‘The Steelers Way’ is talked about frequently but what does it really mean? For majority, it means following certain cultural and business standards that the Pittsburgh Steelers have etched in stone since the dawn of time. That standard typically includes the Steelers drafting about four to fifteen linebackers per draft and never signing players to major deals in free agency, instead opting for low cost-free agent signings that barely garner any attention.
Somewhere over the years, that standard has become modern folklore and it could not be more evident than when the Steelers traded a 2020 first round pick for Miami Dolphins defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick late Monday night. It marks the first time since 1967 that the Steelers have traded away a first-round pick and proves that this is not your dad’s or grandfather’s Steelers team, in fact maybe it is not even the Steelers’ team you remembered while growing up.
The Steelers have not won a Super Bowl since 2008 and have not appeared in a Super Bowl since 2010 and it appears that in search of another Lombardi Trophy, Kevin Colbert has ditched the old stone tablets in which the guidelines of ‘The Steelers Way’ were etched on and instead embraced a new, more aggressive standard.
And that should excite everyone.
Some of the more talented players on the Steelers’ roster would not be here had the front office abided by the rules of yesterday’s game. Fitzpatrick, Devin Bush, Joe Haden and Steven Nelson are all some of the key names on the Steelers’ defense and each have their own story of how they ended up in Pittsburgh but it is likely that none of the four end up in the black and gold jerseys had Colbert not gone outside the box.
Had the Steelers stood pat with the 20th overall pick last April, there would be no chance that Bush ended up in their laps but in an aggressive move, Colbert traded up ten spots to select Bush with the 10th overall pick. It marked the first time since 2006 that the Steelers traded up in the first round and the first time since 2003 that they moved up in the first round to select a defensive player. That time it was for Troy Polamalu, who ended up being one of the biggest playmakers in team history. Now, the Steelers hope that Bush can be a playmaker like Polamalu for the next decade.
Rewind just a month prior to the 2019 NFL Draft and you can find Colbert breaking another commandment in order to bolster the team in an area of weakness. Just days into the NFL’s legal free agent negotiating period, news broke that the Steelers had signed Nelson to a three-year contract. It was later revealed that Nelson would earn $8.3 million per year, the highest average yearly value the Steelers had ever given a free agent during the initial period of free agency. Another bold move by a team aggressively chasing another Super Bowl before it was too late.
Haden could be considered one of the first moves that signalled the end of ‘The Steelers Way’ and a push in a new direction. Released by the Cleveland Browns just days before the 2017 season was due to kick off, many hoped Haden would end up in Pittsburgh but history showed that this move would be unlikely. But in order to continue one’s history, sometimes you have to go against your own history and that is exactly what the Steelers did when they signed Haden to a three-year, $27 million deal shortly before the 2017 season.
Few remember it but at the time Haden was a risky pickup. Coming off a few injuries and a year after the Steelers had inked Ladarius Green to a monster free agent deal, only to cut him a year later, anxiety was sky high. Many wondered if Haden would be another disastrous signing marred by injuries or would he return to be the player he once was.
Luckily, Haden showed the Steelers that they should have no fear in breaking away from their sometimes-outdated business model, as he has been a constant piece in the secondary and just recently signed another extension. The veteran cornerback has repaid the Steelers on their investment with solid play on the field and perhaps permanently opened the gates for a new means of doing business.
Fitzpatrick, Haden, Nelson and Bush – all four acquisitions seemed to break the traditional way the Steelers conduct themselves but it seems that Colbert realized that focusing on ‘The Steelers Way’ could distract the team from the only way that matters – the winning way.