While it’s almost felt like a foregone conclusion, ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler helped confirm yesterday that left tackle Kelvin Beachum is likely to test the open market.
That matches up with the feeling we’ve had since Alejandro Villanueva’s play took off the final quarter of the regular season and into the playoffs. While Beachum had a ton of success in Pittsburgh, Villanueva is a cheaper option who showed rapid progression and should continue to get better under Mike Munchak. To see where he went from his first start to the way he finished the year out, to watch the game slow down for him, was pretty remarkable. Now, he has an entire offseason and training camp to be the starting left tackle and continue to refine his game.
Beachum may also be looking for a one-year deal to rebuild his value after tearing his ACL. Such a contract would eat up a good chunk of cap space with any team being unable to spread the cap hit into later years. It may be a little unfair to Beachum to go from nearly securing a long-term deal with the team to someone who is angling for just a one-year deal and chance to compete, but the league is one whose cruelty is equal opportunity.
Letting Beachum go does open up a clear need for tackle depth. There isn’t much behind Villanueva and Marcus Gilbert. There’s Byron Stingily, signed after Beachum went down, who was never active for a game. Chris Hubbard became the swing tackle but ideally, you don’t want to watch him get any significant time at either spot. Mike Adams is due to come back after his contract tolled but if he makes the 53 man roster, even with this weak group, would be a minor upset.
The focus of the draft and free agency will be on the defense, appropriately so, but pay attention to the team adding a tackle. In my free agency wishlist, I pointed out Jeff Linkenbach as a name to watch. He isn’t a top talent but has that swing tackle capability while seeing action at both guard spots, fitting what the Steelers generally look for.