Rooney: Steelers' late push led to decision to retain Canada
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By WILL GRAVES
PITTSBURGH (AP) Art Rooney II wants the Pittsburgh Steelers to score more points. He's confident the partnership between offensive coordinator Matt Canada and quarterback Kenny Pickett can make it happen.
The Steelers president pointed to Pittsburgh's surge to a 9-8 finish following a 2-6 start - a surge fueled by some late-game heroics from Pickett - as proof an offense that ranked 26th in points and 23rd in yards is heading in the right direction going into 2023.
That momentum is the main reason the Steelers opted to bring Canada back for a third season.
"(Canada and Pickett) seem to work well together," Rooney said Thursday. "You know, they built a good working relationship. To start over again with a new offensive coordinator (if we moved on), we could wind up back in the same situation again where the first half of the season you're breaking in a new coordinator."
While Rooney lamented a nightmarish first two months of the season that included losing star outside linebacker T.J. Watt for seven games because of an injury and tentative play by quarterback Mitch Trubisky that led Pickett being thrust into the starting job at halftime of a Week 4 loss to the New York Jets, Rooney praised coach Mike Tomlin for mounting an improbable run at the playoffs over the second half.
"I think we wound up with a rookie quarterback who got better as the season went on," Rooney said. "And I think we're excited about the future because of that. So I think those things are encouraging the way Mike handled them."
Rooney demurred when asked if the Steelers will offer Tomlin a contract extension during the offseason. Tomlin, who is 163-93-2 since succeeding Hall of Famer Bill Cowher in 2007, has two years left on his current deal, a timeframe in which the Steelers traditionally approach their head coaches about a new deal.
Rooney said he didn't want to "speculate," but made it clear the way Pittsburgh performed over its final nine games provided ample evidence Tomlin remains firmly in charge of a young roster that included no starter on offense over the age of 26.
"The No. 1 thing I want to see is if you get better as the season goes on," Rooney said. "It should be your best team as the season goes on. I think we did that."
The Steelers will have a chance to reload over the next several months. The decision to trade wide receiver Chase Claypool to Chicago at midseason for a second-round pick gives Pittsburgh three selections inside the top 50 when the draft convenes in Kansas City in late April.
The club could also have some money to spend in free agency to supplement a defense that has stars in all three levels in Watt, defensive tackle Cam Heyward and All-Pro safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. However it also has depth issues, particularly at cornerback and inside linebacker.
Rooney said it was "too early" to lay out what the team might do on the open market, but added "we'll do the best we can to try to plug holes where we think we have them."
The Steelers were active in free agency last spring during the final days of longtime general manager Kevin Colbert's tenure. O mar Khan replaced Colbert in May. Khan lured Andy Weidl away from Philadelphia to serve as his assistant general manager. Weidl played a critical role in the roster construction of an Eagles team that is hosting the NFC championship game this weekend.
Rooney expects to see changes in the way Khan and Weidl approach the draft compared to Colbert and said he likes the way Khan has gone about his preparation so far, though he declined to offer specifics on what Khan is doing differently.
Though the 70-year-old Rooney joked "he's not getting any younger" don't expect the Steelers to move too far away from the draft-and-develop model that's made them one of the most consistent teams in the NFL.
Pittsburgh hasn't had a losing season since 2003, though the club also hasn't won a playoff game in six years, the longest drought in the AFC North. It's a fact not lost on Rooney, who didn't rule out the team "taking some chances" in free agency, but doesn't expect to deviate much from "The Steeler Way" of staying the course.
"I don't see anything changing dramatically in that regard."
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Updated January 26, 2023