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5 for Friday: Heyward's win a victory for everyone

Cameron Heyward's winning of the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award last week is a significant moment not just for Heyward, but for the Steelers as an organization.

The award, which is given for off-field philanthropy and work, is a crowning achievement. To be recognized as the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year means you have stood out among a pretty significant group of people who have worked extremely hard in giving back to their communities.

Heyward certainly earned that through his charitable work.

Heyward became the fifth Steelers player to win the prestigious award, joining Jerome Bettis, Joe Greene, Lynn Swann and Franco Harris, which is some extremely good company in which to be included.

Heyward's winning of the NFL's most prestigious award also is a victory for the Steelers.

The Steelers' previous four winners all are enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. In fact, a look at the list of previous winners of the award shows that the vast majority are Hall of Fame players.

It's also significant because with their fifth Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year winner. The Steelers matched the Chiefs for the most in the NFL since the award was created in 1969, when it was called The Gladiator Award before morphing into the Man of the Year and finally being re-named to honor Payton, the 1977 winner.

There are more than 1,700 players in the NFL each season. And of that group, many are involved in giving back to their communities, both in the cities in which they play and their hometowns.

To be nominated by your team for the Walter Payton Man of the Year is a big deal. To win the award is quite an achievement and recognition for a job well done, not just on the field, but off it, as well.

Heyward winning Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year is something about which he should be very proud. The Steelers and their fans have every reason to be proud, as well.

• At his season-ending press conference, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin was asked if he believed the team's 2024 quarterback was currently on the roster.

Tomlin's reply was, "Yes."

Only one thing has changed between that time and now, and that is that the Steelers earlier this week released veteran quarterback Mitch Trubisky – along with offensive tackle Chuks Okorafor and punter Pressley Harvin.

That means the player about which Tomlin is referring when he talks about the 2024 quarterback being on the roster is either Kenny Pickett or Mason Rudolph. Yes, Rudolph, a pending free agent, remains under contract to the Steelers until the start of the new league year begins March 13.

At every turn over the past month since their season ended with a playoff loss to the Buffalo Bills, the Steelers have expressed an interest in having Pickett and Rudolph compete for their starting job in 2024 while also acknowledging that Rudolph is capable of deciding he'd like to go somewhere else in free agency.

That's how free agency works. It's an opportunity for players to measure their worth to the league.

That's why when Tomlin was asked about his interest in having Rudolph back to compete with Pickett, his answer to that particular question was, "It is, but he is a free agent, and it is free agency. And so, we'll see where that leads us."

If that wasn't a strong enough answer, team president Art Rooney II expressed several times at his season-ending press conference that he also wanted Rudolph to return.

"We're interested in bringing Mason back," Rooney said.

But he also acknowledged that Rudolph's pending free agency makes that a bit of an unknown.

"Mason did show what we're capable of on offense with the personnel we have here right now," Rooney said. "That's encouraging in terms of Mason's ceiling. I don't know if we've seen his ceiling yet. We drafted him high for a reason. Felt like he had a lot of ability. I think we saw that. He's probably going to have some options. It's going to be a question of whether he wants to come back, whether we can make the deal to get him back. That being said, (I) still feel good about Kenny and his ability to evolve as well."

So, while the offseason speculation on talk shows and social media centers on the Steelers making a big pitch for this quarterback or that quarterback, the reality is that none of that stuff is likely to happen – unless Rudolph signs elsewhere.

Then the Steelers will have to make a decision about what player they'll add as competition for Pickett.

• Now that the Super Bowl is over, the focus of the NFL world completely turns to the 2024 season.

For the Steelers – and everyone else in the AFC, for that matter – the fact the Chiefs have been to four Super Bowls, winning three, in the past five seasons, should bring a little more clarity.

While goal No. 1 for the 15 other AFC teams should be winning their division, goal No. 2 is how to beat the Chiefs.

But teams do have to be careful when building with those things in mind, because they're two entirely different things.

For example, in the case of the Steelers, what you need to do to defeat the Baltimore Ravens, Cleveland Browns or Cincinnati Bengals might be far different – at least defensively – than what you need to do to beat Kansas City or any of the other top teams in the AFC.

The key is building a team that is capable of playing many different ways.

The Steelers learned that the hard way in 2017. After losing to the Patriots in the AFC Championship in the 2016 season, the Steelers built themselves the next season with an eye on handling the quick passing game of New England.

But it was the power running game and opportunistic defense of the Jaguars that hammered them in the regular season and again in the postseason.

There are two things that travel well in the NFL and can play in any time of weather. The first is a good running game. The second is a good defense.

Build your team around those two things and take care of the football and you'll have a chance in any game.

That is what the Steelers are doing in building their current roster. Since they don't have a quarterback like Patrick Mahomes – who does? – they're building a roster that more closely resembles that of the 49ers.

And, with a bounce of the ball one way or another, the 49ers could have beaten the Chiefs last Sunday.

Continuing to build in that way is a more sustainable way to foster success in the long term.

There are about 25 to 30 teams in the NFL that would trade their quarterback situation for Mahomes. And the ones that wouldn't are only deluding themselves. He's a special player.

But that also doesn't mean that teams should stop trying to win despite not having a player of his talents at the league's most important position.

Mahomes is now most often compared to New England's Tom Brady for obvious reasons. Brady was 35-13 in his illustrious career in the postseason. That means that, despite all of his success, Brady also saw his teams lose 13 times without winning the Super Bowl.

In fact, after winning Super Bowl 49 for their third win in four seasons in 2005, the Patriots and Brady didn't win the Super Bowl again until 2015. They went to two other Super Bowls in that 10-year span, but fell short of winning.

In that period in between New England Super Bowl wins, the Steelers went to three and won two.

Mahomes and the Chiefs aren't going to go every season, even if it feels that way right now. The key is continuing to build a complete roster.

• Plenty of publications and web sites will come out with post-Super Bowl "Power Rankings" in the aftermath of the end of the 2023 season.

They're actually nothing more than talking points at this time of the year. With free agency looming in a few weeks and then the draft a month or so after that, every team in the league will see a turnover of roughly 20 or so players.

The key is how many of those 20 or so players are key contributors and if you add more of those than you subtract.

In that regard, the Steelers are in pretty good shape.

Of their core 22 regular starters, all but a couple are scheduled to be free agents.

The Steelers can continue to build to that core this offseason. Not every team in the league will be able to say the same.

• Moving on from punter Harvin earlier this week was the right move to make.

Harvin is talented. He's got a big leg. But he also never adjusted to kicking in poor weather, which is a must if you're going to be the punter in Pittsburgh.

Harvin averaged 45.2 yards per punt in the first four games of the season over his career. But in games in Week 13 and beyond, that average dipped to 41.9 yards per punt.

The Steelers could have brought Harvin back and provided him with some serious competition. The problem with that, however, is that Harvin has had competition before.

And as evidenced from his career stats, he's a much different kicker in August and September than he is in December and January.

So the past couple of seasons, they had brought legitimate competition to camp to work against Harvin, only to see him win the job. That included Braden Mann last season.

Harvin was clearly the better option when the Steelers made the decision to keep him over Mann a year ago. He kicked the ball better throughout August.

But following his release, Mann was signed by the Eagles and averaged 49.8 yards per punt. Harvin, meanwhile, was at 43.8 yards.

The Steelers decided to not be tempted by Harvin's August kicking again.

Dale Lolley is co-host of "SNR Drive" on Steelers Nation Radio. Subscribe to the podcast here: Apple Podcast | iHeart Podcast

There was perhaps a chance the Steelers could have gotten something in return for Okorafor via a trade. After all, in an offensive lineman-starved league, a 26-year-old offensive tackle with 59 career starts under his belt could be attractive.

The problem the Steelers had, however, is that any interest in Okorafor via a trade probably wasn't going to appear until after the NFL Draft in April.

With free agency set to kick off in a few weeks and a draft that is deep in offensive tackles, teams were more likely to try to fill their needs via one of those two avenues before considering a trade for a veteran tackle.

So the Steelers decided to make the move with Okorafor now rather than wait.

It helps them in terms of salary cap relief now and Okorafor with getting a fresh start with a new team.