NFL Meetings: Steelers' focus unchanged
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DANA POINT, Calif. -- Kevin Colbert made it a Pittsburgh kind of day in Southern California yesterday. First, the mad hockey fan watched the Penguins lose to the Philadelphia Flyers. Later, he managed to see some of Pitt's NCAA basketball victory.
Between the two, he grabbed a chair outside and not far from the whitecapped Pacific, in the howling winds that would make any Pittsburgher feel right at home in SoCal's version of March madness, and he talked about the state of the Steelers.
• When: April 25-26, New York.
• Steelers: First pick is 32nd overall.
In a sense, it was another Pittsburgh kind of weekend, even as Colbert, coach Mike Tomlin and the top Steelers brass arrived on the West Coast for the NFL meetings. It was that kind of weekend because again they did not sign another team's free agent. Signing their own free agents has become the Steelers' way, but they have topped themselves this year.
So while Colbert sees his NFL counterparts in the halls of the luxurious St. Regis this week having spent madly in signing other teams' players, he says he is not jealous.
"As long as we're keeping the majority of our own, that's what we do," said Colbert, the Steelers' director of football operations. "We just have to supplement with the draft."
The Steelers have signed, in some form or another, nine of their free agents in the past three weeks. And it appears they might not sign any more. They have no scheduled visits by free agents and they see nothing on the horizon.
It would be the first time in his 10 years with the Steelers that Colbert will have signed no other free agent but his own.
"Earlier, when we didn't have quite as deep a team, we had to add a few more guys than we've added in recent years," Colbert said. "I think it's best when you can keep your own, be selective when you add a guy when you have a need and the players available fits the need. Also, in recent years, less and less quality players have become available because teams are doing better job of keeping their own."
The Steelers will gain at least one player today, or the shot at one, when the NFL doles out its compensatory draft picks. The Steelers could get a third-round pick to go with their eight other draft picks (they have an extra in the seventh round from the trade that sent center Sean Mahan to Tampa Bay). That's based on them losing two starters last year to free agency, Alan Faneca and Clark Haggans, and signing no starters in return (center Justin Hartwig technically was not an unrestricted free agent).
The draft now has the center of the Steelers' attention, with free agency something that will exist only if another team releases someone that interests them. Other than the draft, they have made long-term contract extensions with linebacker James Harrison and tackle Max Starks their priorities, and they are not unhappy at all with how things have gone since they won Super Bowl XLIII.
"To us it's a productive offseason, keeping our own players," Colbert said. "The dollars we have invested in our own, I think will match up. You're not really in an arms race as far as spending dollars, but we've made significant investments in our own. And we're not done. We still have some things we want to accomplish internally. We're trying to get Max to a long-term deal and we want to sign James Harrison to a long-term extension."
The Steelers have been weakened with the losses at No. 3 wide receiver Nate Washington and starting cornerback Bryant McFadden. They looked at receiver Joey Galloway before he signed with New England and cornerback/return man Chris Carr before he signed with Baltimore. There's not another receiver in free agency that interests them, and they're likely to draft at least one next month. The lack of depth at wide receiver is a concern, Colbert said.
"We lost our third guy and some of the young guys have to step up. We'll keep watching and seeing [in free agency], but at this point we're not optimistic that there will be anybody else that we're interested in. The people we have have to step up."
Colbert believes the offensive line that they've worked hard to keep intact will improve with another year of experience and working together, and some rookie from last season could help them more this season, such as halfback Rashard Mendenhall, receiver Limas Sweed and linebacker Bruce Davis.
Mendenhall has returned to health after his shoulder was fractured in the fourth game.
"We were excited about where he was and then he had a season-ending injury," Colbert said. "That's a bonus pick for us. That's like having two No. 1s this year."
It's almost like signing a free agent.
NOTES -- Colbert said the team would like to re-sign both veteran backup quarterbacks, Charlie Batch and Byron Leftwich. Both are unrestricted free agents. ... Punter Daniel Sepulveda, who had ACL surgery last August, is healthy and ready to compete in all the offseason drills, Colbert said. ... CB Anthony Madison has signed his one-year tender as a restricted free agent.
First Published March 23, 2009 12:00 am