers have acquired in the 2010s. After being cut by the Cleveland Browns, Haden joined the Steelers in 2017; making an instant difference. You might say he came along “too slow” that first year in Pittsburgh, but don’t forget how much he was missed when he was out a few games after a leg injury in Indianapolis.
Joe Haden not only has been a big contributor talent-wise, but he is also the veteran leader in his position group. His loss would certainly be a blow for the young guys in the locker room. Guys like Cameron Sutton, James Pierre, and Justin Layne wouldn’t have that valuable resource on hand. Haden is a well-liked, super respected guy in the locker room.
As we stated before, the NFL is a tough business to be in. The reality is that Joe is 32 years old—33 next off-season. If he can maintain his level of play, I don’t see why the Steelers wouldn’t try to bring him back for another year. Likewise with JuJu and Edmunds’ situations, though, if he performs well enough, someone will pay him more than the Steelers are willing.
4. Ben Roethlisberger
You saw this coming. You aren’t ready for it. Neither am I. I know a lot of folks are thinking, “if he plays well and feels good at the end of the year, why couldn’t he come back?” And that is my exact same train of thought. The greatest roadblock, however, is his contract. It expires into those void years very shortly after the Super Bowl. Plus, for all the talk and questioning of “how good will this Steelers team be around Ben if he returns?” in 2020… how much better or worse would it be in 2021?
There’s a lot of questions and assumptions about Ben’s potential final year. If he wins the Super Bowl, if they make a deep run but fall short, if they are one and done, if they miss the playoffs altogether… make no mistake, if Ben has a great year, does great things in the postseason, and makes it through 17+ games in good shape, if he wants to come back in 2022, the Steelers will probably make it work. But you just get the feeling that Ben wants to end his career the way he did 15 years ago when he sent Jerome Bettis off into the sunset; Lombardi in hand. Of all the guys on the list, this is a Last Dance we need to cherish the most.
Agree or disagree with this list? Do yinz think anyone else should be on this list as well? Click to comment below!