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You don’t have to cut Kevin Colbert’s legs off to make Omar Khan look taller

Things are feeling great in Steeler Nation after the completion of the 2024 NFL Draft.

What a draft it was, right? Talk about your value. What a way to address those needs. Omar Khan is an artist of the conning kind. How did he do what he did this year, which seemed to be an even better performance than the one he turned in during the 2023 NFL Draft?

The Steelers are in a much better place with Khan as their general manager than they were when Kevin Colbert held that role, at least over the last half-decade or so of his tenure…

OK, let’s take a second and breathe (or breath, if you’re on Twitter and don’t know the difference).

Yes, Khan has done some awesome things during his two seasons as Pittsburgh’s general manager. Do I even have to list them for you? I won’t, but it all seemed to start halfway through the 2022 campaign when he convinced the Chicago Bears to trade him their 2023 second-round pick in exchange for receiver Chase Claypool. Chicago then proceeded to tank the rest of its 2022 regular season. Also, the Dolphins lost their first-round pick due to tampering, and, presto, Joey Porter Jr., baby!

Khan can do no wrong.

At least that’s how it feels. Why does it feel that way? Partly because fans love transactions. I’m being totally genuine when I say that many Steelers fans love transactions more than they do watching actual football games. Khan has traded more than a few players away for draft picks during his short reign as GM. He recently used one of those draft picks to select Payton Wilson, the inside linebacker from N.C. State, in the third round (98th, overall) of the 2024 NFL Draft. I’m legit excited about the linebacker Wilson’s potential. He might be the best example of getting great value in a draft pick. Why did Wilson last until late in the third round? Injuries–including two torn ACLs. Wilson is also missing an ACL in one of his knees. This man, the 2023 recipient of the Chuck Bednirk Award and the  Butkus Award, the player who was a 2023 Unanimous All-American and the ACC Defensive Player of the Year, the athlete who ran faster than any linebacker at the Combine (4.43 in the 40-yard dash), could quite literally be the steal of the draft. But maybe Wilson’s injury history wasn’t the only reason for his slide. What about his 2019 run-in with the law due to underage drinking, trying to buy alcohol with a fake ID and resisting arrest? Unfair to bring that up? Maybe. Maybe not. He was 19 at the time. These things happen. But remember the brawl Chase Claypool got into after his rookie season?

The point is, it’s not always going to be sunshine and roses for Khan and the players he drafts, signs and trades for. At some point, someone is going to be a bust. At some point, some player, someone who was acquired during Khan’s watch, is going to reveal major character flaws.

At some point, Khan’s work is going to have to manifest itself on the football field. He got off to a great start in 2023, thanks to the rookie performances of Broderick Jones, Porter Jr. and Keeanu Benton, his first three draft choices.

But I remember how excited Steelers fans were about the rookie seasons of Artie Burns, Sean Davis and Javon Hargrave. Judging by how they performed once they got extensive playing time during the 2016 campaign, Burns, Davis and Hargrave seemed destined to have long and productive careers. That ultimately only happened for Hargrave, at least the productive part. Burns is still in football, but he certainly hasn’t lived up to his first-round pedigree. As for Davis? He’s currently a free agent.

Those players were drafted by Colbert, and Burns and Davis are often included when mentioning the poor classes the team’s former general manager acquired over his final five or six years on the job.

There may have been a lot of misses with draft picks, trades and free-agent signings, but T.J. Watt is the Steelers’ best player. Minkah Fitzpatrick, acquired in a trade early in the 2019 campaign, isn’t far behind. Cam Heyward is still an integral part of Pittsburgh’s team and culture. Chris Boswell just might be the best kicker in the NFL. Those are just some examples of Colbert’s influence on the current roster. If you want an example of his influence on the organization’s rich history, check out the trophy case.

As Colbert said during his final press conference following the 2022 NFL Draft, there were four Lombardi trophies in the case when he was hired in 2000, and there were six when he hung up his Rolodex over two decades later.

Rolodex is just my way of saying Colbert’s approach to acquiring players may have been outdated by the end of his time with the Steelers. Khan, the guy largely responsible for dealing with Pittsburgh’s cap problems in the years before his promotion, is more of a digital general manager. He’s into metrics. He probably understands the draft pick value chart as well as anyone.

He’s a modern-thinking NFL executive.

But Khan is still in the honeymoon phase of his job, which is why everyone is celebrating his moves. Moves are exciting. Moves are fun. Moves, well, move the needle. Khan loves to move the needle with moves. Come on, he swooped in and signed Russell Wilson for a song. He got Justin Fields for a bargain.

But to reiterate, Khan is going to have to show his work on the field sooner rather than later. I’m not just talking about barely scraping into the playoffs with a 10-7 record (Colbert did almost exactly that during his last regular season on the job). I mean, he’s going to have to win some playoff games and maybe even a championship or two.

That’s right, I said Khan is going to have to do those things. Ultimately, he’s going to be judged on wins and losses, just like anyone else who has ever been associated with the Steelers.

I don’t know if many fans care about this, but Colbert is at least a borderline Hall of Fame general manager. It’s rare for a football executive to even be considered for Canton, btw. Did Colbert lose his fastball over his final seasons? Perhaps, but so did Mean Joe Greene, Troy Polamalu and any number of great players who have donned the black and gold over the years. I don’t remember people mocking Greene or Polamalu right after they retired. Why are so many fans doing that to Colbert?

Say what you want about Colbert, but his overall resume is worlds more impressive than anything Khan has done at this point. Sure, Khan is the young, hotshot executive who is doing stuff in a more modern and efficient way, but even Jim Halpert had to learn a thing or two about managing people when he tried to celebrate multiple Dunder Mifflin birthdays on a day when Michael Scott was out of the office. 

I am not trying to take anything from Khan. He’s doing a great job, and the future sure does seem bright for the Pittsburgh Steelers. However, the story is not complete, and much like the ones for his first two draft classes, the overall grade for Khan as general manager of the team should officially be Incomplete.

Colbert’s grade, however, is an A, and he earned that mark during his 22 seasons as general manager.

Finally, I went to a Penguins game about a year ago and saw Colbert. A Pittsburgh native and huge Penguins fan, Colbert was wearing a Pens jersey and walking toward PPG Paints Arena with his little grandson. I was walking along with a bunch of other Pens fans who were also going to the game. The first thing I noticed about Colbert was how tall he was.

As the title suggests, there is no need to chop off Colbert’s legs just to make Khan seem taller.

Omar Khan may one day reach great heights as the Steelers general manager, but Kevin Colbert already has.


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