As is our annual tradition, here is my wishlist of – heavy emphasis coming – realistic options the Pittsburgh Steelers could consider once free agency officially begins on March 17th. We’ll break this article up into two sections. Today will be the offensive line with a future article, likely for Monday, on skill positions.
I’ll also probably write something for defense, though that will likely be a shorter and less interesting list. But you can expect at least one free agent offensive linemen to sign with Pittsburgh. No, these aren’t ideal options but they’re cheap vets, exactly what the team is looking for in an offseason of pinching pennies like this.
Interior Offensive Line
Ben Garland/San Francisco 49ers – Garland is my favorite name on the list. Though he turns 33 in a couple of weeks and doesn’t have much NFL starting experience, just 15 career starts, he has some good tape. He’s spent all of his career playing in zone schemes which on the surface, may not mesh with what the Steelers run. But Maurkice Pouncey was an athletic center who could pull and work out into space and Garland has a similar game. Had to in order to play in the Falcons and 49ers’ outside zone heavy scheme. Couple of clips of that here.
In the third with the Falcons, he’s aligned as the right guard. In the first two with the 49ers, he’s their center.
There’s also an obvious connection which could bring Garland to Pittsburgh. The Steelers hired Chris Morgan to be their assistant offensive line coach for 2021. Morgan was Garland’s coach in Atlanta from 2016 to 2018. So there’s some insider intel on who the team is getting.
Garland has good size at a listed 6’5, 308 that would give him versatility to play center or guard in the Steelers’ scheme. The issue with guys like Stefen Wisniewski or JC Hassenauer is that they essentially function as centers only. Pittsburgh’s system relies on having bigger bodies at guard. So Garland could do both. And he has starting experience at guard and center so neither position is foreign to him.
Last year, he signed a one-year, $2.25 million deal with the 49ers. His season was cut short with a calf injury so I imagine Pittsburgh can get him on an ultra-cheap one-year contract this offseason. Signing Garland wouldn’t prevent the team from drafting a center this April and if the rookie wins a job, Garland is comfortable depth.
Joe Looney/Dallas Cowboys – Similar story with Looney as it is with Garland though he’s a little younger (turning 31 in August) with more starting experience (42 career starts). He was tasked to fill in for Travis Frederick in 2020 and wound up starting 12 games for the Cowboys.
He has good enough size at 6’3, 315. My notes on him showed with nasty and competitiveness to his game and a decent athlete, though he missed at the 2nd level more often than I would’ve liked. He does play with a strong base and anchor in pass protection.
He also sounds like a strong locker room guy. One part leader, important in replacing Maurkice Pouncey, and one part prankster who keeps things light and would be a good fit among this group. Dallas is expected to move on from him in the offseason. He could be brought in on something like a two-year, $5 million contract.
Senio Kelemete/Houston Texans – Mentioned his name a few days after the Texans released him. Versatile option whose played up and down the line over his eight-year career. I don’t believe he’s played center during a regular season game before but the Saints got him work there during one of his preseasons with the team. So there is at least in-stadium experience. I’m not sure he would ever be penciled in as a starter but there is little depth along the interior behind Kevin Dotson, David DeCastro, and whoever ends up starting at center.
Pat Elflein/New York Jets – Little bit of pedigree here. Ohio State kid, Steelers were at his Pro Day, and third round pick of the 2017 draft. The youngest option on our list, he won’t turn 27 until July. Vikings cut bait with him last year but he got scooped up by the Jets and wound up starting six games at guard. He began his career at center giving him key position versatility. Left guard in the below clip, climbing, sticking, and driving to the Browns’ LB through the end of the play.
James Hurst/New Orleans Saints – Ok, this one hurts me to write. I remember watching Hurst in Baltimore and he felt like one of the worst tackles in football. But I’m interested in him as a backup, certainly not a starter, and someone with tackle/guard versatility. He moved onto the Saints this past year who used him as a backup LT when Terron Armstead was out and as a 6th offensive linemen/tackle eligible. Which could be a role the team needs to fill if Zach Banner is a starting tackle and Jerald Hawkins isn’t re-signed.
Hurst had some positive tape as a run blocker, creating movement on down blocks, and to his credit, held up well against Bradley Chubb and the Denver Broncos in one of his starts at left tackle.
I wouldn’t sign him for anything more than the minimum. But that’s what he played for in 2020 and I doubt his market value has changed dramatically especially with the salary cap contracting.
Kelvin Beachum/Arizona Cardinals – Adding his name to this list but you guys know we’ve talked about him several times already. Beachum’s o-line coach at SMU was Adrian Klemm, whose now in that same role with the Steelers. Pittsburgh has a history of bringing ex-Steelers back to town and Beachum can still play. He’s also a great locker room and member of the community today.
The concern with Beachum is that he might want more money and a better opportunity than Pittsburgh where he’d have to take a cheap, one or two-year deal and not be assured of a starting spot. He’s been a starting linemen in this league for nine straight seasons and I don’t think he’ll quickly take a reserve role in Pittsburgh especially knowing how hard it is for the league to find competent tackles. There could be a bit of a market for him.