PITTSBURGH -- No need to tell Pittsburgh Steelers president Art Rooney II about the difficulties of finding transcendent talents.
He has seen three absurdly good players -- linebacker Ryan Shazier, wide receiver Antonio Brown and running back Le'Veon Bell -- lead his team to victories only to leave the lineup, potentially for good.
When asked about losing top-15 players such as these, Rooney acknowledged the obvious with the trade discussion around Brown: Talent prevails.
"That's one reason why we haven't made any decisions on Antonio yet," Rooney said in a Wednesday interview with a small group of local reporters.
Loose translation: All-Pros are really hard to find, no matter how difficult. That's why any exchange for Brown must produce serious draft capital. And the Steelers are hemorrhaging top talent. As a result, this offseason is shaping up to be a test of mettle for an organization that must strengthen the roster on the fly.
The loss of Shazier to a severe spinal injury in late 2017, coupled with Bell's yearlong holdout and the seemingly inevitable trade of Brown, are nearly impossible to replace on the surface. Shazier wants to continue rehabbing for a return to football, and the Steelers plan to help him with that, but he's not in the plans for the 2019 roster.
To be sure, the Steelers are good enough to win games without those players. And quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who's due an extension this offseason, gives Pittsburgh a chance in every game.
With a little creativity, they can be right back in contention.
They have $27.72 million in salary-cap space, according to OverTheCap.com. They can create more with roster cuts and restructuring the final year on Roethlisberger's deal.
"We have a lot to things to evaluate," Rooney said. "Having a little extra cap space always helps, that's for sure."
Rooney said the Steelers feel good about their running-back lineup with "two good, young players" in James Conner and Jaylen Samuels. The Steelers haven't made a firm decision on whether to place the franchise tag on Bell for a third consecutive year, but Conner made a Pro Bowl in his first season as a starter and Samuels is a natural pass-catcher. They can roll with those two players if Bell's situation has become too explosive.
"We feel like we're in pretty good shape there," Rooney said. "The linebacker position is still something we need to address. It's a challenge, no doubt about it."
That's where the Brown trade could help. Perhaps leveraging Brown for a first-round pick could help the Steelers land a top linebacker such as LSU's Devin White. Getting a first-rounder, though, is hardly a guarantee for a receiver turning 31 in July, no matter how great.
Rooney would like to see more turnovers created on defense and improvement in the secondary. A rangy inside linebacker to pair with Vince Williams would provide balance to the front seven.
Life without Bell and Brown will quell the storylines coming out of Pittsburgh's locker room but hurt the team's talent quotient.
As Rooney points out, the team has seen big personalities come and go.
"We work hard to try to bring people here who are a good fit," Rooney said. "But people are different, and we’ve had some different characters here and there over the years. ... If there are lessons to be learned here, we’ll look at that and see if we can do better.”