The Pittsburgh Steelers’ offensive line, it would be fair to say, has seen better days. While the group has not fallen of a cliff, as some assessments would suggest, it is evident that they have reached a point in which deficiencies need to be addressed—and availability is now a glaring issue, on top of that.
11-year veteran center Maurkice Pouncey recently announced his retirement. Potentially three other players who could be starters are slated to be unrestricted free agents a month from now, with left tackle Alejandro Villanueva heading a list that also includes left guard Matt Feiler and right tackle Zach Banner, who missed almost all of the 2020 season with a torn ACL.
While they were among the best teams in the league in terms of preventing their quarterback from going down, in no small part due to Ben Roethlisberger’s quick passes, they were also among the very worst units in the league in terms of run blocking, and losing three starters will not improve that situation.
Speaking to the media earlier today, general manager Kevin Colbert stated the obvious in calling the offensive line an “uncertain group”, via Gerry Dulac, with really the only players set in stone right now being right guard David DeCastro in addition to tackle Chukwuma Okorafor and guard Kevin Dotson, who would more accurately be described as potential starters rather than confirmed.
Colbert called the offensive line an “uncertain group” right now with retirement of Maurkice Pouncey, Al Villanueva and Matt Feiler being free agents and Zach Banner coming off ACL. “It’s our biggest area of losses.”
— Gerry Dulac (@gerrydulac) February 17, 2021
Villanueva, a two-time Pro Bowler, has been the Steelers’ primary left tackle for the past six seasons, and is arguably the best left tackle that they have had for some time. As for Feiler, his ability to play both inside and outside offers tremendous value. While he did better at tackle, he can still grow inside. While Banner’s knee injury prevented us from seeing what he could do as a full-time starter, the coaching staff seemed very confident in his ability to handle the job.
All three, however, are slated to hit unrestricted free agency, and it’s a virtual impossibility that the Steelers bring all three back. Keeping even two of them will be difficult to manage under the constraints of their salary cap situation. Banner is obviously the safest bet.
So what will the starting offensive line end up looking like the next time they take the field for a meaningful game? I think it’s safe to say that whoever starts at center is not currently on the roster. Dotson could take over at left guard, presumably, while the tackle situations will depend upon who is retained.
Villanueva is an unlikely candidate, as he has the potential to earn $15 million per season, which he can’t get from the Steelers. But if they re-sign Banner and Feiler, then they will have to work out who starts amongst themselves and Okorafor, and however they might address the position in the draft, which could very realistically include a first-round selection.