It shouldn’t come as a shock. More of a prediction coming to reality. For the first time in a long time, the Pittsburgh Steelers have work to do to restock their offensive line.
No Ramon Foster. No BJ Finney. Not many internal options like they’ve been able to rely on for the last decade.
Yes, they could and probably will, slide Matt Feiler over to left guard. Not a brand new solution either. It’s what they did against the Los Angeles Rams midseason, our first clue they weren’t as attached to Finney as we thought they were. That’ll allow Chukwuma Okorafor and Zach Banner to duke it out at right tackle, quality competition where both guys will push each other.
Even under that scenario, depth along the interior is woefully thin. Returning is Derwin Gray, a 7th round pick in 2019 who spent the entire season on the practice squad. There’s two others on futures contracts – Christian DiLauro and JC Hassenauer. It’ll be a UMBC over Virginia upset if either land on the 53.
In reality, there’s no backup center on the team. Feiler has logged reps there in a pinch, exclusively in a handful of training camp practices, but if they have to turn to him on Sundays, something’s gone horribly wrong.
The most sensible solution? Double-dip in free agency and the draft. Investing in one area won’t be enough. Whatever veteran they may go after is likely to be a journeymen, commanding little money with a light market. If $4 million per year was too rich for Finney, they’re unlikely to invest anything close to that in an outsider.
Attempt to fix things solely through the draft and you’re counting on rookies to step up right away, a risky calculation. Add from both pools, create competition, options, and insurance against inevitable injury.
In free agency, they should take long looks at guys like Max Garcia and Evan Boehm. Both are center/guard versatile with good NFL experience and a cheap price tag (Garcia should be cheaper than Boehm). Interior offensive linemen are rarely a source of strength in drafts and 2020 is no exception. But LSU’s Lloyd Cushenberry III, Temple’s Matt Hennessy, and Wisconsin’s Tyler Biadasz will all be viable options.
Typically, the Steelers have had one offensive line spot up for grabs for a rookie to grab hold of. 2020 will be different. There should be battles across the board, even to start at right tackle, with a blank slate among the backups. Not the most comforting news for a team getting back their QB off major elbow surgery. But if the team maintains its philosophy of making heavy investments in the big guys up front, they’ll still have one of the league’s most talented front fives.