2018 Offseason Questions: Hit Free Agency For A Tackle?

The journey toward Super Bowl LII ended far too prematurely for the Pittsburgh Steelers, sending them into offseason mode before we were ready for it. But we are in it now, and are ready to move on, through the Combine, through free agency, through the draft, into OTAs, and beyond.

We have asked and answered a lot of questions over the years and will continue to do so, and at the moment, there seem to be a ton of questions that need answering. A surprise early exit in the postseason will do that to you though, especially when it happens in the way it did.

You can rest assured that we have the questions, and we will be monitoring developments all throughout the offseason process, all the way down to Latrobe. Pending free agents, possible veteran roster cuts, contract extensions, pre-draft visits, pro days, all of it will have its place when the time arises.

Question: Will the Steelers took to free agency to find a new backup tackle?

The Steelers were already heading into this season without their backup tackle from a year ago, which was really the only free agency departure that they had. Things just got a lot more complicated yesterday with third-year tackle Jerald Hawkins suffering an injury that is believed to be a torn quad.

Hawkins figured to be the favorite to replaced Chris Hubbard for that swing tackle role. Now they may be crossing their fingers for a really accelerated rate of development from rookie third-round pick Chukwuma Okorafor, who has only been playing along the offensive line for about five years.

Right now, it’s just the rookie and Matt Feiler who look to be competing for that swing tackle job, at least among the more realistic candidates. They have others working in OTAs, including Jake Rodgers, who has spent time on the practice squad, but I wouldn’t be banking on finding spot starters from that group.

With all the uncertainty, it wouldn’t be surprising at all if the Steelers looked to the free agency market to see if they could find anybody with experience that could compete for the swing tackle role. Or they could even explore the possibility of a low-level trade.

But that is something that could wait until training camp, more realistically. They can wait to see how Okorafor develops, and Feiler will certainly be getting more work at tackle now. If they don’t feel comfortable going into the season with them as the only two backup options at tackle then they will have to explore other options.

I shouldn’t have to point this out by now, but the swing tackle has played an important role in the Steelers’ offense for many years now. It’s been a rare occasion that at least one of their tackles hasn’t missed at least a few games during a season. So we might be talking about a backup role, but that backup has always had to play. This matters.

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