The Pittsburgh Steelers got its second free agent signing of the offseason on the books last night after agreeing to a two-year contract with offensive lineman Stefen Wisniewski, a Pittsburgh native and Penn State alum, whose background I’m sure will be discussed in the near future. Though older than the Steelers typically like to engage with (he will be 31 in two days), he fills a core need for the immediate future.
Pittsburgh’s interior offensive line has been decimated over the course of the past six months, there’s no way around that. Even prior to the departure of B.J. Finney in free agency and the retirement of Ramon Foster, the pipeline took two hits in the middle of last season when Fred Johnson, and later Patrick Morris, were scooped up off of waivers.
Heading into yesterday, the Steelers only had two players on the roster who are both primarily interior linemen and who have NFL experience, those being Maurkice Pouncey and David DeCastro. Of course, Matt Feiler is a prime candidate to move inside from right tackle, but 25 of his 27 career starts have come on the outside.
And most importantly, he is not center-capable, even though they have worked him there a slight bit in recent offseasons. The loss of Finney saw them part with their only viable center-capable player behind Pouncey, so it was of vital importance that the Steelers acquire a veteran who can handle the backup center role. Even if Wisniewski ends up in the starting lineup, which is far from a guarantee, he would still likely be the backup center.
The only other true center on the roster is J.C. Hassenauer, who had exactly one game on the 53-man roster in his history. A former undrafted free agent out of Alabama, he was cut his rookie season and ended up playing in the AAF. The Steelers brought him in last spring when that league folded. He would spent part of the season on the practice squad after Morris was lost. After Mason Rudolph was injured in Week 16 and placed on the Reserve/Injured List, Hassenauer was promoted to the 53-man roster, though was inactive for the finale.
Other candidates for the 53-man roster in 2020 include Derwin Gray and Christian DiLauro, both of whom were on the practice squad last year. Both are also tackles who have worked at guard. Neither are capable of playing center. Gray was a seventh-round pick of theirs in 2019 and spent the entire season on the practice squad.
As is almost always the case, it is clear that the Steelers are utilizing free agency this offseason to plug holes in the hopes that it will prevent them from being tempted to reach for need when it comes time for the draft. In the spirit of that strategy, a defensive tackle would be the next position on the list to address.