The Pittsburgh Steelers did not enter a draft holding a pick as high as 17th overall since 2014 when they used their natural 15th-overall selection to draft Ohio State inside linebacker Ryan Shazier. While they did trade up to 10 from 20 in 2019 to select Michigan inside linebacker Devin Bush, the Steelers’ natural selection in 2023 was the earliest they have “earned” in nearly a decade (their first-round pick they sent to the Miami Dolphins in 2020 was 18th overall).
That still wasn’t high enough, however. As we approached the middle of the first round and the offensive linemen were beginning to come off the board, the Steelers started picking up the phone and calling, enquiring. They found a business partner in the New England Patriots, sending the 120th-overall pick in the fourth round to move up three spots to 14 to draft Georgia offensive tackle Broderick Jones.
It was a bold move for general manager Omar Khan’s first-ever draft selection. Though he spent the past two decades watching his predecessor Kevin Colbert navigate the draft—including watching him trade up a handful of times, most recently in 2019—this is one heck of a way to kick off a new era.
“I don’t know if I’d call myself aggressive”, Khan told reporters yesterday, via the team’s website, when asked for his thoughts on the reputation he’s already gained. “I’m just trying to win a Super Bowl. That’s what I’m trying to do”.
“He’s aggressive”, head coach Mike Tomlin interjected, sitting to his left, with a big grin on his face.
Tomlin would know. He’s worked with Khan for the entirety of his time as Steelers head coach, beginning in 2007. Khan was Football Administration Coordinator until 2011 when he was promoted to Director of Football Administration, then to Vice President of the same department in 2016. He earned the general manager job last year upon Colbert’s stepping down after the 2022 NFL Draft.
One of the first things Khan did was make a deal for Larry Ogunjobi, a standout defensive lineman who earlier that offseason agreed in principle to a three-year, $40.5 million contract, but had the Chicago Bears rescind the offer with a failed physical.
Khan and the Steelers took a chance on him as he was rehabbing a foot injury, signing him to a one-year, $8 million contract after Stephon Tuitt announced his retirement in June. Around the same time, he made Minkah Fitzpatrick the highest-paid safety in NFL history on a four-year, $73.6 million extension.
During training camp, he also signed wide receiver Diontae Johnson to a two-year, $36 million extension, which many fans still seem to hate. It wasn’t at all clear at the time that an extension would be done, but he worked it out. And then in November, he dealt wide receiver Chase Claypool for a second-round pick, which has the Steelers in ideal position for today’s draft.
In between, he made small trades to help facilitate the Steelers’ depth. The trade for Malik Reed didn’t work out all too well, and the acquisition of William Jackson III proved to be a failure, but fortunately the latter did not cost them any draft picks.
This offseason, they swapped seventh-round picks with the Los Angeles Rams, who were looking to onload the contract of wide receiver Allen Robinson II, getting them to pay half of his remaining 2023 salary in the process.
They also had perhaps their most active free agency period in history, which including re-signing Ogunjobi to a three-year deal worth nearly $10 million per season. While they allowed Cameron Sutton to leave, they added Patrick Peterson, and signed Isaac Seumalo to the offensive line.
They also turned over their inside linebacker room, added depth to the offensive and defensive lines, and allowed safety Terrell Edmunds to walk while replacing him with Damontae Kazee and Keanu Neal.
They haven’t accomplished everything they have set out to do just yet, of course, which is what the draft is for. Now holding the 32nd-overall pick, the first of the second round, what will Khan do? Will he move back to load up on more picks?