Steelers starting over

The Super Bowl parade and celebrations are over. Now the work of defending the Steelers' record sixth Super Bowl championship begins in earnest for director of football operations Kevin Colbert and his scouting staff.

While the players head into the offseason, keeping this team together while also adding to it becomes the main focus for the front office. Sometime in the next couple of weeks, Colbert, head coach Mike Tomlin, team chairman Dan Rooney and team president Art Rooney II will meet to discuss how the Steelers will accomplish that task.

"Obviously, this is a pretty good team and we're going to want to keep it together the best we can," said Colbert. "What combination, I can't say at this point because we haven't sat down as a staff. Our scouts have been evaluating college players and the free agents."

Eighteen Steelers will become restricted or unrestricted free agents Feb. 27, including six players – wide receiver Nate Washington, cornerback Bryant McFadden and offensive linemen Willie Colon, Chris Kemoeatu, Max Starks and Marvel Smith – who started games this season.

That gives the Steelers a little more than three weeks to work on new deals.

Colbert knows that the price tag on Pittsburgh's free agents likely went up after the Super Bowl championship.

"Guys who are in the playoffs and Super Bowl, you know they've been through a certain level of games and they've performed," said Colbert. "That, to me, adds to their credibility.

They have extra exposure to pressure situations and have shown an ability to handle it. I think that makes them more valuable."

Colbert, who has been the Steelers' director of football operations since 2000, has done an outstanding job of building this team. Only three players – defensive end Aaron Smith, wide receiver Hines Ward and cornerback Deshea Townsend – were not drafted or signed as free agents under Colbert's watch.

With its top three offensive tackles – Colon, Starks and Smith – each set for free agency, that position will be the team's top priority.

There will also be talks with linebacker James Harrison, who has one year remaining on his contract, about an extension.

But the offensive line was considered the Steelers' weak link and rebuilding it will be paramount if the team wants to repeat as champion.

Just don't say repeat to Tomlin.

"The thing I'm going to sell to our football team is we're not attempting to repeat," said Tomlin. "That special group of men that were in that locker room at the end of that game, that's gone forever. There will be 53 new men in there."

Colon, the starting right tackle the past two seasons, will be a restricted free agent, meaning the Steelers will have to make him a qualifying offer and wait and see if he receives a contract from another team.

Left tackle could be tougher position to fill. The Steelers placed a transition tag on Starks last year and paid him nearly $7 million. Many questioned paying that much to a backup, but when Smith went down with a back injury for the second year in a row, Starks started the final 13 games.

"When we did that with Max, we were confident that he could help us if the situation presented itself, which it did. We were very fortunate to have him in there," Colbert said. "When we did it, a transition on a backup didn't make a lot of sense, but in our mind, we felt there was no way that we were going to be as good a team without him."

The back injury to the 30-year-old Smith could be a career-ender.

"I'm sure other teams will look at him medically, as they would any free agent," Colbert said. "Where he was in November, where he is now, where he's going to be in March or even July and August will probably be different. I don't view it as a career-ender until you know for sure."

Dale Lolley appears courtesy of the Observer-Reporter.

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