There typically are a lot of comings and goings during the NFL's annual free agency period, and that certainly describes what has been happening with the Steelers since the 2016 version began at 4 p.m. back on March 9. In the 11 days following, they have re-signed five of their own free agents, lost five of their own, added two from other teams, and had a receiver suspended for a full year for violations of the league's drug policy.
It might not seem like it to fans, but with the notable exception of Martavis Bryant's suspension, General Manager Kevin Colbert is able to see order amidst the chaos.
"I think the plan has unfolded pretty much the way we thought it would," said Colbert as the NFL Owners Meetings opened today in Boca Raton, Florida. "We went into it knowing we'd love to keep everybody. We also knew that some other teams may have better opportunities for some of our guys, some of our backups may be given chances to start, or play a different role. We knew that it could unfold that way. When we entered free agency, we didn't know about Heath Miller retiring, but once he retired we felt we had to address that. We had the opportunity to address it with a guy like Ladarius Green. The philosophy this offseason was we tried to address whatever offensive needs we had through free agency, because it still looks like it's a defensive draft."
So far, the bulk of the free agent activity for the Steelers has come along the offensive line, where the team re-signed Ramon Foster, lost Kelvin Beachum, and added veteran Ryan Harris to compete for the starting job at left tackle with Alejandro Villanueva.
"(Ramon) probably understood what was out there for him, and he also understood our desire to keep him," said Colbert. "Ramon is a very valuable part of the intangibles within our team. He is one of our respected leaders. We recognize that. Plus, he's coming off probably his best season in recent years. Ramon was a big part of keeping that unit together when we did suffer injuries (to Maurkice Pouncey and Beachum). We value that probably more than other teams that didn't know his intangibles."
What never was part of the plan was losing Bryant for a full season as a result of additional failed drug tests, but Colbert was firm in reiterating the Steelers' previously stated intent to try to help him get back on track.
"No. None whatsoever," said Colbert in response to a question about if the Steelers ever considered simply cutting Bryant. "He has to do what he has to do from a league standpoint. He has to do what he has to do from a personal standpoint. We have to prepare for what we have to do without him in 2016. After all that is taken care of, we will revisit it. As of right now, as Art Rooney II said, we support him. But in all honesty, what happens is totally up to him."
While Colbert said free agency has gone according to plan so far for the Steelers, he also emphasized that the team isn't necessarily finished searching for help through that option, with a potential target being defensive linemen.
"You might think as free agency winds down that it's less and less (possible), but we kind of think the opposite," said Colbert. "As the market dries up a little bit, we can maybe find a guy we can make fit, because we don't have a lot of cap flexibility. We will stay active in free agency, really up through the draft and after."
Colbert also addressed the following issues:
ON THE BACKUP QUARTERBACK SITUATION:
"Landry Jones came through big time for us last year. I think we went into training camp hoping for that to happen, and in all honesty, in training camp, you saw some flashes, but maybe not enough to really say he's our No. 2. And then we get into the season, and he saved a couple of games for us. So that was very encouraging. He's proven to be a viable backup on a short-term basis. Can he do that on a long-term basis? He has to prove that, and he'll be the first to tell you he has to prove that. Bruce Gradkowski is coming off shoulder surgery, so we have to see where he is physically and whether or not we add him back into the mix."
ON LE'VEON BELL'S REHABILITATION PROGRESS:
"Yeah, so far (he's on schedule). I wouldn't say ahead (of schedule), because I don't know what the schedule is. We've told him all along, your schedule is that when you're ready to go, you're ready to go. We're never going to tell him he has to do this by this time. The doctors and the trainers are going to want to see progress, but they're not saying, 'You have to be (at this point).' Coach Tomlin and I certainly haven't told a player, 'We have to have you by game No. 1.'"
ON JAMES HARRISON RETURNING:
"I think he'll be (back), but again, when I said that before, I said there's no reason in our minds that we wouldn't want him back. You know, James is not going to come back just to be here. He wants to feel and know that he'll be a contributor. If he does that and feels good about it, then he'll come back. We're not going to work him out. He'll participate very little in OTAs. He'll be there, but physically he won't, and that's really not a true test. The real test won't come until a real game, not even a preseason game. But he has to know. He knows where he wants to be physically, and if he feels that, he'll come back. If not, he won't."
ON SHAMARKO THOMAS' FUTURE:
"I can't really speak to it, because I'm not involved with it day to day. I think Shamarko has proven to be a valuable special teams player for us. Has he held onto a starting job? No, but when you have reliable guys who have come through in the past, it was a little easier to go back knowing they could, if one guy wasn't measuring up. So are we going to have those options this year? Probably not as many."
ON MIKE ADAMS:
"He's progressing and we'll see where he is. The hard part is that right now you can't mandate for those guys to do anything. So we're just kind of waiting until we get our hands back on him when (the players) come back and start doing some of the physical work."
ON EXERCISING JARVIS JONES' FIFTH-YEAR OPTION:
"No decision has been made. I think the date is May 4, but no decision has been made."