Kevin Colbert was back in his element.
Standing on a podium behind a microphone while questions are being fired at him never would be Colbert's idea of a fun afternoon, but being that the podium was in a room inside the Indiana Convention Center on the opening day of the NFL Combine, well, that's a different story. If Colbert is there doing that, it means things are back to "normal," or at least as close to normal as possible for things pertaining to the NFL calendar at this time of the year.
It's now common knowledge that Colbert will be stepping back from the GM position he has held with the Steelers since 2000 when his current contract expires after the 2022 NFL Draft. There is the possibility that he and Steelers President Art Rooney II will come to an arrangement on some kind of reduced role, but that's to be determined some months from now.
Today, tomorrow, and the rest of this week, though, Colbert will be in his element, working side-by-side with Coach Mike Tomlin to gather information and continue evaluating the pool of prospects available in the upcoming draft, because he understands this is going to be an important offseason.
"I'm just excited to be back in what we think is a pretty normal setting," said Colbert when asked what he might be feeling with this possibly being his final Combine. "It's great just to be here. You'll be able to do this, and then leave here and go to Pro Days. That's exciting. Nostalgic? No. We have so much that we have to accomplish in the next two months, and you don't have time to sit and reflect. When it's all said and done, we might get nostalgic, but as of right now …"
Colbert is excited because two years ago, in early 2020, this portion of the NFL offseason contained a Combine but then no Pro Days because of the spread of Covid-19. Then last year, 2021, there was no Combine because of the pandemic, but then as things loosened up in the spring, many colleges did schedule and conduct their Pro Days. This year, at least at this point, the NFL is in the process of holding a typical Combine, which is expected to be followed by colleges conducting the full complement of Pro Days.
Throughout this offseason, Colbert and Tomlin will be looking at ways to fortify a roster that appears to need a lot of things, starting with a quarterback to replace the retired Ben Roethlisberger. A couple of weeks ago during a media session in Pittsburgh, Colbert was definitive in explaining that the Steelers will use this offseason to explore all possible avenues – free agency, trade, draft – in looking to add to the position, and he reiterated that on Tuesday.
But since the venue was the NFL Combine, the conversation gradually worked its way toward the draft and the prospects contained in this 2022 version, with a natural focus on the quarterbacks.
"I believe it's a quality class," said Colbert about the college quarterbacks available this year. "It might not be the (high) number of players at that position that there have been in the past, but it's certainly good quality. And there are going to be starting NFL quarterbacks coming out of this class for sure."
The prognosticators are pegging this class of quarterbacks as being thin at the top, which has led many to believe the plan should be for teams that want one to pick one early. During the Super Bowl era, the Steelers have spent a first-round pick on a quarterback exactly three times: Terry Bradshaw in 1970, Mark Malone in 1980, and Ben Roethlisberger in 2004.
"We won't narrow it to any one position. We never have, never will," said Colbert about how the team will choose to spend its No. 1. "Quarterback is obviously a huge position in any given season, and especially this year with our Hall of Fame quarterback calling it a career. So is it different this year? Yes. But is that going to change how we approach things? No."
The Steelers will be able to approach free agency differently, and Colbert used the word "exciting" to describe the team's salary cap situation. One year after having to cut starting players to get into compliance with the salary cap, the Steelers have enough space actually to be able to do some shopping. With an unspoken emphasis on "some."
"The free agency class is always an unknown because most of the top players will either sign a contract before they hit free agency or they'll get a franchise or a transition tag," said Colbert. "We go into it, and a lot of times those players never make it to the market, which we understand because we try to do that ourselves. (Free agency) is still a very wide open situation. And we can't even talk to the (players') agents until the given two day (legal tampering) period (on March 14-16)."
As always, Colbert would not address any questions about individual players, either draft prospects or potential unrestricted free agents, and he also put off a lot of the questions about his successor. The Steelers have interviewed a bunch of outside candidates already, because NFL rules allow for them to talk to people under contract to NFL teams before March 1. Now the only candidates they can interview for the GM position are those not under contract to another NFL team.
"Our focus will really be on trying to get this draft and free agency correct," said Colbert, "and then we'll deal with all that after the draft."