On Friday we learned long-time Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert will step down after the 2022 NFL Draft. It is yet another sign that big changes are coming to an organization that prides itself on stability, particularly at the top.
Colbert has been with the Steelers since 2000, when he began a run as director of football operations for a decade. He was promoted and named the first general manager in Steelers history in 2010, and added a vice president title in 2016. During his time with the franchise, the Steelers have won two Super Bowls and during his 11 seasons as general manager, they went to the postseason eight times and won five AFC North titles. Pittsburgh also never had a losing record on Colbert's watch.
With Ben Roethlisberger announcing his retirement and Colbert walking away, big things will be changing in the Steel City. Head coach Mike Tomlin will be returning and will provide stability, and the team will still have defensive leaders in Cameron Heyward and T.J. Watt. The franchise will still possess some reliable offensive pieces like Najee Harris, Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool and Pat Freiermuth. But given the rise of the Cincinnati Bengals, the ever present competition from the Baltimore Ravens and the potential of the Cleveland Browns, the Steelers need to modernize and add young talent.
Pittsburgh will enter the offseason armed with the 20th pick in the 2022 NFL Draft and a projected $33.8 million in cap space. Priority No. 1 has to be finding Colbert's replacement, but barely behind it is figuring out a long-term solution at quarterback. Mason Rudolph and Dwayne Haskins haven't proven worthy of building a franchise around. The Steelers are "unlikely" to pursue trades for Russell Wilson or Aaron Rodgers, so they're left with drafting Big Ben's successor or finding a veteran replacement in free agency.
While the draft is usually the best route for finding a quarterback of the future, the 2022 class is incredibly weak. There is no Trevor Lawrence or Joe Burrow as a consensus No. 1 this year. In fact, there may not even be a Mac Jones in this class. Pitt's Kenny Pickett, Liberty's Malik Willis and Ole Miss' Matt Corral are the consensus top three signal-callers available and there's a chance none of them go in the top 10. That would be absolutely wild.
Instead of having a sure shot at a Roethlisberger replacement, the Steelers are left with a really risky decision to make. They could also opt to dip into the free agency ranks to find a stopgap, but the pickings are pretty slim. Jameis Winston, Teddy Bridgewater, Tyrod Taylor, Mitchell Trubisky and Marcus Mariota will be available. None of those options are particularly appealing.
Aside from quarterback, the Steelers also need to beef up the offensive line. Both in pass protection and creating room for Harris to run, the line struggled in 2021. An infusion of talent there is sorely needed, especially with a new -- and likely young -- quarterback coming next year.
The secondary also needs a major boost. Joe Haden is likely to hit free agency and the team's cornerbacks haven't shown they can be long-term answers at the position.
The Steelers have a nice core of players, and some really good young guys in the mix. But major changes are coming at key spots. It will be an offseason of change in Pittsburgh. The franchise absolutely has to nail the general manager hire and its quarterback decision, or it risks getting left behind in the AFC North.