NFL Scouting Combine: Steelers alter their draft approach
Friday, February 22, 2008
By Paul Zeise, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
INDIANAPOLIS -- The Steelers will pick the best player available when it is their turn in April's NFL draft.
That's not exactly a stunning revelation because many teams take the "best player available" approach. But Steelers director of football operations Kevin Colbert said yesterday it is a welcome change in their approach from years past when they went into the draft focused on filling specific needs.
Colbert said the roster is stable and has few, if any, obvious holes at any position, so the Steelers have a lot more flexibility with their pick.
"Right now, other than quarterback and tight end, two positions we're deep and very young, we could really add a player at any position and improve our team," Colbert said at the NFL Scouting Combine. "We have 22 guys from last year's team and, though we may lose a couple, we have younger guys ready to step in, so we can fill a number of spots with this draft. And I've said it a number of times -- this is a great draft to do that because there is so much depth at so many spots.
"We do [have the luxury of taking the best player available], and like I said, we're not going to take a quarterback, we're not likely to take a tight end, but we could take a player at just about any other position. We wanted to go into this draft and not be need-specific."
Because the Steelers have the 22nd pick in the draft, Colbert said, it is important for them to be flexible because it is not likely they are going to get one of the players considered a "can't miss" or "immediate impact" prospect.
That doesn't mean there won't be a lot of good players for the Steelers to choose from, particularly at some positions, such as offensive tackle, which is considered to be extremely deep. Colbert also said the Steelers will look at a number of defensive front seven players, but they are only interested in those who can play in the 4-3 and the 3-4.
"We're still committed to the 3-4, but we'll be open to guys who can play in both systems," Colbert said. "But in the short term, they will have a specific role in our current system, but they'd need to be able to make that transition if we ever do transition. We want that flexibility. The guys we want are really not scheme specific, they are good players who can fit in any scheme."
While the draft is on Colbert's mind this week because of the combine, a lot can change between now and late April because the free agent signing period begins next week.
Colbert said the Steelers' main focus now is to evaluate their free agents and decide which they can afford to and need to keep, then to look at free agents from other teams to possibly fill a need. He said the Steelers are unlikely to sign a big name free agent because it is not their way of doing business.
The Steelers began the offseason with nine potential unrestricted free agents and five potential restricted free agents but signed defensive end Travis Kirschke to a two-year deal and designated offensive tackle Max Starks with the "transition" tag.
Colbert said the team had two reasons for designating Starks, who would have become an unrestricted free agent Feb. 29, as the transition player: They have accepted that they are not going to be able to keep Pro Bowl guard Alan Faneca (an unrestricted free agent) and need some stability on the offensive line. It also gives them more flexibility on draft day.
Colbert added that Starks was given the transition tag -- which gives the Steelers the right of first refusal if another team tried to sign him -- because the team will have more flexibility in negotiating with him.
The transition player is guaranteed at least a one-year deal at no less than the average salary of the 10 highest-paid players at his position, which in Starks case (offensive tackle) would be about $6.9 million. A franchise player, however, is guaranteed no less than the average salary of the five highest paid at his position, which at tackle would be about $7.5 million.
Colbert insists that the Starks deal was not motivated by left tackle Marvel Smith's back injury and said the Steelers expect Smith to make a full recovery for next season.
"The chances of signing Alan are minimal at this point, so we had to make a decision about who we could sign," Colbert said. "Our situation was clear -- Max was an unrestricted free agent, [tackle] Trai Essex is a free agent, Marvel Smith is coming off back surgery, and we just wanted to protect our interest with Max and we think he wants to stay."
There is one big-money deal the Steelers want to get down this offseason, but it doesn't involve a free agent. The team would like to finalize a long-term contract extension for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger even though he has two years remaining on his original deal. Colbert said that is likely to happen sooner rather than later.
"We are moving along. It is something that is progressing very well and we'd like to be able to finalize it," Colbert said. "But it is a big deal for him and a big deal for us. But all signs are positive that we are going to get it done."