Zach Banner has been in the NFL for four seasons now. Originally selected in the fourth round by the Indianapolis Colts, he has been through the league ringer already and has come out the other end as driven as ever to conquer his goals—one of which he did already in 2020.
Entering this past season as one of two candidates to be the Pittsburgh Steelers’ starting right tackle, Banner won the job over Chukwuma Okorafor, marking a major milestone in his career and securing a lifelong dream to start a game in the NFL.
As you know, fate would have other plans, as he suffered a torn ACL late in the season opener, which sidelined him for the rest of the year and thrust Okorafor into the starting lineup, where he started 16 games, including the postseason.
Heading into the 2021 season, Banner is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent, but from the sounds of it, he doesn’t plan on going anywhere, nor to the Steelers plan on letting him get away. Last week, he posted a simple Tweet, stating that he had the “best exit interview ever”, and that’s it’s time to get “back to work”.
Best exit interview ever… Back to work…
— Zach Banner (@ZBNFL) January 14, 2021
Given the team’s financial and free agent situation, there is a very good chance that they figure him to be a starter in 2021. Left tackle Alejandro Villanueva and left guard Matt Feiler, who was their primary starting right tackle between 2018-19, are both unrestricted free agents who will have a more robust market and would be much more difficult to retain.
Banner, coming off of a major knee injury and with minimal starting experience, will likely be rather affordable. Based on his social media posting, it sounds as though the coaching staff and front office still very much believe in him.
As a rookie, he was let go after making the initial 53-man roster after the Colts claimed several players off waivers. They intended to add him to the practice squad, but he in turn was claimed by the Cleveland Browns.
His whole first year in the NFL did not go the way he wanted, and he lost a lot of the love for the game, but he has talked about how signing with the Steelers and being motivated by head coach Mike Tomlin revitalized that.
He shared a story in 2019 about how during his first season with the team the year before, one day Tomlin came up to him and asked him what he needs from him to make him a starting franchise tackle for some team. He never forgot that moment, and it doesn’t sound like Tomlin did either.