While the Pittsburgh Steelers are not diametrically opposed to such a bold gesture as trading up in the first round, or indeed even trading a first-round pick altogether—they did both over the course of the 2019 calendar year—it is not something they ever want to get into the habit of doing.
The conditions under which they dealt first-round picks three years ago were unique circumstances, or so they felt, though one worked out better than the other. During the 2019 NFL Draft, they moved up 10 spots in the first round to draft Devin Bush, whom they saw as one of two every-down sideline-to-sideline linebackers. During the season, they traded away their 2020 first-round pick for safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, a second-year 11th-overall pick who has made the All-Pro List twice since his acquisition.
Would they do either one of those things in order to address the quarterback position this offseason in the wake of Ben Roethlisberger’s retirement? This is the final offseason with Kevin Colbert in the general manager chair. Could he be tempted to go out with a bold gesture? Not necessarily, particularly in the draft.
“We’re always going to be deciding on how many are available at the given position”, he told reporters earlier this week about the possibility of trading up in the draft for a quarterback, via transcript. “Is there a reason to trade up or trade back? But I can’t say we’re going to panic and take a position. I will constantly try to guard against that and advise us not to do that”.
As in 2019, the Steelers hold the 20th-overall pick. In order to move up to 10 that year, they traded their first-round pick, as well as their second-round pick and a third-round pick the following year. So basically, they determined that 10 spots in the first round was worth a second and a third.
As mentioned, that particular decision hasn’t panned out as they expected. I don’t think that necessarily makes them more gun-shy to do it again, however. It will depend on their evaluations of the quarterback position in this draft class, and of course what they will have already done in free agency, and potentially via trade.
The top quarterbacks in this draft class are, in no particular order, Sam Howell, Matt Corral, Kenny Pickett, Desmond Ridder, Carson Strong, and Malik Willis. The two quarterbacks who have most often been connected with Pittsburgh are Pickett, who is a Pitt alum, and Willis.
If they truly fall in love with one of them the way the Kansas City Chiefs and the Houston Texans did with Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson in 2018, respectively, then I do think the Steelers would try to orchestrate a trade up.
But I don’t see that happening. As much as they might like somebody like Willis, I don’t expect they will value him so much that they would be willing to dispense with excess capital to get him. Especially not if they already added a veteran to the room in free agency, even if he is not seen as a potential long-term answer.