As best as we can tell still this far out from free agency and without a market yet established for free agent tackles, it really doesn’t seem all that likely that the Pittsburgh Steelers and left tackle Kelvin Beachum are able to work out a deal. Barring a surprisingly shallow market, he likely doesn’t return to Pittsburgh in 2016.
But that is rather unfortunate, given, at the very least, the position that leaves the Steelers in when it comes to depth at the offensive tackle position. If you sign Beachum, then you already know who your backup is—Alejandro Villanueva.
But if you let Beachum walk and rely upon Villanueva to be the starter, then you are merely back where you started in 2014, minus Villanueva—worse off, in fact.
While Mike Adams will be returning for a fifth season due to his tolled contract after spending all of 2015 on the Physically Unable to Perform List, there really are no assurances that he will even be able to play. The original assumption was that he would be back by the end of training camp, but back issues can be a very fickle thing.
And to be clear, even a fully healthy Adams is not exactly the most ideal option for the Steelers should they go through something like last season, when Beachum went down with an ACL tear and missed the final 10 games of the regular season, plus the playoffs.
But even that would be a better option than expecting Chris Hubbard to serve as your super-sub, playing every position along the offensive line. He became the Steelers’ backup left tackle, among other positions, last year when Villanueva entered the starting lineup—and he even had to play a few snaps at one point during the season.
But the bottom line is that I can’t imagine the Steelers going into the 2016 season with Adams and Hubbard vying to serve as the backup to Villanueva, and to serve as the swing tackle on both sides, knowing with the lessons learned from last year the position that they could be facing on any given snap.
The team was fortunate to keep Ben Roethlisberger healthy through the 2013 and 2014 seasons, but, although the pass protection was better overall, he still managed to suffer at least four separate notable injuries that kept him out of four entire games and change to spare.
With the current projected backup plan at the tackle positions, it seems too big a risk for the Steelers to take—they even recently released with injury designations two of their primary tackles from last training camp—heading into the next season, especially considering Villanueva’s inexperience.
If the Steelers do not re-sign Beachum, a proposition that doesn’t seem very likely at the moment, then tackle will be an area that they will want to look to address in some form or fashion, including entertaining the possibility of re-signing Byron Stingily, who was signed after Beachum’s injury but never dressed. But the current options are not enough.