The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2020 season is now in the books, and it ended in spectacular fashion—though the wrong kind of spectacular—in a dismal postseason defeat at the hands of the Cleveland Browns, sending them into an early offseason mode after going 12-4 in the regular season and winning the AFC North for the first time in three years.
After setting a franchise record by opening the year on an 11-game winning streak, they followed that up by losing three games in a row, going 1-4 in the final five games, with only a 17-point comeback staving off a five-game slide. But all the issues they had in the regular season showed up in the postseason that resulted in their early exit.
The only thing facing them now as they head into 2021 is more questions, and right now, they lack answers. What will Ben Roethlisberger do, and what will they do with him? What will the salary cap look like? How many free agents are they going to lose? Who could they possibly afford to retain? Who might they part ways with—not just on the roster, but also on the coaching staff?
These are the sorts of questions among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked, though there is rarely a concrete answer, as I’ve learned in my years of doing this.
Question: What will the Steelers’ starting offensive line look like in 2021?
Change is inevitable, even in Pittsburgh. We have seen change slowly but surely along the offensive line. First it was Marcus Gilbert being traded in 2019. Then it was Ramon Foster retiring in 2020. Facing the 2021 season, we have Alejandro Villanueva, Matt Feiler, and Zach Banner all unrestricted free agents—and Maurkice Pouncey possibly contemplating retirement.
It all begs the question—what in the world is the offensive line going to look like when the Steelers take the field in September? Arguably, there are only three guarantees: David DeCastro at right guard, Kevin Dotson at left guard, and Chukwuma Okorafor…somewhere. And one could make the case that DeCastro is a salary cap casualty risk.
Obviously if Pouncey doesn’t retire, then he’s still there at center (again, assuming he is not a salary cap casualty), but Villanueva, largely, is presumed gone. So where do we go from there? You have Feiler and Banner, with Banner being the cheap re-sign. Either one could start at right tackle, with Okorafor moving to left tackle.
But the Steelers could also readily use draft picks on the offensive line and produce a starter, or perhaps even multiple starters, in this way if they are really serious about making changes. They could even bring in a modest free agent to compete for a spot somewhere. Somebody like B.J. Finney could circle back. There’s still a lot to be sorted out, needless to say, but this may be the most unstable the line has been in some time.