Ramon Foster, age 30, is entering his eighth professional season in the league, and after signing a new three-year contract with the Pittsburgh Steelers, he figures to spend at least 10 years of his career in Pittsburgh, if it happens to expand beyond that—beyond age 32.
It is also an interesting fact that, at age 30, he has never actually officially been an unrestricted free agent. When he re-signed with the Steelers back in 2013 on a three-year deal that formally put him in the starting lineup for the first time, he signed the day before free agency opened. Earlier this week, his new three-year deal was officially signed earlier in the day of the start of the new league year.
Of course, this is immaterial to the actual point, as a matter of fact, which is quite simply that the Steelers’ ability to lock up Foster long-term—at least, long-term for a 30-year-old lineman—is a very, very good thing.
It just so happens what while the team actually does have some intriguing, sufficient interior offensive line depth, none of those players would have been a suitable replacement in the starting lineup for Foster. Instead of needing to invest heavily in the line to replace Foster, they now have to do nothing to set their line for 2016.
The Steelers’ top interior reserve, Cody Wallace, actually started 18 games including the playoffs for the team last year—at center. But Wallace is a much better center than he is a guard, as was evidenced by his two-game stint replacing Foster due to an ankle injury early in the 2014 season.
Even the prospect of moving Wallace to center as a full-time starter (in a world in which Maurkice Pouncey doesn’t exist, of course) is not overly appealing. Some players are just career backups who are perfectly suitable for that role, but whom you would never want to pencil in to the starting lineup.
Coincidentally, that is what Foster was early in his career. Even in 2012, after drafting David DeCastro in the first round, the Steelers moved right tackle Willie Colon to left guard. Had DeCastro not gotten injured during the preseason that year, Foster would have been a backup, and his career may have taken a different path.
Instead, he started 16 games that year and played well, solidifying his stature in the team’s eyes and earning himself stability with a long-term contract the following offseason. He has another one of those again, and now the Steelers also have depth to go along behind him.
In addition to Wallace, the team also carries over from last season Chris Hubbard, who is being flexed out to an every-position reserve, even if he has minimal in-game experience. The team is also high on 2015 priority undrafted free agent B.J. Finney, who spent all of his time after rehabbing an injury on the practice squad. They even paid him a full salary by the end of the year.
In Wallace, Hubbard, and Finney, the Steelers have a collection of players that I would never be satisfied penciling into a starting lineup—at least not yet, in Finney’s case, of whom we’ve seen little. But as a group of reserve interior linemen, I believe that they are a solid group that should more than suffice.