It’s not a move that is going to receive a ton of attention, but the Pittsburgh Steelers’ retention of second-year offensive lineman Matt Feiler is a subtle yet key move to the team’s stability and depth at its most chemistry-driven group, that being the offensive line.
The Steelers are retaining all five of their starters, and Feiler is not going to be competing for any of their jobs this year, to be clear. What we are talking about here is strictly a player who is a reserve. And there is a good chance that he is going to be a reserve that does not even dress on game day.
But you need those players, too. After all, he was active for much of the season, and played in games, even made a start at the end of the season, though that was more my choice than necessity. The fact that the coaching staff gave him that opportunity, though—and probably wanted to give him that opportunity—says a lot about what they think of him.
This move is important in particular because of the expected loss of Chris Hubbard in free agency this offseason. While B.J. Finney is going to remain the top reserve and a gameday active along the interior of the offensive line, the other gameday backup is more in question.
Chances are, it will wind up in the hands of Jerald Hawkins, entering his third season. He ended up passing Feiler on the depth chart for that role late in the year, after all, and frankly, if he doesn’t manage to earn that role, then they have to start looking for another player.
But Feiler is a player who can handle four positions along the offensive line in a pinch, and he even practiced at tight end. He has come a long way since he was originally signed as an undrafted free agent by the Houston Texans in 2014.
His growth was most evident this preseason, where he worked exclusively at guard, even though he originally came to the team as a tackle and has a tackle’s build. He even showed some level of adeptness at pulling, something that he also showed during the regular season finale when he was given the opportunity to start.
Bringing Feiler back makes the Steelers at least eight players deep along the offensive line. And I mean deep not just with bodies, but with players that they are comfortable with and that they believe can play. I would imagine that not many teams are as satisfied with their offensive line depth as Pittsburgh is.
And the good news is that they still have control over him for a while now. Even though he has been around since 2014, the 2017 season was his first accrued season, so he was technically slated to be an exclusive rights free agent.
He will be an exclusive rights free agent in 2019 as well, and after that, a restricted free agent, as Hubbard was this year. That is plenty of time to continue to work his way up the ladder and show what he can do.