By BOB LABRIOLA
When Buddy Parker was the coach, draft picks were virtually worthless, except for their potential value in trades for veteran player. During the five NFL Drafts held between 1959-63, the Steelers traded 29 of their top 32 draft picks. In those five drafts, each of which lasted 30 rounds, the Steelers made first-round picks in 1960 and 1962 and a second-round pick in 1961.
When Chuck Noll was the coach, draft picks became sacrosanct. During the 1970s, the Steelers used the annual NFL Draft as the means of constructing one of the greatest dynasties in league history, a homegrown team that won four Super Bowls over a span of six seasons. That final Super Bowl team did not have a single man on the roster who ever had played for a team other than the Steelers.
When Bill Cowher was the coach, the NFL evolved into the current system of free agency tied to a salary cap, but the team's philosophy on roster building did not change. The Steelers team that won Super Bowl XL had 19 homegrown starters among the 22 who took the field for that game against the Seattle Seahawks.
Now, Mike Tomlin is the coach, and draft picks remain a most valuable commodity for the Steelers, particularly so this year based on the current makeup of the roster. Because their philosophy hasn't changed, and because the Steelers have so many areas that could benefit from an influx of young talent, using any of their six draft picks as trade bait seems especially unlikely.
"Being that we only have six picks at this point, trading up in the first round is really not a likely scenario," said Director of Football Operations Kevin Colbert. "In other years, I would always say we could go up or we could go down (in the first round), but realistically I don't think we can go up. Trading down is definitely an inviting option because there are a lot of players in rounds two, three and four that could help this team. The more picks we can get in any of those areas, the better off we are going to be."
Since being hired by the team in 2000, Colbert has officiated over drafts when the Steelers have traded up in the first round – in 2003 to select Troy Polamalu and in 2006 to pick Santonio Holmes – and when they have traded down in the first round – in 2001 to pick Casey Hampton.
The trade up in 2003 left the team with only five picks in that draft, and Colbert was asked if he thought having such a small class has had any residual effects on the team.
"I think if you add it all together, it was worth it being that you got an impact player out of it," said Colbert of what was sacrificed to pick Polamalu. "Every draft is going to be different. Sometimes you're going to get six guys who help you and sometimes you're going to get two. If those two are impact guys like Troy, then you have to feel it was worth it."