Professional sports can get complicated on a macro level. On the one hand, your priority has to be on the immediate, on the upcoming season, and if you don’t give everything to this year, then you’re shortchanging yourself, and everybody who is tied to you. On the other hand, if you sell out for one year, you direly risk sliding into a regression.
This is a seemingly fitting synopsis of the free agency cycle in the NFL. It’s all about acquiring talent, through whatever means, but the goal is to structure that talent as a balance between experience and youth, affordability and premium salaries. And having a pipeline of talent to replace the ones you can’t afford to keep.
That’s where the Pittsburgh Steelers are as it concerns their offensive line. Depending upon how the training camp battle at right tackle shakes out, they can have new fewer than three starters on the offensive line heading into unrestricted free agency in March. That includes left tackle Alejandro Villanueva, but also Matt Feiler, who has been a primary starter for the past two years.
And while he doesn’t know definitively where he is going to start in 2020—it almost surely will be at left guard—there is no doubt that he will be a start. With 27 starts already under his belt over the course of his career, he knows this is a crucial season for his future with free agency coming up, even if he’s not thinking about leaving.
“You know, it would be great to stay here”, the Bloomsburg native told reporters last week. “I’m from Pennsylvania, so it’s closer to my family and friends and stuff like that. So, I think my wife and I have started, kind of, this is our home. So, I’d love to stay here, but with the contract stuff coming up, I can’t really focus on that right now. I’ve just gotta focus on the season at hand and just take it one game at a time”.
Feiler has made 25 starts at right tackle over the past two years, but has also work extensively in offseasons at guard, and started one game at left guard last season, in part in preparation for this eventuality in the event that Ramon Foster retired.
Having now established himself as an unquestioned starter in the Steelers’ system, the team faces the prospect of losing him after this year, and they can’t count on having a replacement, necessarily. Their options right now are looking like a 32-year-old Stefen Wisniewski and a second-year Kevin Dotson, who has been sidelined in training camp and likely won’t see a snap this year.
Pittsburgh certainly doesn’t want Feiler to get away, but with the impending salary cap situation, it will be hard to picture them working things out easily. One thing we know is that they certainly can’t afford to lose three starters on the offensive line.