PITTSBURGH - With a few more holes on the roster to fill than usual, Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said Monday that the team likely won’t be making any deals to move up in this year’s draft.
Despite holding eight picks, including the 17th selection of the first round, the Steelers want all the picks they can get when the draft is held Thursday through Saturday.
“I doubt that we move up,” said Colbert, who added that the Steelers have identified a pool of about 150 players they would draft.
“I think the more picks we have, the better, particularly in this draft. But there will be a good player at 17, there’s no question about that.”
If anything, the Steelers could be more open to moving down to acquire extra picks in what Colbert considers a deep draft.
“We’re open to either (moving up or down), as always,” Colbert said. “But this draft in particular, there’s quality in (rounds) two through four.”
For a team that has to replace several starters, including wide receiver Mike Wallace, cornerback Keenan Lewis, offensive linemen Willie Colon and Max Starks, nose tackle Casey Hampton, outside linebacker James Harrison, and reserve safeties Ryan Mundy and Will Allen, the more picks the better.
In addition to holding the 17th selection in the first round, the Steelers also have a pick in each of the other six rounds and two in round six. Pittsburgh received a sixth-round compensatory pick for losing cornerback William Gay as a free agent following the 2011 season.
Ironically, Gay was re-signed by the team earlier this year to help ease the loss of Lewis. Veteran tight end Matt Spaeth, another former Steelers draft pick, was also brought back after spending three seasons in Chicago, while Bruce Gradkowski was signed to be the backup to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
Colbert admitted the team probably had more turnover this offseason than in previous years, but noted that the Steelers finished 8-8 in 2012 and out of the playoffs.
“There are going to be subtractions every year,” Colbert said. “It’s usually 14 to 20 guys per team. It’s not uncommon that there is change. Sometimes the change is due to finances from a cap standpoint. Sometimes it’s due to needing a change. When you go 8-8 it’s probably a combination for us. If we had the same team we had last year, we’d be silly to expect different results.
“It’s our job to try to improve that. You’ll be able to judge us in February whether we got the job done or not.”
Pittsburgh currently has 65 players under contract and will add another 25 players this weekend to get to the NFL limit of 90.
And the Steelers aren’t closing the door to adding more veteran talent in the coming weeks, despite being only about $500,000 under the NFL salary cap following the contracts given to wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders and nose tackle Steve McLendon in the past two weeks.
“It depends on how the draft unfolds,” said head coach Mike Tomlin. “We’re interested in adding to this football team in all the avenues available to us. We don’t lean one way or the other.”
That would include bringing back one of their own veterans such as Starks or Hampton, neither of whom has signed elsewhere, or a running back such as Ahmad Bradshaw, whom the Steelers have hosted at their training facility in recent weeks.
But the draft picks will certainly be a cheaper alternative for a team that has been tight against the salary cap in recent years.
The Steelers will gain an additional $5.5 million in cap space in June when Colon’s release is finally added to their ledger, but much of that will be used to sign their rookies.
“It’s not like we’re going to hit the lottery. We still have to compensate for these draft picks,” Colbert said. “But there’s still potential to sign a veteran free agent here or there, depending on how we come out of this draft. Other teams will flush some veteran players out. We have to be ready, if we can, to add a player who can help us.”
Putting together a solid draft this week will be crucial for a team that has had some key misses in recent years. The Steelers have no players remaining from their 2008 draft class, while the team’s top three picks in 2012 - guard David DeCastro, offensive tackle Mike Adams and linebacker Sean Spence - all missed significant portions of last season with injuries.
Both DeCastro and Adams are expected to start in 2013, while Spence’s recovery from a severe knee injury remains a work in progress.
“You have to have production from (picks) one, two and three,” Colbert said. “When you don’t, you have a hole. That’s the expectation for whoever we take at one.
“When they play and how much they play, Coach Tomlin and his staff decide that. Quite honestly, I don’t anticipate anyone coming in and having an impact in Year One. I never do. There’s always a growing process that has to occur.”