By Teresa Varley
While replays of Super Bowl XLIII appear on NFL Network, those in the Steelers player personnel and scouting department don't have time to tune in as they are busy preparing for the start of free agency and the NFL Draft.
Once the dust settled on the Super Bowl win and celebration parade it was back to work, preparing for the NFL Scouting Combine and the start of free agency.
"We're doing both free agency and draft preparation and it's done simultaneously," said director of football operations Kevin Colbert. "Right now we're meeting with the scouts. We're doing both the free agency and the college preparation. Coaches will come back in on Wednesday. They'll be given free agents to evaluate and we'll meet with them late in the week and into next week prior to leaving for the Combine."
The Steelers will have some decisions to make on players who are going to be unrestricted free agents, as well as possibly getting a jump on players who are going into the last year of their contract. Preliminary discussions of what direction the team will go in have started, but they are just that, preliminary.
"We have general ideas obviously but we haven't met formally as a staff," said Colbert. "We've talked in generalities with ownership, myself and Mike (Tomlin) and then we'll sit down with the coaches and try to formulate a more formal list. It will firm up as you get closer. You want to have a more firm plan prior to going to the Combine.
"Now's the time everyone's here and we're just kind of doing our homework. We had one general kind of, more of a planning meeting, not the nuts and bolts who do you want to sign type. What we're trying to do now is play catch up basically."
The team has a handful of unrestricted free agents, including starters tackle Max Starks, cornerback Bryant McFadden and guard Chris Kemoeatu. The others are tackle Marvel Smith and quarterback Charlie Batch, both who were injured this season, wide receiver Nate Washington, tackle Trai Essex, linebackers Keyaron Fox and Andre Frazier, punter Mitch Berger, cornerback Fernando Bryant, quarterback Byron Leftwich and defensive end Orpheus Roye.
Colbert didn't get specific about what players the team would target, but they would like to keep the nucleus of the team that won the franchise's sixth Super Bowl.
"We have to formulate a more definitive plan I guess," said Colbert. "We haven't made any definite offers or decisions on any of our guys at this point. But it's safe to say that we will try to keep as many of our own guys as possible, fully understanding that it may not be possible and we may have to go outside, either through free agency or obviously through the draft to replace some guys we potentially could lose."
Among those who have only one year left on their contract are safety Ryan Clark, linebackers Larry Foote and James Harrison, nose tackle Casey Hampton, defensive end Brett Keisel, tight end Heath Miller, kicker Jeff Reed, cornerback Deshea Townsend and wide receiver Hines Ward.
"We will factor them into our own unrestricted free agents as well as potential others," said Colbert. "As we're going forward signing our own, we're always going to be aware of who will be up the following season. It may make more sense to sign one of those guys from more of a cap standpoint."