Don’t Rewrite History – Kevin Colbert Could Be Aggressive Too

None of this takes away from what Omar Khan has done in his first full offseason as Pittsburgh Steelers’ general manager. It’s been a very good offseason that’s hit all the right notes and the Steelers have a vision and plan for 2023, something they didn’t have a year ago. But Khan = aggressive GM has been mentioned so much among Steelers’ Nation with some believing this is some brand new, bold model Pittsburgh’s taken.

And that’s…not entirely true. Kevin Colbert was old-school but towards the end of his tenure, he was just as – if not more – aggressive than Khan. That’s been forgotten. So we’re here to remind you.

Starting in 2019, Colbert made the aggressive move to pursue Devin Bush. He pushed into the top ten, trading up from #20 to #10 with Denver to land Bush and gave away a pretty good haul to do so, a second-round pick and future third-rounder. No doubt, a heavy price to pay. It wasn’t his first trade up, he did so for Troy Polamalu and Santonio Holmes, but it was his most aggressive one.

Of course, a move that didn’t pan out. And reading that back, giving up a second-rounder and third-rounder is pretty tough. But we’re focused on aggression, not results, and it’s not like we know Khan’s move for Broderick Jones – tame by comparison – is guaranteed to work.

But Colbert’s biggest move came later that year. Despite losing QB Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers’ 2019 season looking over before it barely could get started, Pittsburgh sent a 2020 first-round pick to Miami for FS Minkah Fitzpatrick. A move that was panned by many at the time for being foolishly aggressive in a lost season but one that turned out to be an all-time good move. Fitzpatrick became a star in Pittsburgh’s tailor-made system while Miami used that draft pick on OL Austin Jackson, who just had his fifth-year option declined.

It’s easy to forget how big a deal that trade was. It’s the first and only time since 1967 the Steelers didn’t have a first-round selection in a draft. ‘Ol conservative Kevin Colbert was the guy who made the move.

Colbert also tried to trade up for QB Kenny Pickett in 2022, sending the Houston Texans an offer from #20 to #15 to snag Ben Roethlisberger’s replacement. Houston declined and Pittsburgh stayed put, still landing Pickett at #20, but that nearly made a four-year span where the team traded up in the first round twice and sent a future first for a player. It doesn’t get much more aggressive than that. This doesn’t even consider all the Day Three draft picks he spent for the likes of Avery Williamson, Joe Schobert, and Malik Reed. Bad moves, yes, but moves all the same. And critiques where Colbert could be accused of being too aggressive and free-wheeling with those selections.

What about free agency? Khan brought in a mega class in free agency, ranging from big to medium to minimum-level contracts. Colbert did similar in 2022. With more cap flexibility, he signed OG James Daniels and C Mason Cole along with CB Levi Wallace, LB Myles Jack, and some shrewdly cheap signings later in the offseason like S Damontae Kazee. When Colbert had some money, he spent it.

Again, Khan has done a fine job and both GMs can be aggressive and assertive in their own way. It’s not either/or. And it’s true that for much of his tenure, Colbert was a pretty conservative guy. But he saw the light late in his time with the Steelers, watching the league evolve, and he changed with them.

If you want to knock Colbert for anything, he was probably less flexible than Khan is. Colbert stuck to his script pretty well in terms of the types of players he wanted and the moves he would – or wouldn’t – make. He wasn’t big on analytics, something I imagine this new front office is far more open to, and as we noted, Colbert rarely traded down at any point in the draft. Khan was able to package a fourth-rounder to obtain Broderick Jones and then move back in the third round to get back his fourth-round pick. Those are the types of moves we didn’t often see from Colbert and it’s fair to criticize him for that.

But Colbert picked his spots and got his guys when the opportunity presented itself. It’s easy – and fun – to get caught up in the Khan hype. The memes, the jokes, and he legitimately should be praised while understanding his job is also just beginning. Just don’t forget where Khan might’ve learned some of those aggressive moves from. He was in the same Steelers’ building watching Colbert do his thing.

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