Omar Khan determined to make Steelers standard a symbol of excellence

Jul 27, 2023; Latrobe, PA, USA;  Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Omar Khan addresses the media
Jul 27, 2023; Latrobe, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Omar Khan addresses the media / Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

For years, the Steelers have upheld a powerful mantra: the standard is the standard. This ethos, often attributed to Mike Tomlin's coaching philosophy, embodies accountability, team unity, and resilience in the face of adversity. These principles have defined the Steelers organization, instilling a sense of pride in Steelers fans.

However, any such standard began long before Mike Tomlin took over the Steelers helm in 2007. One could argue that it started with Chuck Noll and his approach to rebuilding the team. The reality is that it began with Dan Rooney, the primary architect responsible for the Steelers signing Chuck Noll as the head coach, even if his father, Art Rooney, got the credit.

 Furthermore, Dan Rooney created a culture that players wanted to be a part of, including much of the philosophy Mike Tomlin brought with him to the Steelers in 2007. Hence, we must ask first what the standard is and how it should be defined. Secondly, as the Steelers' general manager, is Omar Khan redefining the standard through his shrewd tactics in acquiring talent who upholds the Steelers standard?

What is the Steelers Standard?

In reality, ask this 100 times, and you will likely have it answered 100 different ways. Each answer, though, will include various aspects of the following. These answers would consist of references to the following: a team dedicated to winning championships, players with mental and physical toughness, a team that intimidates and is never intimidated, and a team that is part of a family, not just a city. Lastly, a team that finds players that add value to their club without hampering their ability to keep the talent they already have.

These elements also include Tomlin's philosophy of accountability, team unity, and the willingness to face adversity. Those expectations have been in place for the better part of five decades, and certainly, Chuck Noll and Bill Cowher built teams with physical and mental toughness. Mike Webster, Jack Lambert, Mel Blount, Donnie Shell, Terry Bradshaw, Ben Roethlisberger, Rod Woodson, Troy Polamalu, Dermontti Dawson, Maurkice Pouncey, Hines Ward, and Joey Porter are just a few examples.

All of them, beyond that physical and mental toughness and intimidating aspect, had a winning mindset; they knew they were the face of the city of Pittsburgh first and foremost. Case in Point: in the 1978 baseball season, the Pittsburgh Pirates copied the family aspect, leading them to the World Series Championship; as you recall, they played "We Are Family" by Sister Sledge at home games. Despite their success and similar success of the Pittsburgh Penguins, when you hear someone say Pittsburgh, you automatically think of the Steelers beyond anything else.

Also, as free agency evolved, the Steelers never spent excessive money on big-name free agents or made huge trades unless the payers exemplified these traits. Some examples include Kevin Greene, James Farrior, Kimo Von Olehoffen, Jeff Hartings, and Dewayne Washington. Perhaps their two best trades before 2024 were for Jerome Bettis and Minkah Fitzpatrick.

However, somewhere under Mike Tomlin, some of these aspects have gone by the wayside, evidenced by only three playoff wins since 2012 and no wins and the loss of ego-driven players like Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell. Although Mike Tomlin has never had a losing season, he has only had a little success beyond the regular season. His only Superbowl win was with a team of players acquired before his arrival as the Steelers head coach.

The lack of post-season success in 2024 finally angered Art Rooney II, and he demanded a change in the results of future seasons, including post-season victories. Plus, as we know, he had some culpability in firing Matt Canada during the season. It's something the Steelers have only done once before in team history.

How Omar Khan is making the Steelers standard relevant again

However, in some way, Omar Khan took Art Rooney's mandate to heart and fully understands what it means to uphold the standard. You can argue he's shrewd, exemplified by the nickname he earned. He has become known as the Khan Artist with his selections in the 2023 NFL draft. Indeed, his moves in 2024 are bolstering his reputation.

First, he signs Patrick Queen with a large contract, something the Steelers have not done often, if for any other reason than to stick it to the Ravens, who wanted to keep him but lost him as a salary cap casualty. Then he humiliates Denver by signing Russell Wilson for only $1.3 million while Denver is on the hook for $37.79 million. He then fleeces the Bears for Justin Fields for a mere 2025 conditional 6th-round draft choice. In time, history may judge the Steelers 2024 free agency moves as one of the best or a dismal failure. However, it’s hard to see the latter becoming a reality.

In keeping with his familiarity with the Steelers standard, he quickly dealt Kenny Pickett to the Eagles as it appeared Pickett had an ego that made him think he was bigger than the team. He had no winning attitude, no understanding of team unity, and took no accountability for his role in the lack of Steelers offensive production in 2023.

The Steelers also have placed George Pickens on notice for his off-field antics in 2023. Refrain from assuming Omar Khan will not immediately trade him if he becomes a team distraction in 2024. The bottom line is that Omar Kahn will reestablish the standard, not Mike Tomlin. Tomlin will get that credit if they win in the post-season, but Omar Khan is enforcing the return of the Steelers to their standard to a symbol of excellence in the NFL once again.