2019 could be a huge season for Matt Feiler. He has, so far, charted a course that bears a lot of similarities to Chris Hubbard, but also differs in a couple of keys ways. For one thing, Feiler toiled for three years on practice squads, while Hubbard had one.
But most significant is that Feiler’s big break for playing time game in year two of his accrued seasons, rather than year four. Which means that Hubbard hit free agency at just the right time to cash in and sign a lucrative starting contract with the Cleveland Browns.
Hubbard was an unrestricted free agent. Feiler is not even restricted. He’s merely an exclusive rights free agent, which means that if the team offers him a contract, he has no choice, other than retirement, but to sign it.
We know of course that they did tender him and he has signed it. What we don’t know is whether or not he is going to win the starting right tackle job, where he started 10 games last season. Because if he does, and he plays as well as he did last season, then he is going to set himself up for a significant windfall. With the Steelers.
It’s true that they have Chukwuma Okorafor, whom they like a lot and see as a potential starter in the future. But let’s assume that Feiler proves to be the better candidate, and plays well in 2019. He will be a restricted free agent in 2020. But where will the Steelers be?
They will have a left tackle who is heading into his age-32 season and on the final year of his contract. Feiler, who will turn 27 this summer, will by then have had most of two seasons showing himself to be a starter, similar to the position Alejandro Villanueva himself was in.
The truth is that you need three tackles in this league, so they’re not going to do what they did with Feiler and let him leave in 2021 if he shows himself to be a starter. And that means Okorafor will be the number three, which is far from a disappointment for a late third-round draft pick.
But the point is, Feiler will get paid, probably in 2020 as a restricted free agent, if the team sees him as their starter. By the time Hubbard ‘proved’ himself in 2017, the Steelers had already lost their leverage with him, as he was hitting the open market.
And they still had faith in Marcus Gilbert to return to his Pro Bowl caliber play when healthy. But after another season of injuries, they had to move on. To Feiler. Who helped keep the offense clicking, including the best red zone performance we have seen in years.