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’ focus should be on preserving their offensive line depth.
Explanation: Of the nine linemen who finished the 2019 season on the 53-man roster—including J.C. Hassenauer, who never dressed and was on the roster for one week—four have their status in question right now. Ramon Foster is a candidate for release. B.J. Finney is an unrestricted free agent, while both Matt Feiler and Zach Banner are restricted free agents. Feiler would seem to be the only likely bet to definitely be retained regardless of all other variables.
Offensive line depth has been crucial for the Steelers. Even when they didn’t have Pro Bowlers in the starting lineup, their backups were quality enough that they didn’t see a significant drop in play when they had to get on the field. Foster himself was one of those backups, in addition to players like Trai Essex and Doug Legursky.
Feiler more recently was one, now he’s a starter. Finney should be moving into the starting lineup this year, if the team is smart, assuming they can’t keep both him and Foster. If they manage to lose both, then they run the risk of being forced to count on somebody like Chukwuma Okorafor to be a full-time starter, and that’s a gamble right now.
Sometimes, though, you have to gamble with some areas of the roster in order to get the payoff elsewhere. This offseason, that payoff is retaining Bud Dupree. Mike Hilton is also a higher priority than someone like Banner or even Finney is, so they can’t be too committed to preserving the line if it costs them elsewhere.
One thing this team has done well in recent years is develop depth along the offensive line. They could lose some pieces, add a cheap veteran, and then a draft pick, and start the rebuilding process all over again. Nobody was expecting Finney to be the full-time interior backup in 2016. He only got that job because Cody Wallace was injured.