Why the Steelers are holding on to strategize and develop despite NFL trends – Pittsburgh Steelers Blog

PITTSBURGH — Riding a Super Bowl float in Los Angeles earlier this year, Los Angeles Rams general manager Les Snead wore a t-shirt displaying an image of his face along with his unofficial motto. organization for the 2022 season superimposed.

“F— the choices.”

It’s the same phrase former Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill invoked during his first availability in Miami after the Dolphins gave up five draft picks — including a 2022 first-rounder — to secure the services of the speedster.

Since the start of 2018, there have been 17 trades that have included at least one first-round pick to acquire a veteran. This offseason alone, there have been four trades in which a team has used a first-round pick to nab a veteran: Russell Wilson, Davante Adams, Deshaun Watson and Hill. A total of seven first-round picks were traded for veteran players in March, the most in a month since the common draft era began in 1967, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

But while teams across the league mirror Snead’s future mortgage moves in an effort to win now, the Pittsburgh Steelers hold steadfast to the draft-first principle that has guided the organization since its inception.

“I think we have a definitive business model that we buy into,” coach Mike Tomlin said at NFL owners’ meetings last month. “We don’t care what the Joneses do.”

That philosophy was a driving force behind the Steelers’ aggressive pursuit of free agent quarterback Mitch Trubisky, with whom they agreed to terms just an hour into the NFL’s trading window.

Not only did Trubisky’s skillset match offensive coordinator Matt Canada’s concepts, but he also didn’t cost the Steelers draft picks — something Tomlin and general manager Kevin Colbert raised in three separate interviews throughout. along with owners’ meetings. That’s why Trubisky was a more attractive option than Watson, Wilson or Jimmy Garoppolo. The addition of Trubisky, a free agent whose contract cost just $14.25 million over two years, gives Pittsburgh the flexibility to add another quarterback or fill other positions of need such as safety, offensive line and defensive line with his seven picks in the NFL Draft (Round 1 is April 28 on ESPN, ABC and ESPN App).

“When we started, we were trying to keep our capital project,” Colbert said of the team’s free agency approach. “We really didn’t want to get into the business type areas because we felt there were other players that we needed those picks to secure. So if we could get in there and get a good young quarterback- fullback, a successful quarterback like Mitch Trubisky, it made sense for us to do it when we did.

The Steelers have always been a draft and development organization, proud of homegrown products like quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger and Terry Bradshaw. And now, with the rest of the league — and more specifically the AFC — engaging in an arms race at the expense of draft picks in all efforts to win now, the Steelers are content to stick with it. their principles.

“I don’t think they’re ever going to close a chance or ignore a chance to put themselves in that position to compete for championships,” said Doug Whaley, a Pittsburgh native who spent 11 years as a scouting coordinator. Pittsburgh professional ahead of a potential stint. as general manager of the Buffalo Bills. “But they also have this balance of not acquiescing to moves that may be popular or ones that you think may be a quick fix for now and sacrifice something in the long run. Because they want stability, not just what they have, off the pitch but on the pitch. One way to do this is through the draft.

Since 1967, the Steelers have traded their first-round pick just six times, second-fewest behind the Jacksonville Jaguars, who have only been in the league about half that time (since 1995).

The Steelers’ philosophy dates back to the 1970s, when they built the backbone of their dynasty on draft players. In 1974, the organization drafted four future Hall of Famers in the first five rounds: wide receivers Lynn Swann and John Stallworth, linebacker Jack Lambert, and center Mike Webster. During that same decade, Pittsburgh drafted Bradshaw and defensive back Mel Blount, along with linebacker Jack Ham and running back Franco Harris. The team also selected defensive tackle Joe Greene in the first round of the 1969 draft. With this homegrown foundation, the Steelers won four Super Bowls in six seasons.

“It goes back to what started their run as a successful team constantly competing for championships,” Whaley said. “…And it starts with the Rooneys. The Rooneys are not a family that bought football. They live football. It’s their business. … They grew up in football. So they’ve seen the passing fads, which may be, but they know they’ve seen the ones that really constantly compete and get into the conversation are the ones that draft and grow. And they had so much success there. If it’s not broken, don’t try to fix it.

Since Colbert took over as general manager in 2000, the Steelers have had nine first-round picks selected to multiple Pro Bowls, tied with the Chiefs for the most in the NFL.

Pittsburgh’s ability to select hard-hitting first-rounders is also evident in the volume of second-rounders awarded to those picks. From 2000 to 2017, the organization granted second contracts to 11 of its 18 first-round picks for a success rate of 61% – the fifth highest in the NFL over time after the Panthers, the Texans, the Cowboys and the Eagles, according to ESPN Statistics and News Data. The average hit rate, defined by first-round picks signing a second contract with their draft team, league-wide over that span, is just 43%.

But the Steelers also haven’t played in a Super Bowl in over a decade, and they haven’t won a playoff game since 2016, making their refusal to adapt to the aggressive trend at all- one of the league either admirable or… misinformed.

“We’re open to learning and growing, don’t get me wrong, but in terms of how we acquire talent, our approach to acquiring talent, we have a definitive model,” said Tomlin. “We build our team mainly through the draft, and we supplement in free agency. And that’s just a philosophical approach that we believe in. We want to be part of their growth and development as young people, not just as players. So you write them.

Pittsburgh is showing signs of modernizing its tactics. Although the Steelers ultimately didn’t execute any hit trades in the first wave of the 2022 offseason, they spent more than $80 million on outside free agents. They also traded a first-round pick to grab safety Minkah Fitzpatrick from the Dolphins in 2019, and they traded to select linebacker Devin Bush in the 2019 draft. Fitzpatrick’s trade was the first time in the era of common draft that Pittsburgh was trading a first-round pick to acquire a veteran.

“That’s the basis of what they do, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to bite their noses to spite their face,” Whaley said. “They’re always going to take it on a case-by-case basis, but they’re not going to make a tectonic shift to say, ‘OK now, we’re going to trade three first rounds and three second rounds for this one person. Now if you give up a first round to go up and find a guy [in the draft]Yes.”

The organization has the opportunity to pursue a different direction when a new general manager takes over from Colbert in the months following the draft, but with Art Rooney II still installed as team president and Tomlin as team president. ‘head coach, the Steelers fundamentals are likely. won’t change.

Lance B. Holton