It’s that time of year again. Free agency is creeping up in just a couple of weeks, so before we get there, we’ll get going over the Pittsburgh Steelers’ roster, position by position, making an assessment of what kind of shape they’re in, trying to figure out how they might, or should, attack the roster on that basis.
We’ll be suspending the Stock Watch series during this time, at the end of which we should have more meaningful topics to discuss once we resume, since a lot more news about free agency and its ripple effects should be current by then. In the meantime, we go back over the current makeup of the team’s roster, and assess where they are strong, or weak.
Total Positional Figure: 6
Alejandro Villanueva: The 2019 season was not his best, but it was far from Villanueva’s worst, either. He did have a couple of games that were not pretty, the first Cleveland game coming to mind, but he has more than earned his contract.
Matt Feiler: After starting 25 games over the past two seasons at right tackle, Feiler has proven that he is fit for the job. Yet it’s possible he could be moved to left guard. The thing is, he appears to be capable of being a starter at either spot.
Zach Banner: Though he did not play a snap at tackle, Banner did log something like 200 snaps as a tackle-eligible tight end, and he played that role better than anybody I’ve seen in Pittsburgh. Still, he will look to be the first man up when an injury at tackle occurs starting in 2020.
Chukwuma Okorafor: Though he was inactive as a healthy scratch for 15 of 16 games, he started in that one other game. He also started one game during his rookie season. He hasn’t made the progress yet that was expected heading into year two, but perhaps his third season will see that jump.
Derwin Gray: A 2019 seventh-round pick, Gray was a career tackle in college, but the Steelers primarily had him playing inside last offseason, perhaps in part to work on expanding his versatility. The 6’4”, 320-pounder spent the year on the practice squad and is looking to jump to the 53.
Christian DiLauro: DiLauro, originally a 2018 undrafted free agent, signed to the Steelers’ practice squad around midseason after they lost Fred Johnson to waivers. He remained there for the rest of the year and was signed to a futures contract. He is 6’6”, 300 pounds, and can play inside and outside.
First of all, you’re going to see some of these names repeated tomorrow. Feiler, Gray, and DiLauro are all interior-capable players, so they are also a part of the guard/center depth chart, whereas the others have up to this point been regarded exclusively as tackles. That would be especially true of Villanueva and Banner, both of whom stand at 6’8” or taller.
They have questions about the long-term future at both starting spots. Villanueva is entering the final year of his contract and will turn 32 in September. Can they work on an extension? Feiler is a restricted free agent. Do they give him a second-round tender and let him play out the year, or sign him to a new deal? And with what money?
They are fortunate to have depth in players like Banner and Okorafor. While they are expected to add a lineman, that should be along the interior, though the equation could change if they kick Feiler inside to guard.