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: A rookie offensive lineman will be an opening-day starter for the Steelers in 2021.
Explanation: Given the number of pending unrestricted free agents along the offensive line, the changing of the guard on the coaching staff, and the likelihood that the position will be a priority early in the draft, the chances of a rookie being an opening-day starter here are higher than they have been in the better part of the past decade.
Good units don’t easily relinquish a starting job to a newcomer, and for a long time, the Steelers’ offensive line was one of them. It isn’t any longer, or at least it is a unit in transition. Simply by virtue of the fact that they are likely to be without at least one, if not two, and possibly even three starters from last season, it is almost inevitable that they will have to trust a rookie to start whether they want to or not.
It’s a virtual certainty that left tackle Alejandro Villanueva is going to depart in free agency for more money, assuming that he doesn’t retire. It’s far from certain that Matt Feiler will return, either. Even Zach Banner is a free agent, and assuming that he is retained, it’s quite possible he and Chukwuma Okorafor will compete for one spot again.
It might be a better statement to pose that two rookie offensive linemen will become primary starters by the end of the season, rather than that one will open the season as a starter.
This will be easier to answer once we have a resolution on Maurkice Pouncey’s situation, because if he retires, it makes it a lot more likely that a rookie will start at center, because nobody else currently on the roster will be starting there.
Even if he does retire, though, you know the Steelers are going to sign a bargain veteran free agent. B.J. Finney has a good chance of being made available, and he would probably welcome a return.
We also shouldn’t underestimate the Steelers’ willingness to stick with what they have. Kevin Dotson is already a lock to start. If Feiler returns, he can start at tackle as well, a piece of the puzzle a lot of people overlook. It’s far from a sure thing a rookie will start, at least right away, even a first-round pick, unless that pick is at center and Pouncey has retired.