Changes? Don't Expect Them Now

Jim Wexell explains why he's not expecting any changes now, but ponders whether a rejuvenated Kevin Colbert would trade Ben Roethlisberger and start over like it's 2000 again.

Someone asked Mike Tomlin right after the game if his team quit against the New England Patriots the other day.

Tomlin, not knowing what a reporter might've seen from his seat in the press box, said: "We are going to comb through this with a fine tooth comb, as we should. And those people who are lacking effort won't be playing."

Well, I went through the tape Monday with said "fine tooth comb" and came away doubting Tomlin will announce any changes at his press conference today.

Any minor changes? Well, I might consider activating the true nose tackle, Loni Fangupo, and maybe taking a look at Steve McLendon as an end. I might consider giving Cortez Allen back his starting cornerback job and making William Gay the nickel. And I might consider easing Shamarko Thomas into the free safety spot in relief of Ryan Clark. But, really, I would have to be certain that Thomas has a grasp of the position, which has been a position for older veterans since the days of Brent Alexander.

I realize most fans -- and even the fans in the media -- are demanding changes for what they feel was an unforgivable breakdown in New England, but what I saw on tape was a team getting whipped by a superior quarterback who's made a habit of kicking the Steelers when they're down, and even when they're not, re: a 2007 team that was a year away from a title and a 2010 team that was months away from an AFC title.

Brady looked healthy, his receivers were finally maturing and understanding their QB, and dominating TE Rob Gronkowski was in the game. Also, the Patriots' running game that had been carrying Brady with Gronkowski out, and with those receivers learning, showed against the Steelers why it had been the offense's main asset to that point in the season.

And throw in the fact that Brady absolutely despises the Steelers and Pittsburgh and it added up to a quarter-and-a-half of annihilation as the Patriots gassed the Steelers and kept the pedal to the metal.

Pittsburgh fans demand better, and they're demanding retribution for being embarrassed like that, but I doubt it will happen. The tape shows willingness, hustle, even enthusiasm on the part of the Steelers. Of course, that won't be believed by Steelers fans (and their fans in the media) who won't bother to review the tape. If they do, they'll realize it had more to do with a lack of talent than anything else.


Earlier in the day I watched the Chiefs and Bills and marveled at the talent and high draft picks (and health) making up both of their lines. But the high-pedigreed talent at the skill positions -- other than quarterback -- on both teams made me realize just how difficult it is to build a winning team. Both of those teams are jam-packed with talent that will take the Steelers some years of drafting to match.

But it can happen, and did happen back in 2000 when Kevin Colbert was hired to replace Tom Donahoe as the head of the personnel department.

Let's see, the Steelers went to the Super Bowl in 1995, hosted an AFC title game in 1997, and then sputtered for two years with 7-9 and 6-10 records. The bottom fell out in the second half of the 1999 season when a 5-3 first-half team finished 1-7. Donahoe was fired and Colbert stepped in.

The timeline is quite similar to the 2008 championship Steelers who then hosted the 2010 AFC title game and sputtered last season (8-8) and this season (2-6).

But instead of firing the very capable -- and easy-to-work-with -- Colbert, it's time for him to party like it's 2000 all over again.

Instead of filling holes, he must draft superstars, regardless of position. And that will be possible, since the Steelers are headed for their first top-10 pick since Colbert drafted Plaxico Burress No. 8 in 2000.

It's the longest stretch without a top-10 pick of any team in the NFL by at least three drafts.

The Ravens -- who drafted fifth in 2000 -- have the second longest top-10-free drafts since picking 10th in 2003. The Giants and Chargers, of course, drafted top-4 quarterbacks in 2004.

From that dreadful 1999 team, the Steelers that went on to form the nucleus of their next Super Bowl team were Alan Faneca, Jerome Bettis, Hines Ward and reserves Aaron Smith, Joey Porter and Deshea Townsend. Let's match them with David DeCastro, Le'Veon Bell, Antonio Brown, Cameron Heyward, Jarvis Jones and Cortez Allen/Shamarko Thomas.

The key will be to draft superstars going forward, and I have every reason to believe Colbert is up for the challenge of repeating his own history of identifying talent.


Having some extra draft-pick firepower would certainly help the Steelers get back to the Super Bowl in the six years it took those 1999 wretches, so that naturally brings up the question of whether to trade Ben Roethlisberger after the season.

The following questions would have to be answered in the affirmative before it could even be considered:

* Would there be a partner willing to trade a couple of first-round picks?

* Would the cap be sufficiently relieved?

* Is there a capable replacement?

The answer to the first question is an obvious yes. Roethlisberger will turn 32 next March, is throwing the ball as well as ever, and a team trading for him wouldn't be responsible for the cap hit of previous bonus money it took to sign him to his contract.

And that's another attractive point: He has two years, not one year, remaining on his contract and would certainly be amenable to a contract extension with his new team.

The answer to the second question isn't quite so affirmative. According to our cap expert at, Ian Whetstone, the Steelers would only realize $5.31 million in cap savings by trading Roethlisberger. If they were to trade him after June 1 -- which probably wouldn't be feasible to his new team -- the Steelers would realize $12.1 million in cap savings, but would still be on the books for $6.8 million in 2015.

If a new direction, a pair of additional first-round picks, and $5.3 million is enough for the Steelers to continue this exploration, they need to answer the third question with confidence:

Is there a capable replacement -- an Andrew Luck-for-Peyton Manning caliber of replacement -- available to them?

Well, I don't know if Marcus Mariota is Luck, but Roethlisberger's not Manning, either, so perhaps the answer could be yes; if the Steelers know they can get high enough to draft Mariota.

While Teddy Bridgewater of Louisville reminds me of a bigger Russell Wilson -- a guy I liked coming out -- Bridgewater, like Wilson, throws a high number of looping passes off a three-quarters flick. Yes, that's a Wilson trademark, but I liked Wilson as a fourth-rounder, not a top 5 guy. I just have some questions about Bridgewater's arm in that regard, and really don't know anything about his intelligence and ability to read defenses.

I have no such reservation about Mariota, who seems to have Luck's arm and intelligence, but is more comparable to Colin Kaepernick, physically, with his exceptional mobility and read-option experience.

Could you imagine the Steelers going pistol and read-option?

In spite of Tomlin's comments about that offense in the off-season, I can imagine it. The Steelers have the makings of an extremely mobile offensive line and have already begun phasing in the necessary zone-blocking schemes. And they have a back in Bell who would complement Mariota and help turn this offense back into the physical northern outdoor running team that it must be.

The 49ers run the ball 55 percent of the time, and Kaepernick seems sturdy enough and his ballhandling deft enough to make it work.

Mariota's out of the same mold, and so I'll be watching him in particular late this season, as will, I'm assuming, Colbert.

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