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: At least one starting offensive line position will be open for competition in 2021.
Explanation: Technically speaking, the Steelers have two positions on the starting offensive line up for grabs, though one player will be in either role, while a separate group of competitors will factor into the two positions. Free agency and the growth of young players could lead to at least one job being open again next year, however.
This is very likely to happen. Whether he starts at left guard or right tackle, Matt Feiler will be an unrestricted free agent next year—and so will Alejandro Villanueva, let’s not forget. That’s two starters who are not under contract for 2021. Let’s say Feiler is starting at left guard, and Zach Banner starts at right tackle. Guess what? He’s going to be a free agent, too.
That’s 60 percent of your offensive line heading into free agency. There’s no way they would be able to re-sign all three of them to starting salary at open-market value, especially with a flat cap expected next year.
Whoever doesn’t win jobs isn’t necessarily going to just be waiting in the wings. Stefen Wisniewski will b 32 next year. He will start only if he has to. Chukwuma Okorafor will be in his fourth season. By then, if he hasn’t earned a starting job, he’s not going to be handed one. Even if Wisniewski starts next year, there’s Kevin Dotson next year to consider.
Admittedly there are a lot of variables at play that will make it difficult for the Steelers to keep the offensive line together through 2021, no the least of which reason being the fact that the starting five isn’t solidified yet.
But Ben Roethlisberger could be the driving force. The Steelers want to have as little change as possible around him and to give him the starting line that he wants, that will give him the protection that he needs to finish out his career. Whoever the starters are this year, if they play well, every effort will be made to keep them. After all, when is the last time that they lost a lineman in free agency who was a full-time starter? Kelvin Beachum? And he had Alejandro Villanueva ready to replace him after missing most of his final season in Pittsburgh thanks to a torn ACL.