I took upon the task yesterday to write about a veteran player who is well-liked by his teammates and his organization, and yet, due to his position on the roster and his pending salary, could find himself at risk of not making the Pittsburgh Steelers’ roster in 2017. Though I’m not making that prediction for outside linebacker Arthur Moats, I don’t think it’s too hard to connect the dots.
Another veteran player who should certainly be looked at as being in a vulnerable position—perhaps even more so—is offensive tackle Ryan Harris, whom the Steelers signed to a two-year, $4 million contract during the offseason in 2016.
The team signed him after resolving that they would not have Kelvin Beachum at left tackle for them in 2017, and the idea was for him and injury-aided-incumbent Alejandro Villanueva to compete for the starting job at left tackle, with the loser serving as a quality backup, a good position for the team to be in.
They also subsequently used a fourth-round draft pick on underclassman tackle Jerald Hawkins, whom they liked during the offseason based on his body of work. He performed well in the first preseason game before suffering an injury that landed him on injured reserve, and they seem to be excited to see what he will do in his second year.
In the interim, right tackle Marcus Gilbert dealt with a foot injury during the regular season. In the game in which he was injured, Harris stepped in and himself also suffered an injury that landed him on injured reserve. As a result, the Steelers were left with no choice but to turn to the unheralded Chris Hubbard to make a three-game cameo in the starting lineup.
And he performed much better than basically anybody anticipated that he would. And they continued to use him as an extra lineman all the way through the playoffs after Gilbert returned to the lineup. And they even seem to like Brian Mihalik a decent bit as well.
All of this information in conjunction, I think, could put the veteran Harris in a position in which he may not make the roster in the way that Flozell Adams failed to make the roster in his second season with the team, though with the salary cap being less of a factor.
Harris, who will be turning 32 next month, is due to make a base salary of $1.9 million in 2017, and there is certainly no guarantee that he will be the third-best tackle on this team. The Steelers had a great deal more uncertainty at the tackle position, including at the starting left tackle spot, than they had a year ago.
That is a blow to the veteran’s value, especially if Hawkins looks to be the sort of player that they expected him to be. With Hubbard as an option that they know has already worked, potential growth from Mihalik could really seal his fate, though it might not even take that.