The offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: The Steelers need to invest heavily in the offensive line over the next few years in order to avoid a major regression.
Explanation: While the Steelers have had the most stable and consistent offensive line over the course of the past half-decade, longevity also brings along with it age and decline in performance. Most of the Steelers’ projected starters in 2020 will be 30 or older, and could be within a couple of years of retirement, without a lot of pedigreed depth.
The Steelers of the late 2000s to early 2010s were marred heavily by inferior offensive line play. This only began to turn around when they invested in the position, both in the draft and through the hiring of Mike Munchak. While they don’t have Munchak to instruct the next group of players, they can still stave off another precipitous decline in offensive line performance by being proactive.
Alejandro Villanueva, who will be 32 this year, is in the final year of his contract. Who knows if Zach Banner or Chukwuma Okorafor can be a starter? Maurkice Pouncey has 10 seasons under his belt, David DeCastro eight. If Stefen Wisniewski starts, he adds a fourth starter who is 30 or older, and is obviously not a long-term answer.
Of the current depth, perhaps only the aforementioned tackles could even be considered potential future starters who are anything more than a stopgap, and at best they can probably hope to muster up one right tackle between them.
Who will be the starting center in 2022? The left tackle, perhaps next year? How long can DeCastro play?
A major reason that the offensive line struggled in the late 2000s and early 2010s was because of Ben Roethlisberger’s style of play and Bruce Arians’ offense. Wherever he has gone, Arians has gotten his quarterbacks hammered. That philosophy has been out the window for eight years now.
Yes, it’s true that the time of this offensive line is in its waning years, but it shouldn’t fall apart all at one time. Part of the reason it did last time was for disparate reasons, including injuries (Marvel Smith) and a change at head coach (Alan Faneca). They had a couple of free agency missteps at center after Jeff Hartings as well.
Dramatic action is not necessary to insulate the line against a fall. They will have at least Banner, Okorafor, and Matt Feiler going on into the future. DeCastro still has at least a few years yet. Gradual supplementation, starting with a relatively high draft pick in 2020, is the more prudent strategy, since the line is not at a crisis point.