PITTSBURGH -- The catch was made, the confetti dropped, the trophy presented, the Super Bowl won. The celebratory parade drew hundreds of thousands, and the TV show appearances and endorsements are only beginning.
But already, they're just another team looking to win next season.
"I've got to have some sense of that, understand that we're a month behind in getting ready for '09," coach Mike Tomlin said. "We've got to be thoughtful in how we prepare our football team."
To director of football operations Kevin Colbert, the Steelers' record isn't 15-4, it's 0-0. So much for enjoying the moment.
"Everybody here works toward a common goal, and that's winning," Colbert said.
What complicates matters is that winning -- the Steelers are 63-26 the past five seasons, counting the playoffs -- increases what players are worth, stretches the salary cap and forces an overhauling of positions.
"There will be a new 53-man roster," Tomlin said. "A lot of the faces will be the same, but nothing stays the same in this game."
The Steelers could have as many as 12 unrestricted free agents on Feb. 27, including offensive linemen Max Starks, Chris Kemoeatu, Marvel Smith and Trai Essex, punter Mitch Berger, quarterbacks Charlie Batch and Byron Leftwich, linebacker/special teams ace Keyaron Fox, cornerback Bryant McFadden and wide receiver Nate Washington.
They may have to choose between Smith, who has missed big chunks of the last two seasons with back problems, and Starks, the only offensive lineman to start both of their last two Super Bowls. Leftwich wants a chance to start and is expected to leave, and Batch -- injured all season -- is amenable to returning as a backup.
The Steelers would like to bring back Fox, their second-leading tackler on special teams, but Berger will be replaced by Daniel Sepulevda, who sat out this past season with a knee injury.
Harrison has been one of the NFL's biggest bargains after signing a $5.5 million, four-year deal in 2006 before becoming a starter. He made $1.1 million as a Pro Bowl player in 2007 and $1.2 million this past season, when he set a club record with 16 sacks.
Defensive end is likely to be a Steelers priority in the next two years; Aaron Smith will be 33 next season, Keisel will be 31 and backup Travis Kirschke will be 35, so this may be a position targeted in the draft.
Once free agency and the draft are over, Tomlin said, "We're going to roll up our sleeves and start with a new group of men -- hopefully a lot of them will still be the same -- and go about our business of trying to compete in '09."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press