Throughout the vast majority of Ben Roethlisberger’s career with the Pittsburgh Steelers, every offseason was more of the same: not a lot of cap space, minimal moves made, and a focus on building through the NFL Draft.
It is safe to say the 2022 offseason did not follow the aforementioned pattern. In fact, this past offseason was filled with news, reports, rumors and signings that certainly rocked the boat.
How it started? Well, let’s go back and take a look ...
The start of the 2022 offseason began with the ending of the 2021 regular season, when the Steelers lost to the Kansas City Chiefs in the Wild Card Round of the AFC Playoffs. Following that loss, several retirements were expected, while others were surprising.
The biggest — and expected — retirements were both Ben Roethlisberger and general manager Kevin Colbert. Another retirement that wasn’t a shock to the fan base was that of defensive coordinator Keith Butler. The shock came with the news of Stephon Tuitt’s retirement. Tuitt sat out all of the 2021 season, and stepped away from the game rather than keep the team in a state of limbo as he weighed his options for the future.
After these decisions were made, the team started to find replacements, in some way. Teryl Austin, who was a defensive assistant and secondary coach, was promoted to defensive coordinator. But that wasn’t the biggest news in the coaching staff this past offseason. The big news came this past winter when it was announced former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores was joining the coaching staff. This news was impactful not just because of his lawsuit against the NFL, but because of his football mind and how he could help improve the Steelers’ defense.
The Steelers approached the offseason not just without Roethlisberger returning, but also with new-found salary cap space. For once the Steelers were in position to be buyers and not just spectators. And spend they did. Here is a list of the outside free agents who were signed this past offseason:
- Mitch Trubisky, QB, Buffalo Bills
- Mason Cole, C/G, Minnesota Vikings
- James Daniels, C/G, Chicago Bears
- Myles Jack, ILB, Jacksonville Jaguars
- Levi Wallace, CB, Buffalo Bills
- Genard Avery, LB, Philadelphia Eagles
- Gunner Olszewski, KR/PR/WR, New England Patriots
- Damontae Kazee, S, Atlanta Falcons (injured reserve, wrist)
- Larry Ogunjobi, DL, Cincinnati Bengals
The sheer number of moves that were made were staggering for the Steelers’ fan base, but also gave fans a massive amount of hope moving into the 2022 season. No longer was the cabinet bare at several positions, but the shelves were stocked with experienced players new to the organization.
When talking about free agents, the Steelers didn’t just target players outside the organization; they also chose to keep several of their own free agents. Here are the players who were retained by the Steelers front office this past offseason:
- Ahkello Witherspoon, CB
- Chuks Okorafor, OT
- Montravius Adams, NT
- Arthur Maulet, CB
- Terrell Edmunds, SS
- Miles Killebrew, S/LB
- Karl Joseph, S (injured reserve
Not all moves were celebrated by the fans, mainly the three-year contract given to Okorafor, but the Steelers were able to retain players Edmunds and Joseph on very team-friendly contracts. In fact, most of the players the Steelers kept within their system would fit the description of a contract which was fair to both the player and the organization.
With all the news circulating regarding the team’s free agent pickups, there were players who were lost in free agency — players who chose to take their talents elsewhere. While these departures won’t come close to giving the organization a compensatory selection in the 2023 NFL Draft, here are the free agents which were lost:
- JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR, Kansas City Chiefs
- James Washington, WR, Dallas Cowboys
- Ray-Ray McCloud, WR, San Francisco 49ers
- Joshua Dobbs, QB, Cleveland Browns
- Taco Charlton, DE, New Orleans Saints
Just as the news of the active free agency period began calming down, the 2022 NFL Draft was just ramping up. What would the Steelers do with the 20th overall pick? Oh, not much — just take the first quarterback off the board, a player many are hoping will be the next quarterback of the franchise for over a decade, like Roethlisberger was when his career began back in 2004.
Here is the Steelers’ 2022 NFL Draft class, in case you forgot:
- Round 1 - Kenny Pickett, QB, Pitt
- Round 2 - George Pickens, WR, Georgia
- Round 3 - DeMarvin Leal, DL, Texas A&M
- Round 4 - Calvin Austin III, WR, Memphis (injured reserve, foot)
- Round 6 - Connor Heyward, TE/FB, Michigan State
- Round 7 - Mark Robinson, LB, Ole Miss
- Round 7 - Chris Oladokun, QB, South Dakota State
The conclusion of the draft meant the official end for GM Kevin Colbert. Colbert was emotional in the post-draft press conference, and after 22 years on the job that’s expected. Once again, the Steelers’ global fan base wanted to know who would take over the title of GM?
Art Rooney II and the rest of the front office staff took their time, hosted several rounds of interviews, but ultimately decided on an in-house hire. No, not Brandon Hunt, but Omar Khan was named as the new GM.
Khan, who has been with the Steelers for 20 years himself, has always been the man behind the contracts and salary cap construction. Fans wanted to know how this would work, considering the GM is also to oversee the player management/acquisition aspect of the job.
Khan brought in an almost entirely new scouting department, headed by former Philadelphia Eagles’ vice president of player personnel Andy Weidl and several others. But while that aspect of the job won’t be noticed until this upcoming offseason and the next draft cycle, Khan has been active in the short amount of time he has held the title of GM.
It was Khan who orchestrated the acquisitions of Ogunjobi and handed out new contracts to several current players on the roster. The biggest contract given was to All-Pro safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. His four-year extension made him the highest paid safety in the NFL.
After Fitzpatrick’s deal was done, Khan targeted placekicker Chris Boswell for a new deal. The two sides got a four-year extension done. The last player who was looking for a new contract was wide receiver Diontae Johnson. Johnson was entering the final year of his contract, and his overall value was tough when compared to his NFL counterparts. Nonetheless, Khan and Johnson were able to come to terms on a two-year extension, keeping Johnson in black-and-gold for the next three seasons.
All of that news, and such a crazy offseason, was capped off by a return to Saint Vincent College for training camp in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. Due to protocols, the Steelers hadn’t been back to Saint Vincent since 2019. The return to Latrobe marked a sense of normalcy returning the Steelers. While many familiar faces weren’t there, it marked a new era in Steelers history.
Yeah, that’s how it started, but how it’s going is something that is still being written ...