After missing nine full games and parts of two others last season due to injuries and a suspension, 2018 figures to be a crucial season for Pittsburgh Steelers tackle Marcus Gilbert.
Gilbert, who was only on the field last year during the regular season for a little less than 400 offensive snaps, has now missed a total of 12 games and parts of several others over the course of the last two seasons and the next contest he fails to play in will be the 30th missed one of his career. Four of the nine games Gilbert missed last season were a result of him being suspended by the NFL for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances. While Gilbert has since claimed that his suspension was a simple misunderstanding on his part, it was a suspension nonetheless and thus hurt the team in the process.
While Gilbert’s current contract r that he signed back in 2014 won’t expire until after the 2019 season, him missing more games for whatever reasons in 2018 could ultimately result in the Steelers parting ways with him by the start of the 2019 league in March. Now 30 years of age, Gilbert is set to earn a base salary of a little more than $4.865 million in 2019 and that’s a bit lofty for a starter that can stay on the field.
In defense of Gilbert, however, whenever he has been fully healthy and on the field the last several seasons, he’s played extremely well. In fact, one could easily argue that he was a Pro Bowl snub after the 2016 season. A repeat of that season in 2018 could even result in an extension for Gilbert, who admitted last August that his agent Drew Rosenhaus had recently had some sort of contract discussions with the Steelers. That alleged conversation, however, took place well before Gilbert missed five full games because of a hamstring injury and four more due to a suspension. By the way, Gilbert also subsequently left the Steelers Divisional Round playoff game against the Jacksonville Jaguars in the first quarter with a concussion and never returned to the contest.
While Gilbert did miss a lot of games last season, his loss was lightened significantly due to the strong play of his backup, Chris Hubbard. The Steelers, however, no longer have Hubbard to fall back on in 2018 as he signed a lucrative unrestricted free agent contract with the Cleveland Browns this past March. If losing Hubbard isn’t bad enough, the offensive lineman many thought would play Hubbard’s role in 2018, former fourth-round draft pick Jerald Hawkins, was lost for the entire season just last week due to a torn quad. His injury now puts a lot of pressure on this year’s second of two third-round draft picks, Chukwuma Okorafor, to develop quicker.
“You don’t want to be remembered as a guy that made a lot of money but really didn’t do much,” Gilbert said last August, according to Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com. “You want to be remembered as a guy who came in and did everything possible to help win a championship.”
Should Gilbert stay on the field in 2018 and the Steelers ultimately win the Super Bowl, his career in Pittsburgh might be extended by several more seasons. If, however, he cannot and the Steelers don’t, Gilbert might find himself on another NFL team this same time next year.