There were no doubt several teams who took hard hits as a result of the steep reduction in the salary cap from last season to this, dropping about $15 million when it had been anticipated a year early to rise by about $10 million. A number of high-profile players ended up being released. Many more players moved in free agency when they might otherwise not have, and took one-year deals to hit a more robust market next year.
Few were hit as hard as the Pittsburgh Steelers, who ultimately lost more than a dozen starters either directly or indirectly as a result of the salary cap, including three on the offensive line (even if Maurkice Pouncey had not retired, he would have almost surely been a salary cap casualty, or he would have been coaxed into retirement, because they simply didn’t have the cap space).
As a result, as well as due to prior long-standing issues, the offensive line remains the Steelers’ biggest question mark entering the 2021 season, including possibly up to three first- or second-year players in the starting lineup. Marc Sessler of NFL Network is convinced the only thing they can do is pray:
First-round runner Najee Harris waltzes into a high-volume role as a three-down weapon drawing comparisons to Le’Veon Bell. Not unlike the Bengals, though, Pittsburgh had plenty of fans hoping they’d dial up a rock-solid lineman over a back. Instead, the Steelers picked Kendrick Green and Dan Moore in Rounds 3 and 4. The worst run-blocking unit from 2020 still lacks anyone who graded higher overall than 66.2 (out of 100), via Pro Football Focus. The hope is that well-regarded line coach Adrian Klemm can make this work. Longtime pro tackle Kelvin Beachum raved about Klemm to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, saying: “Number 1, he’s going to change the culture and the mindset of the group. Secondly, his concept of developing players will be big [and] is one of his biggest attributes. He did it at SMU. He did it at UCLA, and he did it in Pittsburgh. He can coach all kinds of different players.”
This was part of an article about each team’s largest remaining priority this offseason. When it came to the Steelers, Sessler summed it up by saying that their top priority is to “pray offensive line aide Adrian Klemm can pull this off”.
In addition to Pouncey, they are also looking for replacements for Alejandro Villanueva at left tackle and Matt Feiler at left guard. Kevin Dotson is expected to fill in at guard, while rookie third-round pick Kendrick Green is the presumptive favorite to win the center job, amongst B.J. Finney and J.C. Hassenauer as the other candidates.
At the tackle positions, Chukwuma Okorafor and Zach Banner are penciled in at left and right, respectively, but Klemm said that rookie fourth-round pick Dan Moore Jr. should be in the mix, as well. Free agent signing Joe Haeg could potentially compete for a starting role.