Player: Zach Banner
Free Agent Status: Restricted
2019 Salary Cap Hit: $645,000
2019 Season Breakdown:
For the first time in his three NFL seasons, Zach Banner got the opportunity to play a meaningful role in 2019. The former fourth-round pick, in his second season with the Steelers, won the gameday active swing tackle role, and with that came the right to serve as the tackle-eligible.
Even though the team ultimately turned to Chukwuma Okorafor instead of him when they had a need for a one-game spot starter at right tackle, the reality is that Banner dressed for an pretty much played in 16 games. Okorafor was in street clothes for 15 games.
And Banner filled that tackle-eligible role like it had never been filled before, to the point where he very quickly became a fan favorite. Eventually, it became more than just watching a big, 6’8”, 353-pound dude checking into the game and throwing blocks.
Arguably the biggest development for Banner in 2019 came at the personal level, where he was really allowed to come into his own both as a person and a professional. He’s found a voice in Pittsburgh, and in the locker room, and the city has embraced him as much as he has embraced the city. Now he just has to make good on it and develop into a starter down the road.
Free Agency Outlook:
It’s somewhat hard to believe that Banner has three years of accrued experience already, given that we have only seen him on the field for one year. Of course, he has only been in Pittsburgh for two seasons, so even if he did play in 2018, it would seem somewhat abrupt.
As a former fourth-round draft pick, under the worst-case scenario, the Steelers should absolutely be safe and protected if they decide to give Banner an original-round restricted free agent tender, which would cost them over $2 million. But for tackle depth, that’s a pretty fair price to pay.
There shouldn’t be any reason that they would feel compelled, as they did with B.J. Finney and they figure to do with Matt Feiler, to give him a second-round tender, which would be more expensive. The reason is quite simple: Finney and Feiler were undrafted free agents, so if any team signed them to an offer sheet Pittsburgh wasn’t willing to match, the signing team would not be out anything.
If they tried to sign Banner, they would have to be willing to give up a fourth-round pick, and while he has looked good serving in the tackle-eligible role, you’re not going to give up a fourth-round pick for a tackle who has never even played tackle in a meaningful NFL game before.
It wouldn’t be totally surprising if the Steelers did try to sign him to a modest two- or three-year contract instead of a restricted tag, but that would only make sense if they felt they were able to lock in a good price. Banner does seem to truly love being in Pittsburgh, and there could be a path toward a starting job, though, so that door isn’t closed.