It has been widely presumed that the Pittsburgh Steelers are not going to be able to retain reserve offensive lineman Chris Hubbard for a price that would be affordable for a player that is not going to be a starter. While some have considered re-signing Hubbard and allowing to start while seeking to trade Marcus Gilbert, I think it’s a safe assumption that that will not happen, irrespective of its merit or folly.
So working under the assumption that the Steelers will not have the services of Hubbard, who has officially started 14 games over the course of the past two seasons, the team has to take stock of what will be available behind the starters on the offensive line and whether or not that will be sufficient.
The team did carry nine offensive linemen on the 53-man roster throughout the season, excepting the four-game stint for which Gilbert was suspended in the second half of the season, and, aside from Hubbard, all eight of the other players are under contract and returning for the 2018 season.
The three reserves among that group are B.J. Finney, Jerald Hawkins, and Matt Feiler. For the latter two, this was their first season on a 53-man roster for more than two games, and their first times dressing for a game. Finney was in his second season of service and started three games in 2016, plus four in 2017.
While Gilbert was out with injuries in the second half of the season, the Steelers actually used Feiler, rather than Hawkins, as the backup to Hubbard, and Feiler did briefly have to play at right tackle at the end of the Detroit Lions game. But Hawkins was the backup there during the second half of the season, and if memory serves he saw no more than a snap or two outside of the role of tight end as a tackle-eligible.
Feiler is inside-outside capable and in fact spend the past two years playing at guard. Hawkins has only played tackle, but it is possible that he can demonstrate flexibility inside. And it is also common for teams, including the Steelers, to carry only eight offensive linemen on their 53-man roster.
With that said, failure to address the offensive line in the event of Hubbard leaving in free agency would give the Steelers a dangerously thin margin for error, and they certainly would not be able to afford any injuries.
Currently, the team does not even have any offensive linemen signed to Reserve/Future contracts, so they only have the nine that they ended the regular season with. Nine offensive linemen is obviously not enough to get through an offseason. 15 is the typical number to populate three full line groups.
But we are not just talking about practice players, of course. We are talking about whether or not it would behoove the team to expend resources, whether via free agency or the draft, to bolster both depth and competition along the offensive line, and I think a strong case can be made in the affirmative.