For all of the criticism one might fairly lay at his feet, the potential retirement of center Maurkice Pouncey would quite literally leave a gaping hole in the middle of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense. While it’s already been time for the front office to be considering the future of the position, the current formulation of the roster leads them woefully underprepared to fill the gap he would create at the center position with his departure.
The only other qualified center on the roster right now is J.C. Hassenauer, a former college free agent who ended up playing in the AAF in 2019 before finding his way into training camp for the Steelers later that year. He spent a brief period of time on the practice squad that season before actually making the 53-man roster this past season.
That was originally to be as the third-team interior reserve, as they had signed Stefen Wisniewski in free agency, but for reasons that continue to remain unclear, they opted to release him mid-season after he returned from a pectoral injury that he suffered in the opener.
Neither player—the latter returning to the Kansas City Chiefs after his release—played particularly well, so even if they were theoretically to bring back Wisniewski, it would not serve as an adequate answer for the center position—really even as a band-aid. We would be talking about Justin Hartwig here.
Obviously, there will be ways for the Steelers to address the position in the event that reports of Pouncey’s looming retirement are confirmed. As they typically do, they would probably sign a low- to mid-level free agent and then swing for a high-round pick in the draft.
By the time the 2021 regular season begins, the offensive line could look very different than it did even a couple of years ago. Ramon Foster already retired last year. Matt Feiler and Alejandro Villanueva are likely to be free agency losses. With Pouncey gone, it would only be David DeCastro as part of the old nucleus.
The rest of the group would likely be rounded out by Chukwuma Okorafor and potentially Zach Banner at the tackle positions, if the latter returns to health and is retained, with Kevin Dotson stepping in at left guard, with the center position yet to be determined.
For those who might bring it up, both Feiler and Dotson have done very little work at center, and would not be adequate solutions. If you had issues with Pouncey’s snaps, just imagine Chris Hubbard-level snapping on a full-time basis. The Baltimore Ravens benched their center this past year for bad snaps.
In other words, they need to find themselves another center. Not that we didn’t already know this, but it becomes immediately urgent if Pouncey retires.