The goal is always the same. It's one that will never change. And when you don't achieve that goal, there is disappointment.
For Coach Mike Tomlin and the Steelers, that goal is winning a Super Bowl.
This year they came close, losing in the AFC Championship Game to the New England Patriots.
But Tomlin knows…close doesn't count.
"My goal was to be world champs. And we weren't that," said Tomlin. "I think it's our desire to be world champs, and it's not us this year. There are consequences for not being that. There's an assessing that comes with not being that. No different than any other year when we haven't won it. All of that is being said because we want to increase our chances of being that group next year.
"There is disappointment associated with that. There is assessing associated with that. We will have sufficient time in terms of doing that, as we get into the offseason. In the midst of that disappointment, there is some great opportunity to gather information and to start the process that is the beginnings of 2017. That is what a lot of the end of the year business is about for us. It wraps a bow around what is 2016, but largely it sets a trajectory and provides black and white information for us, as we lay the foundation for 2017."
The process of laying the foundation has already begun with Tomlin meeting with players over the next few days, and then with his coaching staff. And it will continue in other areas as the offseason progresses, from free agency, to the NFL Draft, to setting a schedule for OTAs and much more.
"That is very much a necessary part of business and assessing what happened, and like I said, it's setting a trajectory for 2017," said Tomlin. "We are going to analyze schematically everything that we have done in all three phases in 2016, cutups and so forth, game tape, as a staff. We are going to analyze the people that we are doing it with, the division of labor within the group, the group itself. All of those are very necessary parts at this time of year. We will be multi-tasking as we do those things.
"All of those things and others are just getting started. Such is life this time of year. We always want to be in the hunt. We were in the hunt this year. We are not 'the' team. We understand and accept that. But it won't change our mentality or our spirit as we push forward towards 2017. The goals and the aspirations won't change whatsoever. Some of the people will. That's just the nature of our business. Some of the division of labor will. That's just the nature of our business. But in spirit, we will approach it the same."
Tomlin weighed in on a handful of players, from starters to young players, and free agents to practice squad players.
On Alejandro Villanueva and his progress this year:* *"I thought he grew by leaps and bounds, not that I'm surprised by it. He's a sharp guy. He's a tough, diligent and prepared worker. I think it's reasonable to expect his play to continue to be on the rise as he gets more snaps, experience and exposure."
On what he learned about Landry Jones and Sammie Coates in the AFC Championship Game:
"They had their moments for us, positively and negatively. Both (are) young guys. Both guys ascended through the ranks throughout the course of the season, some of it by virtue of their work and some of it by virtue of things that happened around them, injuries to others and so forth. Man, I appreciate their contributions. Those guys have to continue to grow, get better and find a more consistent level of performance. But that's the same for all young guys. I'm appreciative of the ground that they covered. But at the same time, I'm going to challenge those guys to continue to grow. And I think it's reasonable to expect that to occur."
On Bud Dupree:* *"I think the overall trajectory in his play is an upward one. Man, he's a talented young guy. It's unfortunate he had to deal with injury over the course of the front part of the season. I like the way he came off it. I'm excited as we move forward, in terms of him being a core contributor to us and the things we ask him to do."
On if he has any indication regarding Le'Veon Bell, a free agent, returning:* *"I have an indication of that. But again, none of those decisions occur in a vacuum. Free agency is what it is. It's free for him, it's free for us. We'll assess it and see if the two sides can come together and do business again. I know it was a pleasant experience, the two years that he's been a part of this."
On if he can say what he saw in Karlos Williams, who was on the team's practice squad this year and was signed to a futures contract this week:* *"I really can't, because there really wasn't a lot of evaluation opportunity there. I think in signing him, we're saying we're interested in seeing what he's capable of, not that we have an assessment of what he's capable of. Any of these guys that come aboard during the course of this journey, particularly the guys as we're well into the season and we're not practicing in pads, to say that we have an assessment of what they're capable of is not accurate. Suffice it to say that if we sign any of those guys to futures, it's because we're potentially interested in what they might be, and we might not have a real assessment of what they're capable of being."