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Colbert: Steelers assured of change

| Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013, 2:32 p.m.
The Steelers Chris Rainey against the Eagles 2012. Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review

On a typically blustery mid-January day in Pittsburgh, very atypical winds of change were swirling around the Steelers' offices at 3400 South Water St. on the South Side.

Making two dozen references to an 8-8 record he called “unacceptable” and “disappointing,” general manager Kevin Colbert said the Steelers will rework some contracts and terminate others to create enough salary cap space to begin meaningful change.

“You make decisions to sustain or make decisions to change,” Colbert said Wednesday during a half-hour interview. “This year we have to make decisions to change.”

To not change, Colbert said, would be an open invitation to more mediocrity.

“When you're 12-4 and a playoff team, sometimes you get mesmerized by your success and are a little reluctant to change,” Colbert said. “If we don't change the roster that produced 8-8, we should expect the same. It would be silly to expect a better result with the same group of guys.”

Those changes began last week with the waiving of running back Chris Rainey after police in Florida said they charged him for slapping his girlfriend. The move doesn't become official until Feb. 4 but, Colbert said, was made because Rainey “has lost the trust of the organization.”

The Steelers also appear to have lost faith in a group of running backs — Jonathan Dwyer, Isaac Redman, Rashard Mendenhall — that produced the franchise's second-worst rushing yardage since 1978.

Mendenhall, who skipped a December game after being told he wouldn't play, is all but certain to leave as a free agent. Colbert called Mendenhall's decision to skip a game “unacceptable.”

As for the others, Colbert said, “Where we were in the running game was indicative of the talent at the position. They're part of the 8-8. ... That group of players didn't produce like we anticipated.”

The Steelers apparently won't try to re-sign their unrestricted free agents — including Mike Wallace, Keenan Lewis, Max Starks, Casey Hampton, Larry Foote and Ramon Foster — until their value has been established on the open market in mid-March.

“We aren't down the road with any of our guys,” he said, adding, “We aren't married to any of these guys.”

They also won't employ a franchise or transition tag as an expensive way to assure a player's return. Franchising Lewis, for example, would cost $10.66 million.

“In my mind, when you're 8-8, I don't think you have too many franchise players,” Colbert said.

While the Steelers are an estimated $12 million over the projected $121 million salary cap, Colbert calls the situation “doable” and not that much different from any other offseason.

“But if you terminate someone, you'd better have a replacement,” he said. “If you extend someone, you have to have confidence that player will see it out. If you restructure, you'd better be careful going forward you don't hurt yourself cap-wise just borrowing against a credit card.”

Colbert also said:

• The Steelers will explore drafting a quarterback above the late rounds to provide a younger backup to Ben Roethlisberger.

• He saw no signs of disagreement between Roethlisberger and offensive coordinator Todd Haley.

• The Steelers aren't close to the remaining playoff teams, even the Ravens, with whom they played a pair of 3-point games. “We haven't played since the first week of January, and they're still playing.”

• The conservative approach to free agency is something that won't change. “We have to be open to that, but at what cost?” he said. “If we need this player to win, is it then going to cost us these two?”

• He wouldn't theorize why outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley's play fell off. He wouldn't blame weight, saying Woodley has been big — and productive — since high school.

Note: The Steelers signed cornerback Justin King to a one-year contract. The former Gateway High and Penn State star was on the 53-man roster for the final two games but did not play. He was cut by the Colts earlier in the season. He played his first three seasons with the Rams, starting 19 games.

Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at arobinson@tribweb.com or via Twitter @arobinson_Trib.

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