Change is coming for the Pittsburgh Steelers, that much is sure.
From the retirement of 18-year quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, to the expected loss of a handful of free agents this offseason, the roster will look much different in the Steel City in 2022. Things will also look much different in the front office as well, considering long-time General Manager Kevin Colbert is expected to retire following the 2022 NFL Draft, putting the hiring of the next GM in Pittsburgh in the crosshairs.
Whoever lands the job after Colbert — be it internal candidates in Omar Khan and Brandon Hunt, or external candidates in ESPN’s Louis Riddick, Green Bay’s John Wojciechowski, Los Angeles’ Chargers’ JoJo Wooden, Tennessee’s Ryan Cowden or Indianapolis’s Ed Dodds and Morocco Brown — will have a tall task in front of them from the word go, at least according to Bleacher Report’s Joe Tansey.
In a piece identifying three priorities for the next Steelers’ GM, Tansey identifies some obvious ones such as finding the next quarterback and extending star safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, but an interesting one from Tansey was getting enough weapons around the next quarterback.
Sure, finding the next quarterback is priority 1, 2, and 3 for the Steelers, considering it is the most important position in football. If you don’t have a franchise quarterback, you’re mostly dead in the water when it comes to truly contending for a Super Bowl.
“The new general manager needs to have a say in which quarterback takes over for Ben Roethlisberger,” Tansey writes. “It is the most important offseason decision for the franchise, and it makes no sense for Kevin Colbert to choose the guy when he is set to depart the GM role after the 2022 NFL draft.
“Colbert could assist in the decision-making process because of his experience in the front office, but he should not have the final call. Pittsburgh may be at the mercy of other quarterback vacancies when it comes to trading for a veteran signal-caller, like Jimmy Garoppolo.”
Tansey is correct that it is the most important offseason decision for the franchise, but I disagree with him believing it doesn’t make much sense for Colbert to make the call. Colbert has done this for 21 years in Pittsburgh and deserves the opportunity to put the Steelers in the best spot possible position moving forward, even if he isn’t expected to be around the franchise in the same role.
Knowing that Colbert is sticking around through the draft leads one to believe that the next GM will be an internal promotion, whether that be Hunt, Khan or both into a shared role. If that’s the case, Hunt has been reportedly “running” the Steelers’ drafts the last five years or so, so it’s very likely he’ll have a great say in the next QB as well.
Aside from finding the next franchise QB, Tansey had a curious take on the next priority for the Steelers’ next GM, which is building a strong group of weapons around the next guy under center, taking a page from the Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens’ playbooks.
“Pittsburgh needs to make sure its new quarterback has plenty of weapons to work with in the passing game to compete right away with the Ravens and Bengals,” Tansey said.
The Bengals stunned everyone when they drafted wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase fifth overall in the 2021 NFL Draft, rather than grabbing the best left tackle available to protect Joe Burrow. That worked out well as Chase is set to not only win the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year, but also played a prominent role in the Bengals reaching the Super Bowl this season.
However, it’s hard to agree with Tansey here from the Steelers’ perspective. The next franchise QB would be stepping into a solid situation in Pittsburgh with a true No. 1 receiver in Diontae Johnson, a developing No. 1 tight end in Pat Freiermuth and a true workhorse No. 1 running back in Najee Harris in the backfield.
Pittsburgh historically does very, very well identifying wide receiver talent on Day 2 and Day 3, which they’ll likely do again in the 2022 NFL Draft. The real priority around the next franchise QB though should be talent and depth in the trenches. To really win consistently in today’s game, you need a good offensive line. The Steelers, to put it kindly, did not have a good offensive line throughout the 2021 season and they paid for it dearly.
Find the best offensive linemen possible and protect your investment at QB at all costs moving forward.
Finally, Tansey correctly labeled an extension for Fitzpatrick as the final key priority of the next Steelers’ GM, assuming Colbert doesn’t get that done prior to his retirement.
Fitzpatrick truly is a game-changer in the secondary for the Steelers. Without him, who knows how bad the 2021 defense could have been. Getting an extension done with the All-Pro and Pro Bowl safety is paramount, much in the same vein the extension for All-Pro outside linebacker TJ Watt was last offseason and into the summer.
Locking down a key pillar in the third level of the defense for years to come puts Pittsburgh’s defense in a great position moving forward under the next GM.