Kevin Colbert Left His Mark As The Steelers General Manager

“I don’t want to say better than,” said Steelers general manager, Kevin Colbert, while speaking to reporters alongside head coach Mike Tomlin during a post-draft press conference on Saturday. “I’m proud to say we added to that [trophy] room. It was four trophies. There was four when we got here. And you knew the task. You think about DMR [the late Dan Rooney] and being able to add to that room means a ton. It doesn’t mean it’s over. The next step, I mean we gotta get more than, and we’ll never lose that. But it means a lot.”

Kevin Colbert, Pittsburgh Steelers general manager

Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert at a Super Bowl Parade. Photo Credit: SI

I should say “former” Steelers general manager, Kevin Colbert. That’s right, after more than 22 years as the team’s de facto general manager– he was the Director of Football Operations from 2000-2010 — and then first official general manager (the organization simply refused to name one for the longest time), Colbert wrapped up his full-time duties with the organization on Saturday by putting the finishing touches on the Steelers 2022 NFL Draft.

In case you didn’t watch Saturday’s press conference–and in case the quote from above didn’t convey it — Colbert got surprisingly emotional when he talked about being able to help the Steelers add two more Lombardi Trophies to their trophy case during his tenure.

It was certainly a tall task to get the Steelers back to the top of the mountain after spending most of the 1970s there and giving the founder and owner — the late Art Rooney Sr. — a reason to actually have a trophy case for the first time ever in the history of what had forever been a floundering franchise.

Times were tougher in the 1980s, and after head coach Chuck Noll retired in 1991, there were a lot of near-missed in the 1990s under new head coach, and Pittsburgh native, Bill Cowher. It may have actually been because of all of those near-misses that Colbert, like Cowher, a Pittsburgh native, got a great job with his hometown football team. Tom Donahoe, the Steelers Director of Football Operations (general manager) starting in 1991, resigned from the organization after losing a power struggle with Cowher after the 1999 season. Like Cowher and Colbert, Donahue was a Pittsburgh native, but just because two people grow up in the same city, that doesn’t mean they’re going to get along.

Kevin Colbert was able to put his ego aside — if he even had one — and build some of the greatest rosters in franchise history while working alongside Cowher and his huge ego.

Dan Rooney, Dan Rooney legacy, Dan Rooney Lombardi Trophies, Dan Rooney obituary

Dan Rooney sitting in front of the Steelers 5 Lombardi Trophies. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

The fruits of their labor ended in more near-misses early on in Colbert’s reign, but after the drafting of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in 2004 — a move that was, as legend has it, “strongly encouraged” by Dan Rooney, the late, great president and owner of the franchise–Colbert was able to finally help the organization add to that room with a fifth Lombardi, thanks to a victory over the Seahawks in Super Bowl XL.

Colbert was able to do it again a few years later, this time while working alongside the Steelers’ new head coach, Mike Tomlin, a man who also seems to have — as most head coaches do — a huge ego.

Head coaches are always at the forefront and are certainly vital to a team’s fortunes, but general managers also play a huge role. They might not share the same spotlight as the coach, quarterback or often even the team owner, but they have to be involved with every facet of the organization–including drafting, development, negotiations and even disciplinary issues.

It would be easy — and maybe even understandable — for someone with so many responsibilities to yearn for the spotlight, for attention, for credit. But while Kevin Colbert certainly got the credit — and even his share of the blame when things went askew — he always seemed to be more than happy with being in the background. Don’t get me wrong, Colbert certainly spent a lot of time talking to the media during his time as the Steelers’ general manager. He didn’t hide.

  • People knew who he was.

But he never seemed to care about anything other than getting the job done and doing so with a calculated, even-keeled approach. Colbert was a calm facilitator in a profession with strong, type-A personalities.

  • The Steelers have rarely ever acted on impulse.

Even sudden moves like signing the just-released Joe Haden to a lucrative deal just days after he was released by the Browns in 2017 or trading a first-round pick to the Dolphins for safety Minkah Fitzpatrick in 2019 seemed pragmatic and sensible.

Colbert always talked about moving up or down in the first round of the draft, but the Steelers rarely did that; when they did, however, the moves usually panned out.

The Steelers have rarely acted aggressively during unrestricted free agency or when there was a public cry to get one of their own players signed to a huge deal. In order for an organization to have that kind of an approach, it needs someone who isn’t prone to overreactions. That’s a job for a person who stays the course and sticks to the plan.

  • Maybe that’s why the Steelers only had one losing season during Colbert’s tenure.

Yes, we talk about Tomlin’s streak of non-losing seasons — as well as the organization’s lack of a sub-.500 record since 2003 — but imagine being the general manager of an NFL team for 22 seasons and only suffering one losing record. Imagine being an NFL general manager for two decades and having more Super Bowls than losing seasons.

That’s amazing.

There’s a lot of luck that goes into that, but there’s also a lot of skill. Colbert certainly was a very talented NFL executive, but, to reiterate, he didn’t seem to care about getting any of the glory.

He just wanted to add to the room.

Colbert did that, and he did his job–a job that can be a hot pressure-cooker if you allow it to be–better than few in his position ever have.

  • I don’t think people realize how good Colbert was at his job.

Take a bow, Kevin Colbert, I know you don’t like to do those kinds of things, but you certainly deserve it.

 

 

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Examining Steelers 2022 Draft Needs @ Cornerback – Has Pittsburgh Done Enough?

It wasn’t long ago that the Steelers appeared to have things locked down at the cornerback position, so to speak. For a short spell, Joe Haden and Steven Nelson were good-to-great starters on the outside, while Mike Hilton was one of the best slot corners in the NFL.

  • But free agency, the constraints of the salary cap and age quickly changed that.

Mike Hilton was the first to leave, as he signed a deal with the Bengals at the onset of the 2021 free-agency period. Not long after that, Nelson was released due to the salary cap hell the Steelers found themselves in last spring.

Joe Haden was the only one left from that accomplished trio. But as of this writing, it appears that the Steelers have officially moved on from Haden, 33, who is an unrestricted free agent and has yet to sign with Pittsburgh or anyone else.

Justin Layne, Steelers vs Cardinals

Justin Layne’s early NFL action against the Cardinals in 2019. Photo Credit: AP, via Tribune-Review

Steelers Depth Chart @ Cornerback Before the 2022 NFL Draft: The Starters

Late last summer, right before the start of the regular season, the Steelers acquired Ahkello Witherspoon in a trade with the Seahawks. Witherspoon was a third-round pick by the 49ers in the 2017 NFL Draft. Witherspoon started 33 games during his four years in San Francisco before signing a one-year deal with Seattle last spring. Witherspoon was barely a factor for the Steelers for the majority of the 2021 campaign, but he started to earn starting reps down the stretch as a replacement for James Pierre and was arguably the team’s best cornerback at the end of the season.

Ahkello Witherspoon agreed to terms on a two-year deal with the Steelers in March and figures to be one of the starting outside corners in 2022.

Speaking of free agents and two-year contracts, the Steelers signed Levi Wallace, formerly of the Bills, to a two-year deal at the beginning of free agency. Wallace, an undrafted free agent in the 2018 NFL Draft, became a full-time starter in Buffalo by his second season and remained in that role through 2021. Playing opposite the highly-decorated Tre’Davious White, Wallace was a solid number two corner for the Bills and figures best suited for that same role in Pittsburgh.

Cam Sutton, a third-round pick out of Tennessee in the 2017 NFL Draft, spent his first four seasons serving many roles in the secondary, playing on the outside, in the slot and even at safety. But Sutton finally got his break and promotion in 2021, in addition to a new contract, and became a full-time starter. Again, Sutton is extremely versatile but perhaps seems destined to start in the slot in 2022, with the re-signing of Witherspoon and the addition of Wallace.

Steelers Depth Chart @ Cornerback Before the 2022 NFL Draft: The Backups

James Pierre, a 2020 undrafted free agent out of Florida Atlantic, struggled in 2021 after earning the most significant playing time of his short career.

After being selected in the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft, Justin Layne has done very little to prove he even has what it takes to be a backup cornerback, let alone a starter.

Veteran Arthur Maulet, an undrafted free agent formerly of the Saints, Colts and Jets, made Pittsburgh’s roster last year and was a steady contributor in the slot.steelers, draft, needs, priority, 2022 NFL Draft

Rounding out the Steelers depth chart at cornerback are Linden Stephens and Isaiah Johnson.

Steelers 2022 Draft Needs @ Cornerback

When talking about the Steelers’ three starters, the consensus seems to be that they are all solid number two caliber corners.

That’s a good number, but is that enough, even with a consistent and dominant pass rush? When you factor in the underwhelming depth behind those top 3, I would categorize the Steelers’ draft need at cornerback as Moderate-High

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Cornering the Market? Steelers Resign Ahkello Witherspoon, to 2 Year Contract

Kevin Colbert may have struggled at drafting cornerbacks but he’s done a pretty good job at bringing them in from the outside. So its logical that when he finds a good one, he tries to keep him. And so it is with Ahkello Witherspoon whom the Steelers resigned to a two year contract.

Ahkello Witherspoon, Steelers vs Vikings, Steelers 2022 free agent priorities

Ahkello Witherspoon’s intercepts a pass. Photo Credit: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The Steelers traded for Ahkello Witherspoon just before the season’s start, and then sat him for the better part of the first half of the season.

However, an injury to Joe Haden and struggles by James Pierre led to Witherspoon joining the line up and once there he turned heads. As observed here in Witherspoon’s free agent profile:

Despite only playing in 9 games and making 3 starts, Ahkello Witherspoon led the team in interceptions and tied Cam Heyward for passes defensed.

He also brings something else back to Pittsburgh that’s vital at the cornerback position: Youth.

Like fellow starters, Cam Sutton and new arrival Levi Wallace, Ahkello Witherspoon will by 27 in 2022, which should put him right in his athletic prime. Terms of Witherspoon’s contract haven’t leaked yet.

If that’s the case its almost certain that Witherspoon tested the market and realized that grass wasn’t greener outside of Pittsburgh. With Witherspoon’s return is a welcome development, the Steelers decision to bring him back along with their signing of Levi Wallace almost certainly ends Joe Haden’s time in Pittsburgh.

Safety Second?

Pittsburgh’s aggressiveness in free agency this spring has been unprecedented. They’ve signed 3 offensive lineman, a defensive lineman and found an inside linebacker to pair with Devin Bush, while tendering two backups behind time.

  • Now they’ve signed 2 cornerbacks.

And that leaves a gaping hole at safety. No, really it does. If the season started today either Marcus Allen would need to move back to safety or the Steelers would need to start Tre Norwood there.

Yesterday social media had reports of Tyrann Mathieu coming to Pittsburgh, and fans clearly think that’s a good idea. Terrell Edmunds remains unsigned. Either way the Steelers need to make a move, or otherwise they’re committing themselves to picking a safety early in the 2022 NFL Draft.

Follow Steelers free agency. Visit our Steelers 2022 Free Agent tracker or click here for all Steelers 2022 free agent focus articles.

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Feed the Hand that Slaps You? Steelers Sign Levi Wallace to 2 Year Contract

How’s the saying go? Don’t slap the hand that feeds you? Well, maybe in Pittsburgh they’ll have to start saying, “Feed the hand that slaps you.” The Steelers have reportedly come to terms with Buffalo Bills cornerback Levi Wallace, who is expected to sign a 2 year 8 million dollar contract on Wednesday.

Levi Wallace entered the NFL as an undrafted rookie free agent out of Alabama, who made the Bills 2018 practice squad only to be activated and start the last 7 games of the season. He started all 16 games of the 2019 season, followed by 12 starts in 2020 and 17 starts in 2021.

That has given Mike Tomlin an excellent chance to see Levi Wallace up close, perhaps a little too close, as Wallace made interceptions in his first two outings against his future employer.

Levi Wallace, Steelers vs Bill, James Washington

Bills Levi Wallace picks off Ben Roethlisberger to seal a win. Photo Credit: Democrat and Chronicle

The first time came as Devlin Hodges tried to connect with James Washington deep late in the game, as Wallace’s pick sealed victory. A year later, Levi Wallace struck again late in the 4th quarter, picking off Ben Roethlisberger as he again tried to connect with Washington.

  • In 52 NFL starts, Levi Wallace has 6 interceptions, 30 passes defensed and 7 tackles for a loss.

At 4 million dollars a year the Steelers are getting Wallace at an extremely good contract.

Be that as it may, the fact that the Steelers are targeting cornerback as a priority signing also likely spells the end of Ahkello Witherspoon’s and/or Joe Haden’s time in Pittsburgh. The Steelers also have Cameron Sutton, James Pierre and Justin Layne under contract at cornerback.

Steelers Get 4th Round Compensatory Selection

The Steelers were also informed by the NFL that they would be getting a 4th round compensatory selection. Last spring the hope was that given the loss of Bud Dupree and Mike Hilton, the Steelers might get either a third round selection or perhaps multiple selections.

  • However, injuries to Bud Dupree and the need to play Joe Haeg altered that calculation.

The Steelers have the first 4th round compensatory pick, and now have a pick in each round, save for the 5th round.

Follow Steelers free agency. Visit our Steelers 2022 Free Agent tracker or click here for all Steelers 2022 free agent focus articles.

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“Roster Bubble Baby” No More? Steelers Resign Arthur Maulet to 2 Year Contract

The Steelers second official move in free agency amounted to a bit of a surprise. After locking down special teams ace Miles Killebrew down to a 2 year contract, the Steelers followed suit with another 2 year contract for Arthur Maulet, seemingly giving him a respite on being a roster bubble baby.

Arthur Maulet, Steelers vs Broncos

Arthur Maulet with his lone pass defense in 2021. Photo Credit: Mark Alberti, Icon Sportswire via Getty Images from BTSC

Capsule Profile of Arthur Maulet Career with the Steelers

When Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said that replacing (now) Super Bowl starting slot cornerback Mike Hilton would be a multi person job he wasn’t kidding.

During the 2021 season the Steelers split slot corner duties 3 ways between starting corner Cam Sutton and rookie “Swiss Army Knife” Tre Norwood. The other person was free agent Arthur Maulet.

A quick look at his transaction history on Pro Football Reference reveals that Arthur Maulet has been a roster bubble baby throughout his entire NFL life. That did not change when he arrived in Pittsburgh, joining the Steelers after the 2021 NFL Draft, getting cut in late August, only to return to the regular season roster before opening day.

Roster bubble baby or not, Maulet quickly worked himself into line up of the Steelers secondary, playing in 15 of 17 games. Maulet struggled at times, giving up a few key plays in the Steelers game against the Bears. As the season progressed, Maulet stepped up and provided run support when it was sorely needed.

He also forced a fumble against the Titans that Minkah Fitzpatrick recovered and the Steelers converted into their only first half points for a 19-13 point win.

The Case for the Steelers Resigning Arthur Maulet

Arthur Maulet is never going to build a sexy ESPN highlight reel. But he’s shown that he can be a serviceable defensive back in a unit that needs stability. He also came up strong in run support, and the Steelers need all the hlep they can get in stopping the run.

Terms of the two year deal haven’t come out, but you can imagine its not much higher than the veteran minimum.

The Case Against the Steelers Resigning Arthur Maulet

Joe Haden, Terrell Edmunds and Ahkello Witherspoon are all free agents. And while its possible that some of them will come back, free agency is 24 hours away. The faster the clock ticks towards 12:00 March 14th, 2022, the more likely all three are to leave Pittsburgh. The Steelers still have James Pierre under contract. He might some “upside,” but are you comforted with the thought of him as the proverbial “next man up?”

  • By bringing back Arthur Maulet reinforces a liability not a strength.

Maulet might have been a respectable role player in a secondary featuring established playmakers, but remove those playmakers and Maulet becomes someone that teams exploit early and often.

Curtain’s Call on the Steelers and Maulet

Success in the salary cap era hinges on finding players that provide the biggest bang for the smallest salary cap buck.

In 2021 Kevin Colbert did some bargain hunting and found Arthur Maulet, and Maulet delivered decent value. In this writer’s humble opinion, Maulet figured to be the type of player the Steelers could wait to sign and bring back after the draft.

But Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin have decided differently. And so they should. Maulet might not be a superstar, but he did log 33% of defensive snaps and another 33% of specials teams snaps. That shows he can be a role player and you need those on your roster.

If the Steelers still want to bring back Arthur Maulet after that draft, he’ll likely be available.

Follow Steelers free agency. Click here for our Steelers 2022 Free Agent tracker or here for all Steelers 2022 free agent focus articles.

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The Steelers Should Resign Joe Haden – But Only at the Right Price

Cornerback is one of the NFL’s most taxing positions to fill. So the Pittsburgh Steelers having sent cornerbacks Jack Butler, and Rod Woodson and Mel Blount to the Hall of Fame have a good track record there. Ike Taylor likely could have joined them, had he been able to hold on to interceptions (outside of his game changing pick in Super Bowl XL).

But since Taylor’s retirement the Steelers have struggled to fill their needs at cornerback, which is why they snapped up Joe Haden when the Browns cut him in August 2017.

The Steelers resigned Haden in 2019, and now that deal is up too. Will the Steelers extend his day in Pittsburgh even further?

Joe Haden, Joe Haden interception Patriots, Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski

Joe Haden’s interception was the catch of the game. Photo Credit: Barry Reeger, PennLive.com

Capsule Profile of Joe Haden’s Career with the Steelers

When Joe Haden arrived in Pittsburgh, he sustained an upswing in the Steelers defense that had begun a half season before. Haden started instantly and became an immediate leader in the locker room and in on the field.

While most people point to Ryan Shazier’s injury as the moment the Steelers defense dipped into decline, the truth is the trouble started with Joe Haden’s injury against the Colts that fall. Haden returned later that year and started for the next 3 seasons, logging 9 interceptions, defending 54 passes, forcing 2 fumbles and even dropping 11 ball carriers for losses.

  • Those statistics, while impressive don’t capture what Haden has meant to team.

To understand that look no further than the Steelers 2021 home win against the Titans, were on 4th and 6th with 0:27 at the Steelers 15, Joe Haden stoned Nick Westbrook-Ikhine for no gain sealing the Steelers win.

That one play is Joe Haden’s Steelers career in a nutshell. When the game is on the line, you can count on Joe Haden to make a play.

The Case for the Steelers Resigning Joe Haden

1-9. That’s the Steelers record in games that Joe Haden has missed since 2018. Since Ike Taylor’s “Life’s Work” arrived the Steelers have tried finding corners on the waiver wire, rummaging in through the free agent bargain basement, making trades, drafting them late and developing them or drafting them early.

None of it has worked. The only thing that worked was bringing back departed free agents (see William Gay), and even that was sort of an accident.

Joe Haden changed all of that. His value to the team is clear and he wants to stay in Pittsburgh.

The Case Against the Steelers Resigning Joe Haden

Cornerback is a young man’s game. Joe Haden will be 33 next year. 33 is not young in the NFL and is positively old in defensive back years. The Steelers have Cam Sutton and Ahkello Witherspoon came on strong late in the season.

  • Who are you going to spend your salary cap space on?

The 33 year old corner who missed 5 games last year? Or the 27 year old cornerback who had 2 interceptions in his second start and 3 picks in a five game span (oh, and he also tied for the team lead in passes defensed.)

Curtain’s Call on the Steelers and Joe Haden

Joe Haden wanted a contract extensions before the season and wasn’t happy when he didn’t get one. He even thanked “Pittsburg” before Ben Roethlisberger’s final game at Heinz Field, clearly communicating his impression of where he is headed.

Yet, Gerry Dulac of the Post-Gazette indicates that his sources are telling him that the door is open for Haden’s return.

  • It might be, but only at the right price.

The Steelers would be wise to prioritize signing Ahkello Witherspoon while letting Joe Haden test the market, to see who is ready to pony up for a 33-year-old corner. If no takers can be found, the Steeler would be wise to bring him back at a reasonable third contract, and allow him to serve as a 3rd corner.

He’d be a strong presence off of the bench and in the defensive backs room.

Follow Steelers free agency. Click here for our Steelers 2022 Free Agent tracker or here for all Steelers 2022 free agent focus articles.

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Keeping Steelers Free Agent Ahkello Witherspoon in Pittsburgh is a Priority

Long before digital media and Fantasy Football made everyone their own general manager, sports fans have loved trades. Just think back to that episode of Seinfeld, where George thinks he’s going to be promoted to Assistant General Manager of the New York Yankees.

  • George and Jerry immediately begin mapping out trades.

The Steelers made a few trades in 2021 and for awhile the Ahkello Witherspoon trade puzzled. Then Witherspoon answered the doubters. But as he becomes a free agent the question is, will he stay a Steeler?

Ahkello Witherspoon, Steelers vs Vikings, Steelers 2022 free agent priorities

Ahkello Witherspoon’s intercepts a pass. Photo Credit: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Capsule Profile of Ahkello Witherspoon’s Career with the Steelers

The Steelers traded for Ahkello Witherspoon on September 3rd for a 5th round pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. The Seahawks jettisoned Witherspoon just months after signing him to a 1 year 4 million dollar deal. Yet instead of playing him, the Steelers kept Ahkello Witherspoon inactive for 8 of the season’s first 9 weeks.

  • Everyone wondered, “Why did they trade for this guy?”

That answer became apparent as started to work his way into the lineup in the Steelers loss to the Chargers. He didn’t to much of note that night, but in his next two starts he began  defending passes making a tackles losses. In his 4th start his two interceptions helped spark a furious second half rally against the Vikings that fell just short.

Four weeks later, he brought down the interception that allowed Ben Roethlisberger to end his career at Heinz Field in the victory formation. Ahkello Witherspoon finished the season with 9 passes defensed, 3 interceptions and 15 tackles. Despite missing 8 games, he played in 57% of the defensive snaps.

The Case for the Steelers Resigning Ahkello Witherspoon

Despite only playing in 9 games and making 3 starts, Ahkello Witherspoon led the team in interceptions and tied Cam Heyward for passes defensed.

  • What isn’t there to like about the guy?

Ahkello Witherspoon struggled to find his way in San Francisco and clearly Seattle found him expendable. Yet with the Steelers Witherspoon has found a home. Free agent cornerbacks don’t come cheap in this league, but the Steelers have the money to make the investment.

The Case Against the Steelers Resigning Ahkello Witherspoon

Sure, Ahkello Witherspoon had his moments in 2021 with the Steelers and those interception numbers are nice, but let’s be honest, they all came in garbage time. A quick look at his game log in Pro Football Reference reveals that, although he’s only missed 2 games due to injury, he was in active in several others despite showing status a at least a part time starter.

  • What was it about him that the 49ers didn’t feel they could trust?
  • And why did the Seahawks part with him at a fire sale price?

That’s just too much risk and too much salary cap space for a player with too many yellow flags.

Curtain’s Call on the Steelers and Ahkello Witherspoon

The Steelers have not only struggled at cornerback over the last dozen years, they’ve struggled to draft and develop their own. (Anyone remember Cortez Allen?) When they’ve had success, its been by bringing in outsiders, such as Joe Haden.

  • Sometimes players struggle to fit into a certain team and/or a certain scheme.

But Ahkello Witherspoon has shown he fits in in Pittsburgh, and the Steelers should making keeping him in the Steel City a priority.

Follow Steelers free agency. Visit our Steelers 2022 Free Agent tracker or here for all Steelers 2022 free agent focus articles.

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Steelers 2022 Free Agent Tracker – Follow Pittsburgh Through Uncharted Waters

The 2022 off season has arrived and with that the Steelers enter uncharted waters. Ben Roethlisberger has retired so for the first time since 2004, Pittsburgh has no franchise quarterback.

They are also coming off their 3 straight one-and-done playoff appearance where they again were embarrassed. This came on the heels of a 2021 season that saw the Steelers run defense and first half offense reach historic lows, with futility levels not seen since the 1940s.

  • And don’t look now, but the Steelers have 24 free agents, setting another franchise record.

But all news is not grim. The Steelers enter this bold new era with between 28 and 32 million dollars in salary cap space, and that number could rise depending on the fates of players like Stephon Tuitt and Joe Schobert.

steelers press conference,

The Steelers 2022 Free Agents Signings and Profiles

Click below on the player’s highlighted name for a full-free agent profile.

Steelers 2022 Free Agent Signings

Mitch Trubisky, Quarterback
3/14/2022, Steelers sign Trubisky to a 2 year contract
Chukwuma Okorafor, Offensive Tackle
3/14/2022, Steelers resign Okorafor to 3 year contract
Miles Killebrew, Linebacker
3/11/2022, Steelers resign Killebrew to 2 year contract
Arthur Maulet, Cornerback
3/12/2022, Steelers resign Maulet to a 2 year contract
J.C. Hassenauer, Center/guard
3/15/2022, Steelers offer exclusive rights tender
Dwayne Haskins, Quarterback
3/15/2022, Steelers offer restricted free agent tender
3/16/2022, Haskins signs restricted free agent tender
Mason Cole, Center/Guard from Minnesota Vikings
3/14/2022, Steelers sign to 3 year contract
Chukwuma Okorafor, Offensive tackle
3/15/2022, Steelers resign to 3 year contract
James Daniel, Center/Guard, Chicago Bears
3/15/2022, Steelers sign to 3 year contract
Levi Wallace, cornerback, Buffalo Bills
3/15/2022, Steelers sign to 2 year contract
Montravius Adams, Defensive Lineman
3/15/2022, Steelers resign Adams to 2 year contract
Marcus Allen, Inside Linebacker
3/15/2022, Steelers offer restricted free agent tender
Robert Spillane, Inside Linebacker
3/15/2022, Steelers offer restricted free agent tender
Myles Jack, Inside Linebacker, Jacksonville Jaguars
3/16/2022, Steelers sign to 2 year contract
Ahkello Witherspoon, Cornerback
3/18/2022, Steelers resign him to 2 year contract
Gunner Olszewski, KR/PR, Wide Receiver from the New England Patriots
3/18/2022, Steelers sign to 2 year contract
Genard Avery, Outside Linebacker, Philadelphia Eagles
3/28/2022, Steelers sign to 1 year contract
Karl Joseph, Safety
4/1/2022, Steelers resign Joseph to 1 year contract
Terrell Edmunds, Safety
4/23/2022, Steelers resign Terrell Edmunds to 1 year contract

Steelers 2022 Free Agent Losses

Ray-Ray McCloud, Wide Receiver
3/18/2022 – Signs 2 year contract with San Francisco 49ers
JuJu Smith-Schuster, Wide Receiver
3/18/2022 – Signs 1 year contract with the Kansas City Chiefs
James Washington, Wide Receiver
3/18/2022 – Signs 1 year contract with the Dallas Cowboys
Taco Charlton, Outside Linebacker,
4/5/2022 – Signs 1 year contract with New Orleans Saints
Joshua Dobbs, Quarterback
4/8/2022 – Signs 1 year contract with Cleveland Browns

Unrestricted Free Agents


Joe Haden, Cornerback
Trai Turner, Guard
Eric Ebron, Tight End
B.J. Finney, Center
Kalen Ballage, Running Back

Exclusive Rights Free Agents

Demarcus Christmas, defensive line
DeMarkus Acy, Cornerback

Restricted Free Agents

Christian Kuntz, Long Snapper (signed)

That’s a daunting number and there is no way the Steelers can keep all of those players, even with their salary cap surplus.

But the truth is the Steelers don’t and shouldn’t want to keep all of them. As Mike Tomlin often says, about free agency, “Its free for them and its free for us.” While the Steelers have never been “splash” players in free agency, there are numerous times when they’ve let one player walk and quietly upgraded the position with another, under the radar signing.

As we do every year, staff writer Tony Defeo and I will be doing free agent profiles highlighting the pros and cons of signing or letting the players above walk, and updating movement as time allows.

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Mike Tomlin Hires Brian Flores as Senior Defensive Assistant, Linebackers Coach

The Pittsburgh Steelers continued to complete their coaching roster this weekend when they announced that former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores was joining Mike Tomlin’s staff as “senior defensive assistant/linebackers coach.”

When Keith Butler retired he created a vacancy as he had focused on outside linebackers since Joey Porter’s dismissal following the 2018 season, so the move was not totally unexpected.

  • The decision to bring in a former head coach like Flores is surprising, if not uncharacteristic.

Brian Flores is of course engaged in a lawsuit against the NFL and 3 NFL teams over racial discrimination. Launching lawsuits against former implores is usually treated as Kryptonite by future employers. But a little Kryptonite isn’t forcing Mike Tomlin to shy away:

I am excited about Brian Flores joining our coaching staff given his history of developing and teaching defensive players during his time in the NFL. Brian’s resume speaks for itself, and I look forward to him adding his expertise to help our team.

Suffice to say, neither Mike Tomlin nor Art Rooney II are concerned about the legal or other off the field ramifications of hiring Flores.

Brian Flores, Mike Tomlin, Steelers vs Dolphins

Mike Tomlin and Brian Flores shake in 2019. Photo Credit: Joe Sargent, Getty Images, vai The Phinsider

Hiring Flores Should Help, Just as Past Tomlin “Splash” Coaching Decisions Did

In football terms the decision to hire Flores equals a pure positive. While it is unusual for former head coaches to take jobs below coordinator level, it is completely characteristic for Tomlin to find places for those coaches on his staff.

  • And when Tomlin has done that, the Steelers have been successful.

Todd Haley will always be a lightning rod for Steelers fans and is apparently difficult to work with. But the blunt truth is that for all the friction between Haley and Ben Roethlisberger, Big Ben played his best ball under Todd Haley. Moreover, Haley allowed “Ben to be Ben” while ensuring a quicker release, thereby reducing sacks and adding years to his career.

From 2010 to 2012 the Steelers made serious draft capital investments in their offensive line. Yet, none of those investments began to pay dividends until Mike Munchak joined the Steelers in 2014.

And while the Steelers defense had been making under the radar progress by late 2018, Teryl Austin arrived after that, helped oversee the emergence of unit that dominated beginning with Minkah Fitzpatrick’s arrival until injuries and COVID-19 hollowed the unit in late 2020.

  • I have no idea if Flores’ tanking accusations are true or not.

But Miami’s personnel moves in early 2019 clearly signaled the franchise was in a build draft capital now, win later mode. But if you didn’t know that and tuned into the first 20 minutes of the Dolphins 2019 Sunday Night Football game against the Steelers, you’d have never guessed that Miami arrived at Heinz Field 0-7.

  • The Dolphins’ demeanor was that of a team that saw itself and played as a winner.

Minkah, Fitzpatrick, Minkah Fitzpatrick interception Dolphins, Steelers vs Dolphins MNF

Minkah Fitzpatrick 2nd interception against the Dolphins. Photo Credit: Barry Reeger, PennLive

Sure, Minkah Fitzpatrick’s interceptions, Bud Dupree and T.J. Watt’s sacks and Mason Rudolph’s overcoming his skittishness allowed the Steelers score 27 unanswered points, but it was no surprise that the Dolphins won their next two games.

  • Flores’ 2021 performance offers further evidence. Miami started 1-7 yet finished 9-8.

Those types of dramatic turnarounds are always fueled by good coaching. Flores is a coach who knows how to get the best out of his players, which is why Joe Haden and Cam Heyward have welcomed him to Pittsburgh with open arms.

What of Jerry Olsavsky?

On interesting, unasked question that comes with this news whether Flores’ hire impacts Jerry Olsavsky. Jerry Olsavsky has been the Steelers inside linebackers coach since 2015, when Mike Tomlin split the position responsibilities between inside and outside linebacker, with Joey Porter handling the later.

Butler reassumed those duties in 2019 (and Bud Dupree took off, just saying) and held them through 2021. The announcement about Flores mentions “linebackers” without a modifier.

While the assumption that Olsavsky will return is probably a safe one, Ike Hilliard was dismissed as wide receivers coach and no one knew about it until Frisman Jackson’s hire.

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Steelers 2021 Final Report Card: Not Too Tardy to Break Even Edition

Taken from the grade book of a teacher who isn’t too tardy to break even, here is the Pittsburgh Steelers Report Card for the 2021 Season.

T.J. Watt, Steelers vs Titans

T.J. Watt after recovering a Titans fumble. Photo Credit: Chaz Palla, Tribune Review

Quarterback
In in final season, Ben Roethlisberger went 390-605-3,740-22-11 for a passer rating of 86.8. At times he flash Hall of Fame caliber play, at others he looked like he was struggling to be average. Overall his play was solid, and without his gravitas the Steelers would have been lucky to have won 4 games. Still he was slipping. Mason Rudolph looked “OK” in his one start. Grade: B-

Running Backs
As a Steelers running back struggled more break the 1000 yard mark than Najee Harris did in 2021? Maybe Jerome Bettis in 1999. Maybe. Harris had no help from the line and seldom enjoyed Derek Watt’s escort services. Yet Harris got it done. Benny Snell and Kalen Ballage saw little more than spot duty and neither showed themselves capable of spelling Harris for long periods of time – not behind this line. Grade: C+Steelers, Report Card, grades,

Tight Ends
Eric Ebron was splitting snaps fairly evenly until he got hurt vs the Chargers. At that point Pat Freiermuth stepped with Zach Gentry and together with Kevin Rader made tight end to be one of the few bright spots on offense. Grade: B-

Wide Receivers
On balance, Diontae Johnson showed he is a good but not great receiver. Chase Claypool flashed promise and frustration in equal parts as consistency eluded him. JuJu Smith-Schuster was lost early in the season. James Washington was never more than just sort of “there.” Ray-Ray McCloud had a decent time as a number 4 wide out. The Steelers needed more from this unit. Grade: C-

Offensive Line
Yes injuries, surprise retirements, starting rookies too soon and inconsistent coaching were all factors. The bottom line is Ben Roethlisberger was sacked 38 times and the run blocking was atrocious at times. Grade: F

Defensive Line
How do you grade a unit like this? Cam Heyward authored a Hall of Fame worthy season playing alongside… practice squaders. Seriously, guys like Chris Wormley and  Montravius Adams may have shown that they’re serviceable, but they are not starters. Grade: D

Linebackers
T.J. Watt authored a NFL MVP worthy season suggesting generational talent. Alex Highsmith had his issues, but got better as the season went along. On the inside it was a different story. Robert Spillane is strong against the run but can’t cover the pass. Joe Schobert was decent against the pass. Devin Bush, well let’s just hope his ACL was really bothering him. Watt brings this group’s grade up. Way up. Grade: C-

Cam Sutton, Cam Sutton interception Chargers, Steelers vs Chargers

Cam Sutton intercepts the ball. Photo Credit: Karl Roser, Steelers.com

Secondary
Cam Sutton authored a strong year in his first season as a starter. Joe Haden showed he has something left, but his body is beginning to brake down while Ahkello Witherspoon came on strong at the end of the year. Terrell Edmunds might not make many splash plays, but he did play in 98% of the snaps and continued to improve. Minkah Fitzpatrick might not have put together the highlight footage he did in years past, but make no mistake about it, he’s the best player on the defense not named Watt. Grade: B

Special Teams
Chris Boswell had a spectacular season. Ray-Ray McCloud showed himself to be a decent return man after a shaky start. Coverage was generally solid. Pressley Harvin had his ups and downs, but the team stuck with him in the face of personal tragedy. Grade: B

Coaching
On offense, the Ben Roethlisberger was clearly not a good fit for Matt Canada’s system and the progress that the unit saw came to a dead stop when Kevin Dotson got hurt and Kendrick Green hit the rookie wall.

  • So Canada’s off the hook right? Not so fast.

Canada isn’t responsible for the personnel he has to work with, but he certainly is in charge of how they are used. The worst sin an offensive coordinator can commit is to try to force a system on players unsuited. Worse yet, is when the coordinators insist on forcing even after it is clear the players are unsuited. Canada appears to have done that in 2021, which is not a good sign for his return.

Mike Tomlin, Steelers vs Browns

Mike Tomlin at Paul Brown Stadium. Photo Credit: Karl Roser, Steelers.com

On defense Keith Butler quickly discovered he had a hole in his middle that he didn’t have the personnel to plug. How does one judge a coaching job when one could easily argue that 3 if not 4 of the defense’s front seven need replacing?

Injures, retirements and COVID fueled salary cap limitations left Mike Tomlin the NFL’s most manic depressive roster. On the defensive line alone it was like seeing Hulk Hogan alongside the Batten Twins.

And if Tomlin does deserve some of the criticism for those talent deficiencies – and he does – he also deserves credit for finding a way to eek 9 wins out of this roster. Grade: C

Front Office
As mentioned in our Steelers 2021 Season Review, Pittsburgh actually had a decent plan for fielding a competitive team despite weathering salary cap Armageddon. But injuries and retirements wiped 3 starters off of the board before summer’s end with 2 more losses before the leaves had fallen. And if some of the “next men” up faltered, other replacements fared better. The Front Office faced a potential devastating salary cap situation and fought it to a draw. Grade: C

Unsung Heroes
The Steelers 2021 roster had a lot of holes, holes where the proverbial “Next man up” failed to plug. But a look back at the season finds two non-first line players making consistent contributions doing “the little things” that help win games, and that’s why Arthur Maulet and Tre Norwood are the Unsung Heroes of the 2021 Season.

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