On Monday, Steelers General Manager Kevin Colbert spent the better part of an hour with the media during which he answered questions on a variety of topics, one of which had to do with the team's salary cap situation and how that might impact its approach once free agency begins on March 16.
"We begin our free agent meetings (on Feb. 22) with our scouts, with our coaches," said Colbert. "We'll be in those meetings on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. We have graded these players throughout the season. Our pro department, headed up by Brandon Hunt, has done a great job putting together the evaluations, and now we just sit down with our coaches and clue them in and get into more specific discussions over these next three days. No decisions have been made yet, nor will they be, until after those meetings in regard to our own players with exclusive rights tenders being due, restricted free agent tenders being due, and then talking about our own free agents.
"When we do these meetings, we always evaluate our own players, whether they're free agents or not, and then we talk about the others who will be available possibly. A more detailed plan will come together after those meetings, and it'll continue to evolve throughout the spring in conjunction with our draft prep.
"The 2022 salary cap will be set sometime after the Combine – it's never really given to us. There's never a day where we can anticipate it's coming. It's done in conjunction with the NFLPA, and the League will set that and get us that information. It has been reported that the $208 million figure is something that's been floated. Is that for sure? Not yet, but I think we can comfortably say that we will have more salary cap room this year than we've had. I can't even remember when we've had any excess (cap) room, but we're anticipating having more room going into this process."
As to whether the Steelers might be aggressive in pursuing unrestricted free agents this offseason, as a result of their cap space, Colbert said, "I never view us as being an aggressive, front-of-the-line free agency team. We never have been, and I don't anticipate that changing. But I can't say it wouldn't. I hate to say that because I am saying two different things, but traditionally we haven't been because we haven't had that cap room. Once we get through these free agency meetings, we'll look at who we like, what they may be valued at, and how we can make it work to put the best 90 players eventually down to 53 together."
Colbert also addressed a number of other issues:
On Stephon Tuitt:
"Stephon had tough season, last year. He was battling through a knee injury last year that he worked his way through and ended up with him on injured reserve. He had a personal situation that he had to deal with, and we've been in contact with Stephon, and we're very open to continue to help him, and we will continue to evaluate that position and his availability to us. We just hope for the best for him as he tries to come back and be a part of the Pittsburgh Steelers. We're open (to him returning in 2022). We've talked to him, and we'll continue to visit with him."
On the team's run defense that finished last in the NFL in 2021:
"When you look at the defensive front seven, obviously with Stephon not being available, losing Tyson Alualu when we did, with Devin Bush coming off a serious knee injury, with Vince Williams deciding to retire. As Coach (Mike Tomlin) says 'You're adding parts to a moving train' when we acquired (Joe) Schobert from Jacksonville. It's different, and it didn't come together as good as it could have. There were some games when it was very good, and there were some games when it wasn't. And that goes back to the consistency or lack thereof that I mentioned earlier. We're not going to make excuses. I think we would have been better had we had Stephon and Tyson and a healthy Devin Bush. I know Devin can play better because he has played better albeit when he was younger and healthier, and it's not usual for someone coming off an ACL to not be 100 percent right away. We're hoping that he can come back and have a better 2022."
On whether the Steelers have made a decision on whether to exercise the fifth-year option on Bush's rookie contract:
"No, we have not because that's not due until, I think it's May 1 or May 2, I believe. And we'll go through all the different scenarios, like I said, with free agency, the draft. But Devin Bush I think will be a better player in 2022."
On whether it was a consideration to hire the next general manager from within before the draft and have him contribute to that process in 2022:
"Could we have? Yes, we could have, but when you have an open position like a general manager, you're required to look for outside candidates. And I think that's the best way to go about it anyway, because you're either going to go away feeling good about your internal candidates, or you may find someone else you think could handle the positions better. All of that was discussed, and we decided to interview prior to March 1 the candidates we could. After March 1, it'll only be candidates who aren't under contract. But (hiring the new general manager) won't happen until after the draft for sure."
On the approach if the team doesn't add a quarterback during free agency or the draft:
"If we come out of this period without a quarterback, we will have somebody else because we'll have four for sure (going into training camp), and right now we only have two under contract. Or eventually two will be under contract in Mason and Dwayne, if we tender Dwayne, which I'm pretty sure we will. But we know we're going to add to the position. I can't tell you how at this point. We will go to camp with four. If we had to start a season today with Mason as our starter, let's go. Let's try to build the best team we can around him, and that's just the way it is. Mason is 5-4-1 as a starter. One of those games was this year, he only found out he was going to be the starter Saturday night, and he tried to give us what he could. We almost won that game, but we didn't. I'm comfortable that Mason has won more games than he's lost as a starter. Where that can go, we'll see. To be an 'NFL starter you can win with,' you've got to prove it over 16 games, and I'm anxious to see that if that's the case."
On the possibility of trading up in the first round of the draft to pick a quarterback:
"It's no different than any other year. I think you could've said that last year about a running back. Fortunately, Najee was the back we wanted, and he was available when we picked. We're always going to be deciding on how many are available at the given position. 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."
On the possibility of moving Kendrick Green to guard:
"When we drafted Kendrick, we knew that he had spent the majority of his college career at guard. We saw him play enough center that we thought that it could be his position of the future. Kendrick did a lot of good things for us, and when he hurt his calf he wasn't benched because of inefficient play. He was benched because he was hurt, and he actually dressed and was available in an emergency role even though he wasn't 100 percent. J.C. (Hassenauer) went in and did a nice job. We came out of it saying, 'Let's let Kendrick get healthy and get right.' We know that Kendrick can play guard. We know that he can play center. Is it our best option? We'll see where we go in these next few months, because we don't know the options that are going to be available to us."