Khan optimistic heading into busy part of offseason

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Heading into his first NFL Draft as the general manager of the Steelers, Omar Khan feels good about where the team is at.

Young quarterback with starting experience? Check.

Salary cap space? Check.

Enough draft capital to add to the roster? Check.

Khan addressed the media here at the Indianapolis Convention Center at the NFL Scouting Combine for the first time since taking over for Kevin Colbert following his retirement after last year's draft, and expressed a positive outlook on the trajectory of the Steelers.

And unlike many other first-time general managers, Khan has a better feel for his team. After all, he's been in the Steelers' front office since 2001 working closely with Colbert.

That made the transition seamless following last year's draft.

"I think because I had been here so long with Kev, the transition has been smooth," said Khan, who officially took over for Colbert last May. "It doesn't feel much different. I was in Mobile (Alabama for the Senior Bowl). I was at the HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) combine last week. I went to some school visits during the season."

And he ran the Steelers during a 2022 season that saw them rebound from a 2-6 start to finish 9-8 as rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett took over at the position for veteran Mitch Trubisky early in the season.

Pickett, the team's first-round draft pick a year ago, didn't post gaudy numbers, but the team went 7-5 in his 12 starts, and he led three fourth quarter comebacks and four game-winning drives, both of which were among the best in the NFL last season.

"The way the season ended last year, I'm excited about the team as a whole," Khan said. "It's not only seeing Kenny's progression, but the way the o-line came together at the end of the season and their growth. The way the running backs, their growth. Seeing the defense do some really good things. Overall, I'm excited about the team."

And, he's excited about the capital the Steelers have to make improvements.

Following the trade of wide receiver Chase Claypool to the Bears at the deadline last season, the Steelers picked up an additional pick in the second round for this draft. That selection wound up being the first pick in the second round, which is 32nd overall this season because the Dolphins forfeited their first-round selection.

That gives the Steelers the 17th, 32nd and 49th picks in April's draft, and they head into this week here at the Combine knowing they're not in the market for a quarterback, which opens up a lot of other opportunities.

Khan said he expects to field a lot of offers for that 32nd pick, which will be the first pick of Day 2 of the draft, and said anything is on the table in terms of moving up or down in this draft, which he called a very good one.

"This is a really good draft," Khan said. "There are a lot of good players. I'd say, overall, it's good everywhere. If you need a player, regardless of position, I think you'll be able to get one."

The Steelers also could add in free agency, as they did a year ago when guard James Daniels, center Mason Cole, cornerback Levi Wallace, linebacker Myles Jack and defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi, among others, were added. The NFL free agency period begins March 15.

"We're obviously in a lot better shape than we've been in the past," Khan said in regard to the salary cap, which has been set by the league at $224.8 million. "There have been years when we've had to be – I don't like to use the word creative – but had to do some things. We're comfortable that if we can do something to improve our team, we can make things happen. There's nothing holding us back."

And having won seven of their final nine games to close out the 2022 season, there is some momentum building.

"We've got to win some more games," Khan said. "The growth of Kenny Pickett was pretty cool toward the end of the season, just watching him grow. I think if he can continue that momentum, good things are in store for us."

• Khan said the Steelers have begun negotiations with pending free agent cornerback Cameron Sutton on a new contract.

"We think very highly of Cam and conversations have commenced," he said. "We'll see where it goes, just like all of our other free agents. Everything is on the table."

Sutton, who had a career-high three interceptions last season, is one of a handful of pending free agents for the Steelers, a list that also includes Ogunjobi and strong safety Terrell Edmunds.

"We have a few guys that we would prioritize," Khan said. "I'm not going to get into who's who. I feel good about where we're at. We like Cam a great deal."

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• Khan also said the team has no plans to make any moves with Trubisky as the team's backup quarterback behind Pickett.

"Mitch has been awesome since the day he got here," he said. "How he's been with Kenny has been great. I want Mitch around."

And given how things worked for several teams last season, when three teams used four different starting quarterbacks and nine teams used three, having a good backup isn't a luxury, especially when your starter is young.

"I think any young quarterback will tell you that having that veteran around him is tremendous, especially if you have a guy like Mitch who handles everything so well," Khan said.

• Second-year wide receiver Calvin Austin missed all of last season with a foot injury. But Khan said the 2022 fourth-round draft pick is progressing nicely and should be ready to participate in the entire offseason program as he works toward finding a role for 2023.

"OTAs and spring ball are going to be big for him to see where he's at," Khan said. "But he's coming along."

• Khan said the overall draft process won't change in a big way for the Steelers this season, though he will have assistant GM Andy Weidl, director of scouting Mark Sadowski and director of college scouting Dan Colbert filling big roles.

That group will help set the draft board and then Khan, head coach Mike Tomlin and team president Art Rooney II will make the final choices.

"The way I'm doing it, Andy is in charge of putting the board together," Khan said. "He's going to have a lot of influence from Mark Sadowski and Danny Colbert, who are a big part of it, and obviously, coach and I are involved. Coach, Art and I will make sure to get together and make a Steelers decision."

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