This may end up being Kevin Colbert's final offseason as the general manager of the Steelers, with all of the lasts associated with that title. And this offseason might be different for him in that there's an emphasis on the quarterback position at the start of the free agency/draft process there hasn't been since he was hired by Dan Rooney in 2000.
But despite the differences, the potential differences, the anomalies, there still is a consistency in the way Colbert approaches his job, and that consistency is likely why he has had this job for 20-plus years and why the Steelers have enjoyed such a level of success along the way.
During a session with the media on Monday at Heinz Field in advance of the NFL Scouting Combine, Colbert began by answering the question of why he believed now was the right time for him to take a step back/away from his role as the Steelers general manager.
"It's something my family and I have discussed, really over the last few years, and that's why we've been asking to do the year-to-year contracts. (Steelers President) Art (Rooney II) has been great in allowing us to do that," said Colbert. "But we just think it's time. It's time I think from a personal standpoint, I think it's time from a professional standpoint. We always have to be open to new ways to do things and more current ways to do things quite honestly, and I encourage our younger scouts to push me in that regard. But the better solution may be outside the organization. We don't know, but I just think from a personal side for sure it's time. Even from a professional side we have to be open to trying to stay ahead of the game."
Every Steelers fan believes there will be no such thing as their favorite team "staying ahead of the game" unless a suitable replacement is found for Ben Roethlisberger, who announced his retirement in late January after 19 seasons as the team's starter. Colbert understands the challenge inherent in that particular assignment, but he sounds as if he and the team will approach it with the same measured, thorough, reasoned approach that has been the franchise's hallmark even before he came aboard.
"With Ben's retirement," said Colbert, "it's a different agenda as we enter into this offseason, and we'll continue to look at every possible option. We know we've got two veteran players here, both of whom have started NFL games.
"We have confidence that Mason Rudolph, if we were to start the season today – and that ultimately would be Coach Tomlin's decision – Mason would be our starter and we're excited to see where that can go. We're excited to see what's next for Mason. And if we add to that position, we're going to look at every possible avenue as we really do for every other position."
Maybe that could be interpreted as a vote of confidence in Rudolph, but it's far from an endorsement of him as the starter-in-waiting. Colbert doesn't anoint, and as the media session continued it seemed as though he believed whatever conclusion the Steelers would make about their starting quarterback in 2022 only would come as the result of a competition.
"Dwayne Haskins came in to get some nice things done throughout the season as a scout team quarterback, he played some in the preseason, and we're excited to see what Dwayne can provide either from a competition (standpoint) or maybe he evolves into a starter," said Colbert. "None of us know at this point. I think it'll be a great training camp for those two and for whichever player we're able to add to the mix.
"As far as this draft class of quarterbacks, there's good quality available, probably not as many as there have been in recent years. But it is what it is, and we had a great look at a lot of the top quarterbacks at the Senior Bowl. That was a great experience to see them back to back on a given day. We saw them all, and it was it was very good work, so we're excited about that whole part of this process.
"Right now we know we have two (candidates) in the building. Dwayne will be a restricted free agent, and I'm sure we'll decide to tender him at some point. So we have Dwayne and we have Mason. Can we add to that group from the outside? Sure. We'll always look at trades, we'll always look at unrestricted groups, at potential cuts down the road and make those comparisons and compare what it's going to cost us, either from a draft compensation standpoint or from a free agency, salary cap availability decision and what that will do to the rest of your team."
One of the Steelers typical procedures under Colbert of approaching team needs during the offseason has been to use free agency to add to whatever position to take the pressure off having to use the draft as the sole means of addressing the situation. Colbert wouldn't commit to doing that specifically this time around, but he also wouldn't rule it out.
"Again, we'll sort through all of that over the next two months," said Colbert. "We have preliminary ideas going into it. Every step we learn something new. We come out of the college season, we go to the Senior Bowl, we'll go to the Combine, we'll go to Pro Days, and then we'll look at what we did in free agency. That could change it. If you spend millions on a position (in free agency), you may not draft that position even though (the draft is) the best option prior to free agency. There are so many questions we'll be answering to ourselves over the next two months that I really can't nail it down at this point."
And as for any specific skills or set of skills the Steelers will be looking for in adding prospects to the competition at quarterback, Colbert wouldn't allow himself to get backed into a corner.
"I mean we talk about mobility, and mobility is a key part of any quarterback," said Colbert. "If he is mobile, we're also just going to look at who's the best at that position because each and every one of them has a different skill set. And to prioritize one over another, I think you'll be blind in truly evaluating what a given player can do. If he's a great thrower, he's a great thrower. If he's a great runner and thrower, maybe that's a bonus, but we're always going to just truly evaluate that player and not go into it with specific ideas about who's the best."
But if there's one red flag for Colbert, it would be a college quarterback who isn't accurate.
"If you study quarterbacks over history, accuracy at the collegiate level is usually a great indicator of accuracy at the professional level, albeit in a different game," said Colbert. "A lot of the college game is leaking into our game so there are more similarities than there have been in recent years. They're all going to be different sizes, they're all going to have different arm talent, they're all going to have different athletic abilities, but if you ask me the one thing that I think can identify a potentially (quality) quarterback, it would be accuracy."