The offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: If Jerald Hawkins does not win a starting job, he will not make the roster.
Explanation: A former fourth-round draft pick, Jerald Hawkins has spent most of his career up to this point on injured reserve, doing so in his first and third seasons, the latter being just a year ago. He will compete for the vacant starting right tackle spot this summer, but the tackle position has gotten crowded.
Not only is the topic statement true, it’s also true that he is not going to be on the roster, because the starting right tackle position will ultimately be decided by the two players who have actually started a game there, those being Matt Feiler and Chukwuma Okorafor. The former is clearly more proven and accomplished, while the latter clearly has more upside, and a better contract situation.
The fact that Hawkins is going into his final season doesn’t help, either. And think about the depth. Even without Hawkins, they still have either Feiler or Okorafor to be the backup. Then you have Zach Banner, who spent all of last season on the 53-man roster. They just drafted Derwin Gray as well, and they have had success developing at the position in recent years.
It’s an unfortunate but common story. Hawkins has kind of misses his chance simply because the team had to move on without him. They have drafted a pair of tackles in the past year or so and found another off the scrap heap they think they might be a keeper. They are so deep that they traded an accomplished starter. They don’t need to hang on to damaged goods. Especially given their recent history of having damaged goods at that exact position.
Right off the bat, Hawkins has a chance of winning the starting job without a doubt. Just look at where we were a year ago from today. He was going to be the next Chris Hubbard. Had he gotten Feiler’s chance to start, we would be talking about what his contract extension was going to look like later this summer instead.
Not winning the starting job doesn’t mean the team doesn’t still believe in him. They value is ability to move, as well. If Okorafor starts, Hawkins could be a tackle-eligible. He could be the swing tackle like he was supposed to be last year, as Feiler goes back to being a healthy scratch who can play three or four positions.
Finally, let’s not discount the distinct possibility that Hawkins could learn to play multiple positions. He has only worked at tackle since being drafted, but he certainly fits the profile of a lineman who could learn to kick inside. If he can play four positions, he would be very valuable.