It’s been a pretty solid week for Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Omar Khan, who continues to draw praise for his work in his first full offseason as the team’s GM.
This week, Khan performed a couple of magic tricks. Faced with one of the deeper rosters in recent Steelers memory, he traded away both Kevin Dotson and Kendrick Green for significant draft pick compensation, only lost one player to waivers in special teams linebacker Tanner Muse, and then turned around and added Desmond King, who very well could be the team’s starting slot cornerback, and multi-year starting outside cornerback Anthony Brown to the practice squad.
The true judgement of how good those moves were won’t happen until we see it all play out on the field. Former general manager Kevin Colbert said it well on his cut-down day appearance on Sirius XM Radio.
“They’ve done some good things, they’ve made some changes and they’re doing some things and roster additions and again, the preseason looks like it’s headed in a great direction, but again, we always said that, ‘Judge us in February when all the dust is settled,’ and you know we always talked about there’s only one satisfactory result and that’s a Super Bowl,” Colbert said.
That’s true, but from this seat, the process looks extremely solid. It also, in my opinion, highlighted one of the key differences between Colbert and Khan.
Before Colbert was a general manager, he was a scout, and he was a great scout. Under Colbert’s leadership, the Steelers were masterful at building their team through the draft, and also finding under-appreciated gems in free agency.
The 2008 Super Bowl team’s starting roster is basically a tribute to Colbert’s abilities as a scout with undrafted running back Willie Parker, linebacker James Harrison, and guard Darnell Stapleton, seventh-round defensive end Brett Keisel, sixth-round guard Chris Kemoeatu and fourth-round defensive end Aaron Smith, tackle Willie Colon, linebacker Larry Foote and cornerback Ike Taylor.
That’s nine starters for a Super Bowl team drafted on Day Three or not at all. The only free agents were minimalist acquisitions Ryan Clark, James Farrior and Justin Hartwig.
The Steelers earned Super Bowl rings five and six on the back of Colbert’s scouting ability.
Khan is not that. His job before he became the Steelers general manager was to be the team’s salary cap expert and chief contract negotiator.
That meant that while Colbert was heavily involved in the scouting, evaluating, selecting and developing of talent, Khan was a lot more in tune with what the rest of the league was doing.
If you’re a scout, it doesn’t matter what other teams think of a player. You just make your evaluation. But negotiating a contract is all about comparing a player to other players on other teams. Knowing how other teams value players is a vital part of the job.
If a team drafts a player in the second round that becomes an All Pro, to a scout, that’s a great job. But if no other team would have drafted that player before the seventh round, it’s an asset-management miss.
Khan’s knowledge of how other teams value his players was on full display this week, as he wrenched away a bonus fourth round pick, and likely moved up in the fifth and the sixth, while trading away Kevin Dotson and Kendrick Green, who were unlikely to contribute for the Steelers this season.
He also got Breiden Fehoko through waivers, and while it looks like the team may lose Zach Gentry and did lose Tanner Muse, negotiated the cut-down process without an obvious misstep. That’s only possible with a high level of knowledge of what the rest of the league thinks about your players, their desires and trends.
That doesn’t mean that Khan will turn out to be a better general manager than Colbert, or even as good. He will need great scouting from Andy Weidl and others to replicate the success in those areas the Steelers have had.
But his strong week this week shows how Khan’s approach can be valuable.