It all started after the 2016 season. The Pittsburgh Steelers came up short against the New England Patriots once again, this time in the AFC Championship game. His defense was throttled to the tune of 440 yards and 36 points. The offense ended in a mess with Le’Veon Bell getting injured once again. At that point Colbert knew this team needed to be rebuilt from the ground up. But this isn’t just any franchise. This is the Pittsburgh Steelers. Doing a complete tear down just wouldn’t fly with the Steelers faithful. Kevin Colbert decided instead to embark on the most difficult of all plans. The path to rebuild the roster while still remaining a play-off contender was about to commence. Nothing is more difficult for a professional sports general manager than rebuilding a roster while still trying to stay relevant. Colbert is about to pull this enormous feat off, all the while keeping the team in play-off contention. Let’s review the timeline of how its been done:
The 2017 draft:
This will go down as Colbert’s finest hour in his almost twenty years of drafts with the Steelers. First off, he filled the biggest need on the team with first round pick TJ Watt. The team had been without s double-digit sack season from a linebacker in close to ten years at that point. Now Watt is coming off a thirteen sack season, and seems destined to be a dominant edge rusher for years to come. That alone would have made this draft an undeniable success. Next, he stunned most of Steeler Nation by drafting a wide receiver of all things. At that point, the receiver position seemed to be among the deepest on the team. Colbert new better however, and drafted Ju Ju Smith-Schuster who is now also an almost sure fire future All-Pro. To top it all off, Colbert then drafted Le’Veon Bell’s replacement in the form of James Conner. No one knew it at the time, but Kevin Colbert was preparing his team for a complete overhaul.
The 2017 Off-Season:
After killing it during the 2017 draft, Colbert set his sights on adding some veterans to fill out the roster. The Steelers have become infamous for being unable to draft talent at the cornerback position. This position looked to be a real weakness heading into the 2017 season. That all changed when the the Cleveland Browns inexplicably cut All-Pro corner Joe Haden. Colbert immediately pounced and signed Haden to a three year deal solidifying that position for years to come. Next, it was time to add some depth to the tight end group. All it took was a fifth round pick to secure a pro-bowl caliber tight end in Vance McDonald. This move capped off a tremendous off-season for the Steelers’ general manager.
Ryan Shazier was the centerpiece of what the Steelers hoped would be a dominant linebacker core. He, along with Bud Dupree, Vince Williams, and TJ Watt would be the anchor to a defense that would transform form a weakness to a strength. That all came crashing down on one awful day in December of 2017. Shazier was injured, and it was feared he may never walk again. The news is of course much better in 2019. Shazier has made an almost full recovery off the field, but on the field he left a gaping hole on the defense. After his injury, the 2017 defense fell apart. The season ended with an embarrassing home playoff loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The 2018 draft:
The jury is still very much out for this draft, It does seem however that Colbert may have finally filled his hole at safety. Terrell Edmunds was forced into duty early because of injuries, and held his own in 2018. The second year safety now seems primed for a big 2019 campaign. Colbert continued to restock the wide receiver position by selecting James Washington. After an unimpressive rookie year, much is expected from Washington in year two. Chuks Okorafor already looks like a starting tackle in this league, not bad for a third round pick. The real key to this draft is whether or not Colbert found the heir apparent to Ben Roethlisberger. We don’t know anything about Mason Rudolph yet, and it still may be a while before we find out.
The 2018 Off-Season:
This was not one of Kevin Colbert’s finest performances. Showing the difficulty of doing the rebuild on the fly approach, Colbert tried signing some bargain veterans to fill holes in the roster. None of Jon Bostic, Justin Hunter, or Morgan Burnett would make it to the 2019 roster. The one bright side to an otherwise dim off-season was the signing of undrafted free agent Ola Edniyi. The Steelers seemed to have found themselves a bonafide pass rusher off the scrap heap.
The 2018 season will be most remembered for the Le’Veon Bell watch. Every week the talk was when will Bell finally report to the team. It of course never happened, and Bell ended up sitting out the entire season to everyone’s surprise. Colbert was already planning for the eventual departure of his All-Pro running back, just not this soon. Even with the impressive seasons of both James Conner and even Jaylen Samuels, the team missed Bell. The Steelers would go on to miss the playoffs for the first time in years.
The writing was on the wall for some time. The Antonio Brown implosion was coming, even if no one wanted to believe it. It was a non-stop circus for Brown starting in training camp, and culminating in his demand to be traded after the season ended. There is no doubt that Colbert planned on both Brown and Roethlisberger to be key components in the next version of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Having those two super-stars along with a young, talented roster would keep this team in the hunt for the Super Bowl for years to come. Unfortunately Antonio Brown didn’t see things that way, and he proceeded to shoot his way out of town. In fact, he made it so bad it became difficult to get anything of value at all for perhaps the best wide receiver in the league. Colbert still managed to get third and fifth round picks for Brown despite the damage he had inflicted on his value. We may look back at this trade and wonder how Colbert got anything at all after the way Brown acted.
The 2019 draft:
Leave it to Kevin Colbert to turn a disastrous situation into a win for the Steelers. The Pittsburgh GM took what he got from the Antonio Brown trade and turned that into the arguably the best inside linebacker in the draft. Devin Bush may be the final piece to the puzzle in rebuilding the Steelers defense. It’s way too early to determine how the rest of this draft will go, but trading into the top ten to secure Bush will go down as a master stroke for Colbert.
The 2019 Off-Season:
Its been a quiet off-season so far for the Pittsburgh Steelers. The team is basically up against the cap due to all the dead money from the Antonio Brown purge. Still, Colbert took another swing at a veteran receiver in Donte Moncrief. Early reports say this signing will be much better than the Justin Hunter fiasco. Mark Barron was signed as insurance in case the team could not get a linebacker in the draft. Barron will now provide much needed depth at the position. Look for Colbert to make a few more of his patented late off-season moves to shore up some positions. As veterans begin to get cut, don’t be surprised to see a tight end and safety added to the roster for depth.
So here we are, the work nearly done. The 2019 Pittsburgh Steelers have been rebuilt without missing a beat. Kevin Colbert has built a young talented core around his Hall of Fame quarterback in hopes of one more run at the Super Bowl. Gone are the talented but troublesome players like Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell, and Martavis Bryant. In their place are younger, less volatile players like James Conner, TJ Watt, Ju Ju Smith Schuster, and Devin Bush. Kevin Colbert did an entire roster overhaul of the roster without missing a beat. We are not sure how much longer he intends to be the team’s president, but Kevin Colbert certainly saved his best work for last.