It’s that time of year again. Free agency is creeping up in just a couple of weeks, so before we get there, we’ll get going over the Pittsburgh Steelers’ roster, position by position, making an assessment of what kind of shape they’re in, trying to figure out how they might, or should, attack the roster on that basis.
The Steelers are likely to be subject to more change than they are used to this year, with 19 players scheduled to be unrestricted free agents, including numerous starters. Two other important players have retired, so there is more shuffling of the deck than normal in Pittsburgh.
Total Positional Figure: 10
Alejandro Villanueva: After six years as the Steelers’ blindside protector, Villanueva is likely moving on in his age-33 season. He took a cheap deal after two years at $6 million APY. He can easily double that and then some on the open market as a multiple-time Pro Bowler.
Chukwuma Okorafor: Having lost starting job competitions in each of the past two offseasons, Okorafor ended up starting 16 games last season due to injury. He generally played at replacement level, however, and still leaves something to be desired. He will be in competition to start at either tackle spot as he enters the final year of his deal.
Zach Banner: Like Villanueva, Banner will be an unrestricted free agent. Unlike Villanueva, he has made one start, in which he suffered a major knee injury, from which he continues to cover. From the sounds of it, he anticipates re-signing and competing for a starting job at either side.
Jerald Hawkins: Hawkins was brought back after a year away following Banner’s injury to serve as the swing tackle. There is a reasonable chance he is re-signed to compete for depth.
Matt Feiler: Though he started at left guard last season, he has 25 starts at right tackle. Depending on the price, he could be brought back to move back outside with Kevin Dotson ready to take over at guard.
Anthony Coyle: An XFL product, Coyle spend the entire year with the team on the practice squad. He was elevated for three games, however, including the postseason. He signed a futures contract at the end of the year.
Jarron Jones: Another XFL player who also spent the entire season on the practice squad. Jones was arrested on a domestic violence charge, but the team kept him. He also re-signed at the end of the season.
Brandon Walton: The Steelers signed Walton to the practice squad following Banner’s and Stefen Wisniewski’s injuries following the opener, which had the ripple effect of seeing Derwin Gray promoted to the 53-man roster. Walton took Gray’s place on the practice squad, remaining there all season and signing a futures deal after the season
John Leglue: Leglue was signed to the practice squad after Jones was placed on the Practice Squad/Injured List in late December and retained on a futures deal after the season.
Aviante Collins: A former undrafted free agent, Collins spent the past four years with the Vikings, spending much of that time on the practice squad. He has dressed for five games with one start, playing a total of 77 snaps. He signed a futures deal last month.
All options are on the table here, with a very likely possibility being addressing the position in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft. Villanueva will be prohibitively expensive to try to keep, but they figure to retain at least Banner and, if they want to, Hawkins. Banner and Okorafor will either be their two starters at tackle or compete for one starting job.
If affordable, they may attempt to re-sign Feiler with the possibility of him starting at tackle. Failing that, they will explore cheap tackle depth options in free agency, but they will not overpay, with Kevin Colbert having gone on record in commenting on how deep this draft class is at the position.