PHOENIX -- Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert today tried to downplay the impact of already losing three starters in free agency -- Mike Wallace, Keenan Lewis and Rashard Mendenhall -- and did so with a bit of a bite.
"Only time will tell ... we'll see where that goes," Colbert said. "You can also argue we lost three persons from an 8-8 team."
Then Colbert added, "Can we get better? We hope."
Speaking at the Arizona Biltmore Resort, site of the NFL owners meetings that begins Monday, Colbert also said the Steelers have not received any official notification that wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders has signed an offer sheet with the New England Patriots, despite national reports.
A team source said the Steelers were told by Sanders' agent, Jordan Woy, that his client has not signed an offer sheet. If he does, the Steelers can match the offer for Sanders, who is a restricted free agent, or let him go and receive a third-round choice in this year's draft in return.
The potential loss of Sanders, coupled with Wallace, would create a dire need at wide receiver. But Colbert said that will not force the Steelers to have any "needs" in the draft.
"I don't like to use the word 'need,' " Colbert said. "We're not going to list one position or prioritize over another."
Colbert said the decision to sign quarterback Bruce Gradkowski, a Dormont native and Seton La Salle High School graduate, was partly because Gradkowski is familiar with the teams in the AFC North. The Cleveland Browns and most recently Cincinnati Bengals are among the five teams for whom Gradkowski has played in his seven-year career.
"He is a young, veteran backup," Colbert said. "He still has some productive years and it's not a year-to-year proposition. We were hoping to get an experienced backup who not only knows the league but knows our division very well."
Also, former Steelers tight end Matt Spaeth will be at the team's South Side facility Monday to take a physical and sign a two-year contract. Spaeth, a third-round pick in 2007, has not signed a contract despite national reports.
Gerry Dulac: email@example.com or on Twitter: @gerrydulac. First Published March 17, 2013 8:00 PM