Since taking over as Director of Pro Football Operations and then General Manager of the Steelers in 2000, Kevin Colbert has helped the franchise post its best 20-year run in team history.
Yes, the Steelers of the 1970s won four Super Bowls in a six-year period. But sustained success? That wasn't in the cards.
The pre-Chuck Noll Steelers of the 1960s were atrocious. The Steelers of the post-Super Bowl era in the 1980s under Noll also weren't good. They won just two playoff games in the decade and posted a record of 77-75. They were the picture of mediocrity, which is the worst possible thing to be in sports.
Nobody, even those with visions of Super Bowl victories in the 1970s still dancing in their heads, would consider the '80s a successful period.
In the past week, we've taken an in-depth look at the job done by Colbert in his 20 years with the Steelers. It hasn't been a mixed bag at all.
In fact, in Colbert's 20 seasons, the Steelers have had one losing season. They've made the playoffs 12 times in 19 seasons, advancing to the Super Bowl three times and winning twice.
Only Bill Belichick, who took over as head coach/GM of the Patriots in 2000, can boast a better track record. Belichick has posted a record of 225-79 in that period, with an astounding nine Super Bowl trips and six wins.
Since Colbert came to the Steelers, they are 197-105-2.
So where does that put Colbert on our grading scale? Well, let's take a look at his tenure as a whole.
The overall draft grade from 2000-04 was an A-plus.
The period itself deserves an A-plus, as well. Colbert brought in two future Hall of Fame players in Ben Roethlisberger and Troy Polamalu and drafted 12 future starters. He also added key players such as James Harrison (2002), Willie Parker (2004) and Dan Kreider (2000) as undrafted rookie free agents, and critical veteran free agents in James Farrior, Jeff Hartings and Kimo von Oelhoffen.
That's how you build a team quickly, something the Steelers did, going 13-3 and reaching the AFC Championship in 2001, just two years after suffering through the second of back-to-back losing seasons in 1998 and 1999.
The next five-year period under Colbert's direction (2005-2009) was all about maintaining that excellence.
For that, Colbert deserves a solid A.
He drafted 12 eventual starters during the period. And though none of them are likely headed to the Hall of Fame, players such as Heath Miller, Santonio Holmes, LaMarr Woodley, Rashard Mendenhall and Mike Wallace were important players in the team winning the Super Bowl in 2008 and getting there again in 2010.
Colbert also brought in key undrafted rookies such as Ramon Foster and veteran free agents Ryan Clark and Mewelde Moore during this period.
The period of 2010-2014 was clearly one of rebuilding, even though the Steelers won't admit it.
The Steelers haven't returned to a Super Bowl since the 2010 season and have been in just one conference championship in that period. But they've also qualified for the postseason six times in the past nine years.
Have they underachieved? To a certain degree. But we can look at the talent assembled and some of the injuries they've had — either going into or in the postseason — and say some of that was circumstance.
What isn't arguable is that Colbert drafted 15 starters from 2010 through 2014, which is an average of three per year. And six of those guys have not only been Pro Bowl players, they've achieved All-Pro status.
Still, there were some misses, including Jarvis Jones, mixed in there that required the team to mix in some free agents. Harrison was re-signed, while Arthur Moats was added, as well. Because of misses at the safety position -- Shamarko Thomas in 2013 particular -- the team also signed Mike Mitchell. Mitchell wasn't as bad as some fans might think, but he also wasn't as good as Clark or Chris Hope were before him.
So, we'll give Colbert a B-plus grade for this period.
Finally, looking at the most recent era, 2015 through 2019, we've seen some very good drafts (2017) and some where they haven't maximized their draft picks (2015 and 2016). There also have been some misses in free agent signings in Ladarius Green, Morgan Burnett and Jon Bostic, but Colbert has been willing to make more trades for veteran players to supplement that.
The trade for Vance McDonald, for example, looks like a winner, as does the Joe Haden signing.
It's still too early to grade the past two drafts, so the 2015 and 2016 drafts will weigh down his overall grade for this period. Those two drafts produced just three starters now that Artie Burns has faded, leaving Bud Dupree, Sean Davis and Javon Hargrave as the producers out of those two years.
The 2017 draft produced three very good starters and the two after that still look promising. Perhaps five years from now, we'll be looking at this draft and grading it based on Colbert's bold move up to acquire Devin Bush. If that works out, the period's grade could be much different.
But for now, it's a C with an asterisk based on the incomplete grades the past two seasons.
An A-plus, A, B-plus and C works out to a solid A-minus on my grading scale. Argue with it all you want. But only Belichick has been better. And he has, perhaps, been better than anyone else in the history of the game to do it.
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