As the first week of free agency begins to wind down, we have already seen many pieces fall into place for the Pittsburgh Steelers, having already re-signed four of their own players and bringing in an outside free agent for a fairly lucrative sum that averages out at $5 million per season.
In putting the pieces together, we begin to construct in hindsight what the team envisioned to do, or at least what they wound up doing due to forces beyond their control. And it seems increasingly apparent that part of that vision is, at the bare minimum, bringing in some starting competition at left tackle for Alejandro Villanueva.
Former first-round left tackle Russell Okung was in for a visit at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex yesterday, but it wasn’t simply a visit. Reports are that the Steelers put an offer on the tackle for the 28-year-old that he is considering, which, if accepted, would in all likelihood slide him into the starting lineup.
But the team is also clearly doing its due diligence more broadly speaking, setting up visits with a pair of second-tier tackle candidates with starting experience who would at least push Villanueva for the starting job, if not take over the starting spot and leave him as the swing tackle.
The more that this develops, and assuming that Okung ends up taking another offer other than the one that the Steelers have made, the more it seems that the odds rise of former compensatory seventh-round draft pick Kelvin Beachum returning to the team, a proposition that, entering free agency, had seemed rather unlikely.
Beachum was offered a long-term contract during the summer last season, which he declined, believing that he could put together a strong fourth season that would net him the life-changing contract that every professional athlete seeks.
As we know, a torn ACL derailed those hopes, but reports have already come through that the Steelers are interested in retaining him on a one-year ‘prove it’ contract, which was speculated as a possibility, but never backed by anything substantive until recently.
At the moment, Beachum is doing his own due diligence in exploring the open market, having a meeting set up with the Jets, who are not averse to inheriting the offensive linemen that the Steelers let go of, already with two on the roster last season. The Seahawks, for whom Okung has played, are also reported looking into him, as are the Jaguars.
If it should come to pass that the 26-year-old finds the market for an undersized left tackle recovering from a torn ACL is not what he had hoped it would be, and that the best opportunity for him to get the contract he is looking for is to sign a one-year deal, then it would stand to reason that the place that would give him the best opportunity to increase his value would be a return trip to Pittsburgh.
It may prove to be a temporary reunion if that is what ends up happening, with Beachum hitting the market again in 2017 with the hopes of cashing in big, but it would provide further stability for a critical slice of Ben Roethlisberger’s championship window, and another year for Villanueva to develop.