When the Alliance of American Football came to a sudden close, NFL teams swooped in to scoop up a great number of them. I believe over 100 players or so were signed to 90-man rosters, and the Pittsburgh Steelers were as active as any team in bringing them in, including some who they might have already been familiar with.
Those whom they signed from AAF teams were J.C. Hassenauer, Jack Tocho, Kameron Kelly, JT Jones, Winston Craig, Casey Sayles, and Greg Gilmore. The latter two had been in training camp and the preseason with the team a year ago.
Only one of those seven players, however, would make it to the team’s opening roster. And only one would finish on the final 53-man roster. Those were not the same two players. Kameron Kelly earned the number three safety role, even starting in the opener and having a dime role, but he was waived following an arrest late in the year.
Hassenauer, who late in the year had been re-signed to the practice squad, was called up for the finale due to Maurkice Pouncey’s injury, so he was called upon to be the backup to B.J. Finney. He had played extensively in the preseason, and was considered one of the top interior linemen from the AAF.
He told Chris Adamski of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that getting the call up to the 53-man roster was “definitely a huge moment”, and it should be. It comes with a pretty nice paycheck, even for one week, which is more than what most make in a year. He called it “something I have worked for my whole life. It’d been a goal of mine”.
The question is whether or not that’s as far as it will go. Considering the fact that the team is likely to lose at least one of Finney or Ramon Foster—the latter if they choose to release him and re-sign the former—and adding in the losses off waivers of Fred Johnson and Patrick Morris, Hassenauer right now may have a very good shot at making the team in 2020.
He did allow that the AAF was “a huge stepping stone” for him, as one of the relative handful of players from that league who would make it back onto an NFL 53-man roster—or onto one for the first time. This was especially important because he didn’t have much college tape as, primarily, a backup at Alabama.
But he said that the NFL “is where I want to be, and this is where I am”, referring to Pittsburgh. “I’m working so that this is my career”. It’s not a bad place to try it out. They have three undrafted free agents in their starting lineup, and have had several prominent backups come up from similar beginnings.