Player: Chris Hubbard
Position: Offensive Line
Free Agent Status: Restricted
2016 Salary Cap Hit: $600,000
2016 Season Breakdown:
He may not exactly be a favorite among Steelers fans—I personally advocated that he should not make the roster in 2015 following his terrible preseason performance that year—but Chris Hubbard earned a lot of respect for his play during the course of the 2016 regular season. Please note that I did not say that he got the respect that he earned, because he still has far more than his fair share of detractors.
Originally an undrafted free agent in 2013 out of UAB as a tackle, Hubbard managed to make the practice squad with the Steelers during his rookie season, and caught the attention of his head coach while earning the nickname ‘Mother Hubbard’…though ‘earning’ in this case might not be the most applicable term.
He did not play much during his first two seasons, but that changed last year, in large part due to injury. Marcus Gilbert at right tackle suffered a foot injury in a game that knocked him out for three weeks, and Ryan Harris, signed to be the team’s backup swing tackle at worst, was injured as well.
Hubbard suddenly was thrust into the starting lineup at right tackle, but he handled his own to the surprise of pretty much everybody on the outside who actually gave him the credit of watching his play and evaluating it fairly.
Upon Gilbert’s return to the lineup, the Steelers continued to use Hubbard as an extra lineman, and during the first six games of their seven-game winning streak, they used him on nearly a quarter of all of their offensive plays.
It is, however, Hubbard’s versatility that is his greatest asset. Over the years, he has played at all five positions along the offensive line in-game in addition to being used as an extra blocking tight end as the additional lineman. His ability to play any role makes him valuable.
Free Agency Outlook:
While Hubbard is a restricted free agent, it is unclear if the team values him quite that much to commit more than a million in order to retain him for the season. An original-round tender would also net them just the right of first refusal because he originally came into the league as an undrafted free agent.
The Steelers could forego the restricted free agent tender under the assumption that no other team would be hunting for him to offer him much of a contract, which has worked with mixed results in the past. They took that approach with Terence Garvin last year and he signed for $1.5 million in Washington.
I do believe that Hubbard offers more than enough value to justify re-signing him and having him make the 2017 roster. He showed last year that he is capable if necessary of serving as the team’s backup swing tackle even if the bulk of his experience prior to that starting stint came working as an interior lineman.