The Steelers have made the news for all of the wrong reasons in recent days, with several players talking about a rift in the team’s locker room.
But general manager Kevin Colbert said Thursday at the NFL combine in Indianapolis he didn’t feel that was the case.
“Whether you win the Super Bowl or go 8-8, there’s no 100 percent harmonious locker room,” Colbert told reporters at Lucas Oil Stadium. “I don’t care where it is. That’s exemplified more when you’re 8-8. Quite honestly, I’m not concerned about our locker room.
“Coach (Mike) Tomlin and I had an opportunity to speak to our players since the season ended. We have a very good finger on the pulse of where we stand. From a team standpoint, we’re comfortable with that.”
The issue began when an anonymous player ripped LaMarr Woodley for being overweight last season, saying it led to the former Pro Bowl linebacker’s ankle and hamstring injuries that troubled him throughout the season.
Several veterans responded publicly by questioning the reports and stating that ripping a teammate in the media – particularly anonymously – wouldn’t be tolerated.
“We all have arguments with our brothers, sisters, cousins, but that stays in-house. What you talk about then stays there, and it doesn’t get out to the public. So that is the problem,” safety Ryan Clark said on the NFL Network. “That shows that this team that is normally close: you had the Joey Porters, the Alan Fanecas, just down the line, leader after leader, this team was close-knit. It shows there is a fracture in that. I think that is the most disappointing thing about that coming out.”
Wide receiver Antonio Brown also has been outspoken about the subject.
“Our team was a team last year where guys weren’t really together,” Brown said on ESPN’s FirstTake.
“As we know in the NFL, you’ve got to have a band of brothers. Everyone (has) to be together, and it (has) to filter down from the leadership. And for guys to throw a guy like LaMarr Woodley, a Pro Bowl player, under the bus just shows you the men we had in our locker room. And it’s something that we want to get corrected for 2013.”
Colbert and the Steelers coaching and scouting staffs are in Indianapolis in preparation for this year’s draft, which will be held in April. The Steelers have many holes to fill.
With Pittsburgh currently estimated to be $14 million over the salary cap for the 2013 season, the Steelers have some work to do before the NFL’s free agency begins March 12.
Colbert remains confident the Steelers, who have the 17th pick in the draft, can make the necessary moves to get under the cap – estimated to be $122 million – through contract restructures and extensions. That would stop the Steelers from tearing the team apart. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, tight end Heath Miller, wide receiver Antonio Brown, Woodley and fellow linebacker Lawrence Timmons are candidates for contract extensions or restructures.
Even with those possible moves, however, Colbert expects many of the 17 unrestricted free agents to sign elsewhere.
“When you have some success, you’ve probably had good players, some of them have probably been a little bit older, and they’re going to move on,” said Colbert. “We have to be prepared, both from a salary cap standpoint and from a talent standpoint, to make those changes. But it’s really not any more sophisticated than previous years.”
One player whose contract the Steelers will likely want to restructure is 35-year-old linebacker James Harrison. Harrison has a $9.5-million cap value this season with a base salary of $6.5 million, and the team would like to lower both of those numbers.
Though Harrison is not expected to be released, the Steelers feel they have a capable replacement in former second-round draft pick Jason Worilds.
“Jason Worilds did a nice job when he was called upon last year,” Colbert said. “Can he continue that? We hope.”
Just don’t say the Steelers are a team in transition.
“I don’t want to say transition, because that means we’re gonna accept anything less than a Super Bowl and trying to get back,” Colbert said. “But, obviously, change has to occur over time, and you hope that you prepared and drafted or signed free agents to deal with that change as it occurs. It’s inevitable, and change is going to happen to any player and any organization. You just have to be prepared to deal with it, and that’s all that this process is about.”