Steelers still think they can win…for some reason

Pittsburgh Steelers

With their trade for tight end Nick Vannett, the 0-3 Pittsburgh Steelers continue to operate like a 3-0 team. It’s time they accepted their reality.

When the Pittsburgh Steelers fell to 0-2 in their Week 2 matchup with the Seattle Seahawks, and lost quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to a season-ending elbow injury in the same game, pretty much everyone wrote them out of the AFC playoff picture. Since 2002, only 14 of the 133 teams who started 0-2 wound up making the playoffs (11 percent).

Bearing that in mind, no one would’ve been surprised to see the Steelers accept their new reality, see what they have in backup quarterback Mason Rudolph and either stand pat, or operate more like a tanking team. When Pittsburgh fell to 0-3, it felt like the nail in their coffin.

However, none of this has stopped general manager Kevin Colbert from operating like the 0-3 Steelers are 3-0. On Tuesday night, ESPN‘s Adam Schefter reported the team had made yet another move, trading for tight end Nick Vannett. According to NFL Network‘s Tom Pelissero, the Seahawks will receive a 2020 fifth-round draft pick from Pittsburgh.

Steelers tight end Vance McDonald is currently dealing with a shoulder sprain, and while he’s not expected to miss an extended period of time, this move addresses Pittsburgh’s depth at a thin position.

This deal, of course, comes just over a week after the Steelers gave up their 2020 first-rounder, a 2020 fifth-rounder and a 2021 sixth-rounder for safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. Sure, Colbert got a 2020 fourth-rounder and 2021 seventh-rounder from the Miami Dolphins in return, but Pittsburgh is shelling out draft picks with every wave of a Terrible Towel.

Roethlisberger seems dead-set on returning healthy in 2020, so completely blowing it up was never in Pittsburgh’s agenda. But as much as the Fitzpatrick deal could somewhat be defended since he’s young, on a cheap contract, addresses a position of need and will help make the team better when Big Ben returns, it was still a worrisome indication the Steelers weren’t ready to accept their fate for the 2019-20 season.

That road game against the San Francisco 49ers felt like a must-win situation, and dropping to 0-3 should’ve laid this team’s playoff aspirations to rest. Yet Colbert is still wheeling and dealing, adding a fourth-year tight end with 48 catches for 425 yards and four career touchdowns to his name. A fifth-round pick may not sound like much, but it’s definitely more than Vannett is worth.

McDonald could miss some time with his shoulder injury, so it makes sense to try and find a capable replacement to address this sudden position of need. Shelling out more draft picks for a below-average fill-in, however, is how a team with legitimate Super Bowl hopes would be expected to operate, not an 0-3 squad playing with a backup quarterback after losing both Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell in the offseason.

Mason Rudolph hasn’t been terrible since taking over, throwing four touchdowns in his first two games and only two interceptions (one of which was Sidney Moncrief’s fault). Unfortunately, he’s only completed 26 of his 46 passes (56.5 percent), averaging 6.2 yards per attempt. He’s simply not good enough to get Pittsburgh out of this early hole.

To be fair, the Steelers have the third-easiest remaining schedule in the NFL. No one in the AFC North is undefeated through Week 3, and the Steelers actually hung tough on the road against a 3-0 Niners team.

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However, with as busy as Colbert has been over the last six months, his moves over the last few weeks suggest an alarming lack of self-awareness. The Pittsburgh Steelers stopped being Super Bowl contenders the moment Big Ben went down. They stopped being a playoff team when they fell to 0-2. And shortsighted, win-now trades like this stopped making sense before they fell to 0-3.

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