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: Tackle Zach Banner is on the outside of the bubble and will stay that way.
Explanation: The Steelers signed Banner in training camp and he ended up showing enough to stick to the 53-man roster throughout the 2018 season. Even with Marcus Gilbert being traded however, many see Banner as not making the team in 2019.
A lot of this most likely hinges on Jerald Hawkins and his health. The 2016 fourth-round draft pick has already spent two of his first three seasons on injured reserve, and if he wasn’t there last year, Banner probably never even comes to Pittsburgh.
But now he is back healthy and ready to compete for the vacant starting right tackle position. In spite of that, the leading candidate will be Matt Feiler, and if Feiler retains the job at which he started 10 games last year, then it’s more likely that the ninth lineman is going to have to be interior-capable, and Banner most certainly is not that.
The fact that he retains practice squad eligibility could also work against him, because Hawkins does not as a fourth-year player. Feiler and Chukwuma Okorafor technically do as well, but they’re both much more likely to be picked up.
Banner has had the least experience working with the team since he has only been with them since the summer. In other words, he has the most untapped potential, and has gotten the fewest number of opportunities.
Even though Mike Tomlin didn’t name him as one of the players he expected to compete for Gilbert’s right tackle position, he could still be in that mix if he plays well enough. Beyond that, Hawkins is in his final year of his rookie contract and has been an injury risk. Banner offers more value from a health and contract standpoint.
I think it’s too early to say that he is on the outside of the bubble when breaking down the roster, even if I didn’t have him on my initial 53. That really depends on somebody like Patrick Morris or R.J. Prince showing a lot of promise in their second season to take his place.