It’s hard to look at this offseason and not see it as a significant one for the future of the offensive line, with a handful of important decisions to be made. It starts with the fact that you have a number of players with experience who will be free agents of one kind or another. Then when you factor in the advancing age of your core four starters, you realize the importance of preparing for life after. Let’s talk about some of those decisions:
Ramon Foster: Age Is Just A Number?
Outside of Ben Roethlisberger, nobody on the Steelers’ roster is older or has been with the team longer than has Foster. He is an 11-year veteran who turned 34 years old just a couple of months ago. It would be fair to observe that we saw a decline in his performance last season, and he has a relatively substantial cap hit in 2020 in the final year of his deal. He is considered at-risk for being a salary cap casualty.
B.J. Finney: Should He Stay Or Should He Go?
Finney has been around for a while now without a chance to be a starter. He may get one in 2020, but whether or not it comes with the Steelers remains to be seen. They would have to let Foster go or convince him to be a backup in order to open up a spot for Finney, who would likely find a starting opportunity on the open market. The team has long held that he is a starter-capable player.
Matt Feiler: Lock Him Up Or Play It Out?
Feiler has now started 25 games at right tackle and has done a commendable job in doing so. That is about how much time Alejandro Villanueva put in at left tackle before the team gave him a new deal as an exclusive rights free agent. Feiler is a restricted free agent, but they also potentially have depth at tackle behind him. They can control him affordably for 2020 before worrying about a long-term contract, but it would cost more doing a deal in 2021 if they’re looking to sign him as a starter.
Don’t Forget About Zach Banner
Banner, too, is a restricted free agent, but given that he has never started a game at tackle and has very few reps, he should be retained easily enough on an original-round tender, given that a team would have to be willing to give up a fourth-round pick to sign him to an offer sheet.
The offensive line took a hit depth-wise last year with the losses of Fred Johnson and Patrick Morris off waivers, and they figure to lose one of Foster or Finney this offseason as well. Banner and Chukwuma Okorafor provide some depth, but how will Derwin Gray and J.C. Hassenauer fit?
Father Time Is Undefeated
Foster is 34. Villanueva will be 32 in September. DeCastro recently turned 30, and Pouncey will be 31. Can we really guarantee of any of them that they have more than three or four years left in them, at most?
The Steelers are projected to only have six draft choices this year. Especially if they lose one of their top six linemen, it’s hard to see them coming out of the draft without a new man in the trenches. Only Banner and Okorafor are linemen who have played that have been added to the mix within the past couple of seasons.