INDIANAPOLIS -- Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert confirmed Wednesday what had been known for quite some time: Pro Bowl linebacker Ryan Shazier, who suffered a severe spinal cord injury in an early December game in Cincinnati, won't play in 2018.
"We know that and Ryan knows that," Colbert said on the first day of the NFL Scouting Combine.
It was the first time anyone associated with the Steelers mentioned publicly that Shazier won't play next season. Shazier has been outspoken about his desire to play again, including comments made last week on a podcast with teammate Roosevelt Nix.
Colbert said Shazier will continue to be a part of the team as he rehabilitates from his injury. He has been sitting in on meetings with scouts and coaches for the past few weeks.
Shazier's injury has presented some challenges for the organization. From a business perspective, he will count $8.7 million against the 2018 salary cap because Shazier signed the fifth-year option on his rookie contract last spring, which guaranteed him that salary.
From a football perspective, the Steelers have to replace Shazier on the field. That proved to be difficult late in the regular season and in the playoffs. It's not a secret the Steelers have to acquire multiple inside linebackers this spring via the draft and/or free agency.
Vince Williams, who started alongside Shazier last season, is 28 and entering the final year of his contract. Sean Spence, who was signed to replace Shazier after he was injured, did not perform well and is not expected to be re-signed.
The good news for the Steelers is there is quality depth at inside linebacker in this draft. The top prospects -- Tremaine Edmunds of Virginia Tech and Roquan Smith of Georgia -- likely will be gone by the time the Steelers pick at No. 28, but Rashaan Evans of Alabama and Leighton Vander Esch of Boise State might be available. There are other quality players who could be there in the second round if the Steelers select a player at another position in the first round.
"Whenever there is depth at any position, it's a good thing if you're taking that position or other teams taking that position so players (at other positions) are getting flushed to you," Colbert said.
How the Steelers approach other positions in the draft will depend upon what happens with running back Le'Veon Bell, who will become an unrestricted free agent if the Steelers don't sign him or designate him as their franchise player for the second year in a row. The deadline to place the tag on Bell is March 6, and Colbert said Wednesday the hope remains a long-term deal can be worked out before then.
But if the Steelers elect to let Bell test free agency and he signs elsewhere, running back becomes one of the team's top needs. The Steelers also need help at safety. Veteran Mike Mitchell will turn 30 before the season begins, is entering the final year of his contract and is coming off a bad season.
It hasn't been hard to figure out what types of players the Steelers will target in free agency and the draft. Earlier this month, on a conference call with fans, team president Art Rooney II referred to the team's run defense as "soft."
On Wednesday, Colbert also questioned the physicality of his defense in reference to the team's playoff loss to Jacksonville.
"We were out-physicaled defensively," Colbert said. "Their offense did a great job of running the ball on us and keeping us off balance. We made some mistakes in the secondary, which is to their credit. They deserved to win and move on, and we didn't."
--General manager Kevin Colbert said the Steelers are not interested in trading receiver Martavis Bryant. An NFL Network report surfaced last week that said the Steelers were open to listening to trade offers, but Colbert denied that's the case. Bryant has one year left on his rookie contract and had an important role in the offense last season.
Even though it's unlikely the Steelers will sign Bryant to a second contract, he provides great value on the final year of his rookie deal not to mention the fact the Steelers likely will receive a compensatory pick of equal or greater value than what he could fetch in a trade right now. The only way it would make sense to trade Bryant is if another team offered a first- or second-round pick for him.
--It's not an immediate need, but don't be surprised if the Steelers draft a receiver in the third round or later. They will need to replace Bryant after next season, and Eli Rogers' future is very much in doubt after he suffered an ACL injury in the playoff loss to the Jaguars. Rogers is a restricted free agent and might not be ready for training camp.