The Pittsburgh Steelers did well to lock up two of their own most critical free agents—cornerback William Gay and guard Ramon Foster—to new three-year contract just prior to the formal opening of this year’s free agency period. Though Gay did spend one year in Arizona, both players have been cornerstones of what the Steelers of this era have come, and come to embody.
It is fitting, then, that their re-signing with the team that originally drafted or signed them—Gay was a fifth-round draft pick in 2007, Foster an undrafted free agent in 2009—will enable each of them to hit their 100 career starts in a Steelers uniform during the course of the 2016 season.
A quick caveat is necessary to point out that, because 15 of Gay’s career starts will have come with his one season with the Cardinals in 2012, he will be reaching 100 career starts overall this year, and not 100 career starts with the Steelers.
Over the length of his nine-year career, Gay has never missed a game, active for all 144 regular season games he’s been a part of a team. He has started 92 of them, which means that, barring injury, he should hit the 100-start plateau right at the midway point of the year, which would be his 85th start for the Steelers.
Gay has started 77 of 129 career games played for the Steelers entering this season, which includes 16 starts in 2015, the first time he has ever started every game of a season. since re-signing with Pittsburgh in 2013, he has started 40 of 48 games, with 13 starts in 2014 and 11 in 2013. He did not enter either of the latter seasons as a starter.
Foster has had a similarly spurious journey to where he now finds himself, as a mainstay. He did manage to make the 53-man roster as a rookie in 2009, and even started four games due to injury. Over the span of the next two seasons, he started another 22 of 27 games played due to injury.
In 2012, the Steelers drafted David DeCastro, which would have sent him firmly into a backup role, but due to an injury to the rookie, Foster stayed in the starting lineup, starting all 16 games—playing at left guard, where he has remained since, the last three games of that year upon DeCastro’s debut.
Following that year, the Steelers have re-signed him twice to three-year contracts, and he has started all 45 games in which he has been healthy since, including 16 in 2015. Foster crossed the 100-game threshold last season, now at 102 games played, but he enters the 2016 season with 87 starts, meaning he will have to stay healthy to hit the 100-start plateau late in the year.
Both Gay and Foster represent a sort of underdog success story. Neither player entered the league with a pedigree. Neither have ideal specifications for their positions, and largely have worked themselves up to where they are through pure hard work and intelligence. They have rewarded the team with their play, making it fitting that the team has rewarded them with the opportunity to hit these career plateau marks in Pittsburgh.