It was around this time last year, a month or so from now, that the Pittsburgh Steelers traded long-time starting right tackle Marcus Gilbert to the Arizona Cardinals. All they got back in exchange for him was a late sixth-round draft pick (which turned into Ulysees Gilbert III), but more importantly, they dumped his salary and got out of the instability he represented with his frequent injuries.
Since being drafted, Gilbert missed 11 games in his second season in 2012 with a significant injury. He would play through injury the following year before missing four games in 2014, the year he really started to develop into a quality starter.
His best season came in 2015, when he was able to play relatively healthy for all 16 games, but he would miss three due to injury the following year, and then be limited to just 12 total games over the next two years, primarily due to injury, but having also been hit with a four-game suspension.
His time missed over those two years made the careers of Chris Hubbard and Matt Feiler. The former signed a free agent contract to start for the Cleveland Browns after the 2017 season, and the latter inherited Gilbert’s starting job for the Steelers.
Unfortunately for himself, injuries remained ever-present. He suffered a torn ACL before the regular season even began. He told the team’s website in an article published yesterday, “I knew that wasn’t the way I wanted to go out, especially coming off a disappointing year before”, referring to his future after nine years in the league.
“I had every thought to come back and reclaim that top right tackle spot (in 2019.) That did a lot of damage to me, but I still know I have a lot ahead of me. I don’t want to hang it up too soon. I know what type of player I am”.
Originally drafted in the second round in 2011, a former teammate of Maurkice Pouncey’s, Gilbert entered the starting lineup from the second game of his career, after Willie Colon suffered a season-ending injury in the opener that year.
It was his relationship with Pouncey that helped get him drafted where he was, and he said that his long-time friend provided support and encouragement to him as he tries to come back from a torn ACL, the same thing that Pouncey did himself in 2014. He has twice come back from season-ending injuries to return to a Pro Bowl level.
It wasn’t until 2013 that the really started committing himself to being an excellent football player, and the physical and mental transformation he made over the course of the next year paved the way for the Steelers’ line becoming the best in football. He played at a Pro Bowl level whenever he was healthy, but unfortunately that was not often enough.
Gilbert is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent at the start of the new league year. He is committed to playing, saying, “hopefully it’s in Arizona, where I’d love to be”. Would the Steelers consider a reunion on the cheap if they could?
Doing so would allow them to let go of Ramon Foster and move Feiler to left guard, but it would be a huge risk and temporary solution for a 32-year-old player who has missed 36 games over the past three seasons.