The Pittsburgh Steelers have long history spanning now over a decade of being very good at developing talent along the offensive line among players without pedigree. You can throw in Kelvin Beachum as a seventh-round pick, but you really don’t even have to include drafted players in order to acknowledge the perhaps unparalleled success the team has had in turning undrafted free agents into starters.
It started in earnest with Ramon Foster, undrafted out of Tennessee in 2009, who ended up leapfrogging third-round pick Kraig Urbik for playing time, and ultimately a roster spot a year later. Urbik would go on to have a successful starting career of his own before retiring in part due to injury, but Foster persisted, retiring on his own terms after 11 years and making 145 starts as a very respected player and person.
Alejandro Villanueva is one of the most interesting success stories given his background, including the fact that, when they first signed him to the practice squad in 2014, he had just been playing defensive end for the Philadelphia Eagles.
After cutting his teeth for a year learning (or re-learning) the tackle position, he earned the swing tackle job in 2015, but was thrust into the starting lineup five games into the year after Beachum tore his ACL. He never looked back and has hardly missed a snap since, making a couple of Pro Bowls along the way.
In between was Chris Hubbard and B.J. Finney, even less obvious names like Patrick Morris and Fred Johnson who would receive some attention elsewhere, but Matt Feiler is a really notable story, for not the least of which reason being that he just managed to sign a three-year, $21 million contract.
A Bloomsburg product who originally signed with the Houston Texans as an undrafted free agent in 2014, Feiler spent the first three years of his career on practice squads, after which point he no longer had eligibility to remain there. The second and third years were already with Pittsburgh.
Come 2017, it was do or die time. He pretty much had to make the roster or his career was over, because otherwise, another team would have to sign him to their 53-man roster, and nobody showed any interest in doing so during the previous three years.
He did make it, and he’s only gotten better since then. He made his starting debut in the regular season finale that year, playing at right guard in place of a resting David DeCastro, and he intrigued. While he spent most of his time playing inside, even beginning to learn center, he would ultimately end up outside, starting 25 games at right tackle over the next two years.
Back inside in 2020 to take over Foster’s spot following his retirement, Feiler took some adjusting to the position after spending so much time at tackle, but the Chargers saw a starter in him. More than two thirds of his deal comes fully guaranteed with a $6 million signing bonus, with $4 million of his $5.5 million 2022 base salary guaranteed at signing, as well as all of his $3 million 2021 base salary.
That’s a very healthy contract for him, and a testament and fitting reward for the journey he’s been on over the course of the past seven-plus years. Set to turn 29 years old later this year, it was time for him to get paid, and he certainly did—all the way from Bloomsburg to LA.