The Pittsburgh Steelers made a couple of personnel moves yesterday, promoting wide receiver Eli Rogers from the Physically Unable to Perform List and, in order to make room for him, placing starting right tackle Marcus Gilbert on injured reserve. The eighth-year veteran has missed the past seven games and eight out of the 13 in total. He is now sure to play in only five games this year, tied for the fewest of his career.
By the time the regular season is over, Gilbert will have missed 40 of 128 potential regular season games over the course of his career, and that includes 20 over just the past two years. He missed nine games due to injury and suspension in 2017 and will now miss 11, all due to injury, in 2018.
What does this mean for his future? The 2011 second-round pick, who has been a starter since the second game of his career, is entering the final year of his contract in 2019. Matt Feiler has already acquitted himself well in his place and will now have at least three more games to showcase himself.
What seems pretty likely is that Gilbert will have a hard time earning himself a contract extension in 2019, which is something that he was already hoping to get ahead of the 2017 season (and which was obviously never going to happen in the first place).
Less assured but certainly possible is that the team could choose to move on from him. With Feiler having played above the line and still only in his second season, and with young talent developing behind him, they may not even have room for Gilbert.
Rookie Chukwuma Okorafor has already started a game this season and did reasonably well. He is still somewhat raw and wasn’t even expected to get on the field this season, but there is optimism for his ability to be a starter in the future.
There is still Jerald Hawkins, who was supposed to be the swing tackle last season, as well as Zach Banner. Hawkins suffered a season-ending injury early in OTAs, which is why Feiler and Okorafor have even had a shot of playing in 2018. Banner is a second-year player who was only picked up in training camp.
That’s four tackles already, and if they believe at least one of them can start, with the others having developmental potential, Gilbert and his nearly $5 million base salary in 2019 may look a fair bit more expendable than it did heading into this year after they lost Chris Hubbard in free agency.
It’s one thing to be the most talented player at your position on the roster, but you also have to be available to play, and the fact of the matter is that he has missed at least three games in five of his eight seasons. His last 16-game season (one of two) was in 2015.