I have over the course of the past several seasons turned to a series of articles around this time of year in which I looked to explore the issues and questions facing the Pittsburgh Steelers during the upcoming season and trying to identify the range of possibilities in which any given scenario can end.
I started out with a dual series called The Optimist’s/Pessimist’s Take and switched last season to the Devil’s Advocate series. In an attempt to find a more streamlined solution with a title more suited to the actual endeavor, we are introducing a simple Buy Or Sell segment exploring whether the position statement is likely to be worth investing in as an idea.
The range of topics will be wide, from the specific to the general, exploring broad long-term possibilities to the immediate future of particular players. I will make an argument for why a concept should be bought into as well as one that can be sold, and you can share your thoughts on which is the more compelling case while offering your own.
Topic Statement: Marcus Gilbert will not see a third contract/second contract extension.
Clarification: Marcus Gilbert is in the fourth year of a five-year contract extension that he signed in 2014. He is under contract through the 2019 season. He will be 32 years old in the first year beyond his current contract, in 2020, and has missed time in all but two of his seven seasons.
The Steelers certainly seem to be planning for the potential future of the tackle position. While that future was dealt a blow with Jerald Hawkins’ quad tear, the rookie third-round pick, Chukwuma Okorafor, is a player of whom they have spoken very highly, saying he has the highest ceiling of all their draft picks.
Marcus Gilbert began taking his game to another level in 2014, the first season under Mike Muncak. While the new instructor helped, perhaps an even bigger change was from within. He was in a contract year—or an extension year, anyway. He transformed his body and rededicated himself to his job.
He’s done great. When he’s on the field. But he too often is not. He missed nine games last year, three the year before, four in 2014, and 11 in 2012. He played 16 games in 2013, but through injury.
Perhaps most importantly, he wants top dollar. He knows his current contract is under-market for his level of play. He hired Drew Rosenhaus and wanted to revisit his contract last year with three years left. The team won’t be motivated to pay an oft-injured tackle turning 32 top dollar. They have two years to see what Okorafor has.
Or really, one year, because Gilbert will be due an extension in 2019 if it comes to that. Hawkins won’t have the opportunity to take a step forward, being on injured reserve, and the odds of a player as raw as Okorafor showing the real potential to be a future long-term starter during his rookie season are not that great.
More importantly, Gilbert really is a very good tackle when he is on the field. He legitimately plays at a level deserving of postseason accolades. He is certainly better than Alejandro Villanueva as a tackle on the field. He is the second-most skilled and consistent (when on the field) lineman on the team right now behind David DeCastro.
You don’t walk away from a player with that level of talent when you have him. Not at the tackle position, where it’s hard to find good help. There are too many Ereck Flowerses coming out of college now to take that risk. The Cincinnati Bengals flubbed it with Andrew Whitworth, who is proof positive a lineman can still play at a high level into his mid-30s.