We started this series with a little over two weeks remaining to the draft, knowing that nearly all of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ pertinent personnel decisions will have already been made by then. Over the course of the series, we will be reviewing the team’s roster turnover position by position in an effort to help us project what their plans will be for the 2021 NFL Draft.
The Steelers had 10 starters or primary players scheduled to be unrestricted free agents this offseason and have re-signed only five of them, those being JuJu Smith-Schuster, Cameron Sutton, Zach Banner, Tyson Alualu, and Jordan Berry. They re-signed a number exclusive rights or restricted free agents, chiefly Robert Spillane and J.C. Hassenauer, while signing Ray-Ray McCloud to a non-tender deal.
The deals of Ben Roethlisberger, Cameron Heyward, Derek Watt, and Eric Ebron were restructured, while those of Steven Nelson and Vince Williams were terminated, the latter being re-signed. Maurkice Pouncey and Vance McDonald retired.
Of note, the Steelers have added five players as unrestricted or street agents from outside of the organization, including three offensive linemen in Joe Haeg, Rashaad Coward, and former Steeler B.J. Finney. The group also includes linebacker Miles Killebrew and running back Kalen Ballage.
Total Positional Figure: 9
Offseason Additions: 2
Offseason Deletions: 1
Chukwuma Okorafor: Okorafor is now among the more experienced tackles on the roster after starting 16 games last year following Zach Banner’s injury. While he played serviceably, Ben Roethlisberger’s rapid time of release greatly aided him.
Zach Banner: Banner tore his ACL after winning the starting right tackle job, making his first career start in the season opener in 2020. He will be looking to take back that job this summer after re-signing on a two-year, $9.5 million deal.
Anthony Coyle: Coyle is for now the most notable of the team’s many futures tackles, holding the very minor distinction of being the only one to have been elevated from the practice squad for a game, though he did not play.
Jarron Jones: A former defensive lineman, Jones converted to tackle after college, playing in the XFL last year. He spent the entire season on the practice squad.
Brandon Walton: Pittsburgh signed Walton to the practice squad after placing Banner on the Reserve/Injured List. He spent the rest of the season there.
John Leglue: Leglue was another in-season practice squad addition, though he signed at the end of December. Like the rest, a former undrafted free agent with minimal to no experience.
Aviante Collins: Signed in February, Collins was undrafted in 2018 and spent his entire career with the Vikings up to that point. While most of that time was spent on the practice squad, he does have a relatively small amount of playing time.
Joe Haeg: The Steelers’ big ‘splash’ in free agency this year, which says a lot. The veteran has 38 starts in his career, but only three over the past two seasons. He figures to be the top swing tackle barring a draft pick.
Rashaad Coward: Coward is a veteran with starting history, but shouldn’t be regarded as a high-level player. He is also more experienced at guard at the NFL level than at tackle.
Players Deleted: Jerald Hawkins: Hawkins was originally brought back after the season opener last year after Zach Banner suffered a torn ACL. He spent the season as the swing tackle, playing some tight end, but the team didn’t show any interest in bringing him back.
Notes and Draft Outlook:
As we sit here, Alejandro Villanueva, the team’s most experienced tackle, remains a free agent. One could argue that the longer he sits out there, the more likely he is to return. Getting Villanueva back would be a major boost to the depth, but even if they do bring him back for one more year, it shouldn’t alter their draft priority in adding a talented young tackle who will start — either now or in the future — as early as Round 1, such as Teven Jenkins, an oft-mocked name to Pittsburgh this draft season.