Omar Khan’s first year as Pittsburgh Steelers General Manager has drawn praise from through out Steelers Nation. He’s been called a “Khan” artist. Some of the Black and Gold Faithful are already fitting him for a Gold Hall of Fame Blazer.
Khan addressed the media at St. Vincents, in Latrobe as Mike Tomlin and his staff began their first practices with the team.
With that in mind, it’s time to take an objective look at Khan’s first year on the job and ask, is Omar really a “Khan Artist?”
A Subtle, but Important Shift on Contract Extension Timing
The under Tom Donahoe and Dan Rooney, Steelers were pioneers in targeting key players for contract extensions before they hit the free agent market. Kevin Colbert continued Donahoe’s policy.
- However, Colbert was a bit more cautious, particularly in the Tomlin era.
Colbert typically waited to finalized contract negotiations shortly before the regular season began. James Farrior, Troy Polamalu, Stephon Tuitt and Cam Heyward were all players who inked deals at the tail end of summer.
While this injected some “will so-and-so get his deal” uncertainty into the summer, it did allowed the Steelers to hedge against injury.
- Omar Khan hasn’t hedged when it comes to contracts.
Injuries can and do happen during training camp and preseason (think Senquez Golson and/or Sean Spence) so Khan’s approach does carry a bit of extra risk. But it also provide certainty and helps ensure roster continuity.
Taking the Steelers Out of Their Comfort Zone on Free Agents
The Steelers were aggressive players in free agency during the spring of 2023, but that continued a trend Kevin Colbert started during the spring of 2022. And that new found aggressiveness is probably due to the fact that the team both doesn’t have a franchise quarterback’s contract to carry and didn’t have a lot of veterans to resign.
- But under Khan, the Steelers did slide a bit out of their free agent comfort zone.
Entering the off season, resigning Cam Sutton seemed like almost a no brainer. Sutton wanted to stay, the Steelers said they wanted up. Yet, they were never able to get a deal done. The happened a few times under Kevin Colbert.
- What makes Khan unique is the way he reacted.
The Steelers replaced Cam Sutton by signing Patrick Peterson, who will be 33 this year. Giving a major free agent contract to such an old player was almost unheard of under Kevin Colbert.
Khanning Others with Trades?
What’s really earned Khan his title of “Kahn Artist” is his work with trades.
First he traded Chase Claypool for the 32nd pick in the 2023 NFL draft and then watch from afar as Claypool make 14 catches for 140 yards over the last 7 games of the season. Today, trading Chase Claypool for Joey Porter Jr. looks like a very, lopsided deal.
Next he swapped 7th round picks to bring veteran receiver Allen Robinson to Pittsburgh from the Los Angeles Rams – with LA agreeing to pay 10 million of the 15 million he’s owed during the final year of his contract.
He also traded up to get Brodrick Jones in the 2023 NFL Draft, and then swapped 3rd round picks with the Panthers and got Carolina’s 4th round pick, getting them back into that critical depth round.
Even if we accept the obvious caveat that every trade carries risk, Khan has shown incredible negotiating savvy with these moves.
- But credit for Khan’s savvy here doesn’t come as the result of comparisons to Colbert.
Kevin Colbert’s first major trade brought Troy Polamalu to Pittsburgh. His next major trade bagged Santinio Holmes, who was MVP of Super Bowl XLIII. He also suckered a 3rd round pick out of the then Oakland Raiders for Martavis Bryant (after declaring that he wasn’t available for trade). And Colbert committed highway robbery by getting a 3rd and a 5th for Antonio Brown.
Conclusion? Not a “Khan Artist” but Rather a Risk Taker
In his first year as Steelers General Manger, Omar Khan has shown himself as someone who can both live by the “Steelers Way” while acting as his own man.
And in that respect, he shown himself to be more of a risk taker, than a “Khan Artist.”
During these next three weeks on the fields at St. Vincents we’ll start see if those risks pay off.