The Pittsburgh Steelers did a pretty thorough job of creating as much room in the salary cap as they could be releasing players and restructuring contracts without doing too much damage to their overall roster, while also retaining a few key players along the way.
They even had enough room left over, so far, to sign a fullback in Derek Watt. What else they are able to do in free agency remains to be seen, but with the retirement of Ramon Foster followed by the loss of B.J. Finney in free agency, one would think that the interior offensive line is a primary target. Right now, they don’t even have a backup center.
Of the nine offensive linemen who were on the initial 53-man roster in 2019, three are now gone, including Fred Johnson, and Patrick Morris was their ‘10th man’ on the practice squad. He was called up to the 53-man roster during the season, already having been with the team the previous year, but when moved, he was claimed off waivers. So that’s four of their top 10 linemen from a year ago, now gone, with all of them being interior players (though Johnson was also a tackle).
If the Steelers pull off another move in free agency, expect it to be here, according to Gerry Dulac, who in a recent chat session wrote, when asked if the interior line has become a higher draft priority, “I think it becomes a higher priority in free agency more so than the draft. At least for now”.
Ramon Foster had been the Steelers’ full-time starting left guard since 2013. Finney was his primary backup, with five of the 12 career starts he has made coming at left guard (plus two at right guard, and five at center).
While Maurkice Pouncey and David DeCastro remain, and Matt Feiler has a good chance of moving inside, there is no currently credible depth. 2019 practice squad players Derwin Gray, Christian DiLauro, and J.C. Hassenauer (who was called up for the season finale when Pouncey was injured) are all interior-capable, with Hassenauer the only one who can play center, but none have regular season experience.
During another part of the chat, Dulac was asked if the Steelers would be ‘forced’ to move Feiler to left guard, from right tackle, where he has started 25 games over the past two seasons. “They’re not forced to do that, but I think that’s what will happen if they don’t sign a starter-capable guard in free agency”, he wrote.
While he also suggested later on that they could look for Javon Hargrave’s replacement in free agency, he also said he would expect it to be the first position on defense they address in the draft. So if I were to bet on what the team’s next free agent signing would be, at least if I believe Dulac, it’s a center-capable interior lineman.