QB or no QB: With Ben Roethlisberger signed for only one more season, one of the hottest questions during the team's pre-draft press conference with General Manager Kevin Colbert and Coach Mike Tomlin was will the team select a quarterback in the 2021 NFL Draft.
And the answer was … all options are open.
The Steelers currently have four veteran quarterbacks in Roethlisberger, Mason Rudolph, Joshua Dobbs and Dwayne Haskins, but that doesn't mean they won't take one this year.
"Wide open to all of it," said Colbert. "If you look at our current depth, obviously we have four NFL veteran quarterbacks on our roster, which I feel great about.
"We also have really three of those four that are in the last year of their so-called deals when you look at it realistically. It's an unusual group in that we do have four. Can you add a young one? Absolutely. We always have to be on the look for that next guy and try to predict the value of taking that player at that position, because most likely a young quarterback won't play for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2021. Again, we've got four veteran guys that we're going to try to sort through.
"Could you add someone that could be more guaranteed to be here for the future? Absolutely. And that's our job, to try to value that. It goes all the way back to Ben. Ben wasn't a sure pick when we were sitting there at 11 because we had more pressing issues than a quarterback because Tommy Maddox had done some good things for us. It wasn't like we couldn't have started the season with Tommy. When Ben was there for us, it would have been a huge mistake not to take him. So, we'll always be open to adding what we believe is the most critical position, but again, we feel good about having four vets to work with at this point."
Roethlisberger, Rudolph and Dobbs all return from 2020, but the Steelers did add Haskins to the mix this offseason, something that excites Tomlin.
"It's exciting from a coaching perspective with one of those guys being a 22-year-old guy like Dwayne Haskins who was viewed globally as having first-round talent just a short time ago," said Tomlin. "We're excited about working with him and seeing what his skill set and hoping him improve is, as well."
A special shout out: It's nothing unusual for the Steelers pre-draft press conference to begin with Colbert and Tomlin thanking those who made a huge contribution to their efforts leading into the NFL Draft, from the scouting department and coaching staff, to the video crew, athletic trainers and medical staff, to the IT and PR staffs.
But on Monday, a thank you went out that was a little unexpected, something you don't often hear.
It was a thank you to Ben Roethlisberger and other Steelers veterans who took a lower salary to remain in the black and gold for 2021, helping the team overall.
"I do want to step out first and thank our veteran players who decided to stay with us," said Colbert. "First and foremost, Ben Roethlisberger told us from the end of the season that it was his intention to be here, and then for him to follow that up and be willing to adjust his pay to be able to not only keep himself here but give us the opportunity to have some other folks stay is very much appreciated, and I think it started a real positive offseason for us.
"We knew going into this free agency period, pre-pandemic we knew this was going to be a real tough year. We knew we had a lot of players, quote, in their senior season, and they were going to be coming to an end. It was going to be challenging. When the pandemic hit and the cap was challenged and reduced, it made it even more difficult. But again, with guys like Vince Williams, Tyson Alualu, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Joshua Dobbs deciding to stay with us, I think they followed Ben's lead, and that's very much appreciated by us."
Williams was a player the team released, but then brought back with a salary adjustment, something that didn't go unnoticed.
"Vince Williams is a Pittsburgh Steeler. Vince Williams bleeds black and gold, and really his decision to come back is really just an example of an opportunity for him to display that," said Tomlin. "I can't say that I'm surprised by that, knowing what I've known about Vince and his level of commitment, not only to the game of football but to us and how we go about our business."
To trade or not to trade: One of the most exciting endeavors on draft day are trades that occur, even as teams are on the clock. Some are looking to move up in the draft to get a specific player, while others trade down, knowing they will still find what they want in five to 10 picks, while building up additional picks.
For the Steelers, in the 2021 draft, if there is a trade of any kind, look for trading down to be a more likely option than trading up. But remember, the situation has to be right.
"We always get asked about trade up, trade down. I'm very doubtful that we'll trade up," said Colbert. "We really value those eight picks that we have, five of which are in the top 140. We're always going to value quality over quantity, but if we're not comfortable with what we're looking at at the 24th pick, we'll trade back. Do we want to do it with a division team? That wouldn't be our preference, but we won't discount that completely because we have to weigh what the potential trade-back will do for us and not worry about where those picks may go. It wouldn't be our preference, but it won't disqualify us from trading back with a division team."
Colbert was asked specifically if the team would want to remain in the first round if they opted to trade back from the 24th overall pick, and again, it would be a matter of what is available.
"I mean, again, what are we getting? How many picks? We've got to look at what we're walking away from," said Colbert. "I never like to walk away from a pick without having…say if we're trading back five spots, I want five players that we would be comfortable in taking so we can't lose. That's the way we've always approached that. We never would trade up unless the player we want is available and we know on that pick that he is available. But trading back, I want to make sure that we can't lose if we do it."
No mocks here: The Steelers have been preparing their draft board since the 2020 NFL Draft ended, with a plan in place that will be fine-tuned this week. And while many fans, draftniks and even other teams spend time doing mock drafts, it's something the Steelers don't do as focusing on what the teams in front of them are going to do is something Colbert refers to as a waste of time.
"We finished our formal meetings on Saturday, and then today, tomorrow, Wednesday, we'll go through it and maybe brush up some things, maybe just look at what we concluded after our meetings and maybe make some minor adjustments just to make sure we got things in what we believe is the best order possible," said Colbert. "We've never worried about what the folks in front of us will do. We used to do the mock drafts and it was a complete waste of time. What we've done now is, and we've done this, what, for the last 12 years or so, we just mock ourselves, and we're picking first and we're going to pick a player. Okay, he's gone, we're picking second. Okay, he's gone, we're picking third. And when we're done with this process, and it'll take the good part of the day on Wednesday, when we're done with that, we'll have 24 guys in an order that we would take them, and it's not necessarily the order that you have on your board.
"So, the order of the picks is set, and you just wait and watch, and the only decision you have to make is whether you're going to trade up or trade back. It doesn't matter what happens in front of you because you've already made that decision."
Quote me: Tomlin on if the season started today, who would be the starting left tackle and right cornerback:
"You know, depth charts this time of year are funny," said Tomlin. "They don't mean anything. They're not worth the paper they're written on. Chuks (Okorafor) will be the guy that's probably penciled in in late April at left tackle, Cam Sutton will get first opportunity at right corner, but it means absolutely nothing. And quote me on that."