(Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Prior to signing Joe Haden in 2017 after the Browns released the Pro Bowl cornerback, Kevin Colbert was pretty reserved when it came to signing big-name players or making trades.
Colbert traded up 10 spots with the Broncos in the 2019 NFL Draft to select inside linebacker Devin Bush. In exchange for the 10th selection, Denver received Pittsburgh's 2019 first- and second-round picks (Nos. 20 and 52) and a 2020 third-round pick.
In September of 2019, Colbert went against the grain of how the Steelers usually operate and traded a first-round pick to the Dolphins for free safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. The Steelers were without a first-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft for the first time since 1967. That's just how rare the move was. The Steelers received a 2020 fourth-round pick and a 2021 seventh-round pick in the trade, while the Dolphins got a fifth-round pick in 2020 and 2021 sixth-round pick in addition to the first-round pick.
The Steelers desperately needed a free safety that year as Kameron Kelly was starting at the position, and coupled with Ben Roethlisberger suffering a season-ending elbow injury in Week 2 against the Seahawks, things looked grim for the Steelers. Colbert didn't punt on the season, however, and trading for a talent like Fitzpatrick showcased that. They finished the season 8-8 and just missed the playoffs. Fitzpatrick delivered also and made an instant impact on the defense and ended up being named first-team All-Pro. He received first-team All-Pro honors in 2020, as well. Colbert looked like a genius for the move, and he still does.
Fast forward to 2021, and Colbert has signed/traded for three former Pro Bowl players within the last three months -- guard Trai Turner, outside linebacker Melvin Ingram and inside linebacker Joe Schobert, who is the latest addition and came to Pittsburgh via a trade.
The three additions come at a total salary-cap hit of approximately $11.7 million in 2021 also, according to Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Turner was a solid signing after the release of David DeCastro and Ingram should be a great fit in the Steelers defense as a No. 3 outside linebacker. He's reportedly been tearing it up at training camp also.
On a much lesser scale, the trade for Schobert was almost like the Fitzpatrick deal in regards to how Colbert negotiated a fleece.
According to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, Schobert will make $7 million in guaranteed salary in 2021, but the Jaguars will be paying $3.65 million of it as part of the trade that sent him to Pittsburgh for a sixth-round draft pick in 2022.
Florio also notes that Schobert converted $2.36 million of his remaining salary to a signing bonus, to shrink the cap charge for 2021.
So, not only did the Steelers give up just a sixth-round pick for a Pro Bowl inside linebacker who excels in pass coverage, but the Jaguars are paying half of his salary this year also. How did Colbert pull this off?
The Steelers needed another inside linebacker to start opposite of Devin Bush, as Vince Williams retired on the eve of training camp and Robert Spillane has struggled in pass coverage throughout training camp and the first two preseason games. The Steelers knew they had a weakness with Spillane being a starter and they addressed it admirably by getting Schobert who has a total of seven interceptions in the last two seasons.
“It presented itself to us, but it didn’t take us long to consider it because we’re highly familiar with his skill set and productivity,” Mike Tomlin said after practice on Saturday when asked about trading for Schobert.
Schobert, 27, signed a five-year, $53.75 million deal with Jaguars before the 2020 season. He started all 16 games for Jacksonville last season, making 141 tackles with three interceptions and two forced fumbles. He also returned one of his interceptions for a touchdown.
Schobert was a fourth-round pick by the Browns in 2016 and he started 49 games during his tenure in Cleveland. Schobert led the league in tackles in 2017 with 144 when he made his only Pro Bowl.
“Productivity when I think of Joe,” Tomlin said. “He needs no endorsement from me. We’re familiar with him. He’s a former AFC North guy. He’s been highly productive in every circumstance he’s been in. He’s a sideline-to-sideline tackler. He’s good in coverage. He has coverage production in terms of interceptions. He has sack production. He has a well-rounded game so we’re excited about infusing him into what we do.”
Colbert's aggressive approach in recent years, and especially over the last few months, has been good to see. As it suggests that the Steelers are going all-in this season. They know that this could be their last run with Ben Roethlisberger at a Super Bowl. And Colbert is doing his job as a general manager to make sure they have the talent to do so.