Labriola On

Team's work on QBs continues

The NFL Owners Meetings are underway in Palm Beach, Florida, and if anyone went there to learn what the Steelers' plans are for the quarterback position heading into the 2022 NFL Draft and then on into the 2022 NFL season, they're wasting their time. Not that there is no redeeming value in spending several late-March days in perfect, high-70s weather after a cold winter, but General Manager Kevin Colbert and Coach Mike Tomlin are too savvy to show their cards too early.

Colbert was the first of the Steelers management group to speak to the media, and he did it via conference call because there still are College Pro Days to attend and prospects to evaluate. But very shortly into his session, the questions from the media focused on the quarterback position.

And the Steelers certainly have been providing grist for the mill, what with the signing of Mitch Trubisky to a two-year contract early in free agency and then the very visible and publicized appearances by Colbert and Tomlin at the Pro Days for the guys considered to be among the top quarterback prospects available in the upcoming draft.

"When we started this we said we were open to any and all additions, and quarterback is a huge position for any team including our own," said Colbert. "When we went into (free agency), we were trying to hold our draft capital. We really didn't want to get into the trade areas, because we felt there were other players we need those picks to secure. So if we could get into it and get a good, young quarterback, a successful quarterback like Mitch Trubisky, it made sense for us to do it when we did it."

The two-year contract Trubisky signed has been reported to be worth in the neighborhood of $14 million total in base salary plus incentives. While $7 million per year is not exorbitant money for an NFL quarterback these days, it does represent the highest salary at the position on the Steelers current roster. So that must mean Trubisky is the starter-in-waiting?

"Coach Tomlin will figure that out as we go through the spring and training camp and so on and so forth," said Colbert, "but what I do know is that we have three young NFL players (Trubisky, Mason Rudolph, and Dwayne Haskins) who all have started games, albeit a different number of games and at different success levels. I do feel confident knowing that we have three guys who have started games, but this won't preclude us from adding to that position if it makes sense in the draft."

And so the process continues. Colbert estimated they will attend 12 Pro Days when that part of their due diligence is completed, and there certainly is a plan as to which ones he and Tomlin attend.

"Coach Tomlin is always playing catch-up when it comes to (college) personnel once the NFL season is over," said Colbert. "It's my job to get him caught up, and we do that through the Senior Bowl, if he's available to go, then we do it through the Combine and into the Pro Days. What we try to concentrate on are the Pro Days where there are a significant number of players who we have valued highly. We always try to give him a look at as many good players as possible.

"If you follow our tracking this year, it's no surprise we have been at the top quarterbacks' Pro Days because for the first time in a long time that may be a position we'll have to address. When we had the luxury of having a Hall of Fame quarterback at our disposal we may not have attended those Pro Days. Does that say we're taking one? Possibly. But we just want to make sure we're covered and do as much work as we can on that class. So far, it has been a very impressive class of young men and really good players at that position. That's how we go into it, and there will be adjustments if need be."

For anyone not tracking the Pro Days attended by Colbert and Tomlin, there has been plenty of coverage and/or social media exposure to catch everyone up. Photos of them inside the indoor facility at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. Video of them on the field at Liberty University. Taking notes, Chatting with prospects. Picking the brains of coaches. It has become something of a cottage industry for those in the business of prognosticating at this time of the NFL calendar.

"None whatsoever," said Colbert when asked about the possibility of gamesmanship. "We're just trying to make sure we cover all of our bases. Mike visits more Pro Days probably than any other NFL head coach. He does it intentionally because he wants to see these players up close. So when a coach like Mike Tomlin is out on the road and he's talking to a player or to a coach, that does attract attention. But there's no reason for that other than we're just trying to cover our bases."

Whether the Steelers end up spending a first-round pick on a quarterback for only the fourth time since the NFL-AFL merger won't be known for certain until close to midnight on April 28, and between now and then, speculation will reign and the Steelers can have some comfort in knowing they used free agency to add a player they like at the position.

"We go into it looking for certain criteria, and Coach Tomlin and Art Rooney have talked about mobility, and Mitch Trubisky has a certain level of mobility," said Colbert. "But until we get him in and Coach (Matt) Canada and his group and Coach Tomlin get a comfort level with his talents, nobody knows how he'll fit. We're just trying to make an educated guess. Mitch has a winning record, and he has been a playoff quarterback, and he's still young. That excited us. And as much as anything, not having to give up any draft capital to secure a young, starting NFL quarterback was very exciting for us."

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