As has seemingly felt as though it has been the set up for some time now, Pittsburgh Steelers tackle Zach Banner recently spoke to The Athletic about his near-term future, and relayed a conversation that he had with head coach Mike Tomlin, which he previously referenced in a vague Twitter post during the exit meeting process.
Mark Kaboly quotes the four-year veteran as saying that Tomlin told him, “’You are my answer for 2021, so I need you to focus on your knee’”. Banner, of course, suffered a torn ACL toward the end of the 2020 season opener, which also just so happened to be the first start of his career as a lineman, after earning the job in training camp.
His contract and job status comes at a critical moment for the Steelers as both starting left tackle Alejandro Villanueva and former starting right tackle Matt Feiler—who moved to guard this past season—are unrestricted free agents. It is highly probable that Villanueva, at the very least, will not be back in 2021.
That means the Steelers need some options at tackle, and even if you could feel comfortable in projecting Chukwuma Okorafor—who started the final 16 games after Banner’s injury at right tackle—to be able to slide over to the left side, you still need a right tackle.
Given that Banner was expected to be that entering the 2020 season, it should seem obvious that they would feel similarly now, provided that they are comfortable with the health of his knee, and all signs on that front throughout the process seem to have been as would be expected.
A fourth-round pick by the Indianapolis Colts back in 2017, he was waived after making the initial 53-man roster after they claimed additional players off waivers. The Cleveland Browns claimed him, which is where he spent his rookie season, before having a bit of a journeyman life before being picked up by the Steelers in training camp the following hear.
He has had a slow but steady rise since then, doing enough to earn a spot on the 53-man roster in 2019, then commanding playing time a year later in the tackle-eligible role, before ultimately winning a starting job last season.
From the sounds of it, he seems to expect that there is a pretty good chance not only that he will be re-signed by the Steelers, but also that he will be given the chance to take back his starting job. I don’t think anybody was really doubting that this was at least well within the realm of possibility, but it’s still notable to get some insight into what he and Tomlin talked about.