Player: Jerald Hawkins
Experience: 4 Years
Free Agent Status: Unrestricted
2020 Salary Cap Hit: $750,000
2020 Season Breakdown:
Beginning the 2020 season on the Houston Texans’ practice squad, Jerald Hawkins was signed to the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 53-man roster following the first week of the regular season. A former fourth-round pick of the Steelers, he was traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers the year before that due to an excess of talent at the tackle position.
With Matt Feiler moving to left guard last year following Ramon Foster’s retirement, Zach Banner and Chukwuma Okorafor battled to start at right tackle opposite Alejandro Villanueva, but when Banner suffered a torn ACL in the opener, Okorafor had to enter the starting lineup, and their tackle depth was shot.
Given the nature of the season, played amid a pandemic, Pittsburgh and every other team was more inclined to fall back on players they had some experience with, and with whom they experience, so Hawkins being available to be signed worked out.
He ultimately played in 13 games during the year, totaling 71 snaps, with the vast majority of those snaps coming as a tackle-eligible tight end. He did log a very small handful of snaps at tackle when Okorafor was nicked for a short period of time in a game before returning.
Free Agency Outlook:
Given the circumstances and the price tag, Hawkins has a better chance of returning to the Steelers this year than he might ordinarily have. Villanueva is an unrestricted free agent who is unlikely to be re-signed, and Feiler is even a free agent as well.
It is quite possible that Banner and Okorafor are your two starting tackles, and then…who is your backup? There is an extremely good chance that the Steelers are going to draft a tackle at come point this year, maybe even in the first round, but they can’t go into the draft with such a big hole.
The alternative, of course, would be re-signing Feiler, who could start at tackle, and would certainly provide better value as a backup if it would come to that, though it’s likely that if he were re-signed, he would start.
Hawkins didn’t do anything special when he was on the field last year, but of course, that’s fine. You don’t want your linemen to stand out very often. Given that he struggled in training camp in 2019 coming back from a major injury, he was in a better place than he was the last time he was with the team.