Discussion: Should Pittsburgh Retain Joe Schobert and Zach Banner in 2022?

With the end of the regular season upon us and the playoff hopes of the Pittsburgh Steelers resting on a win in Baltimore Sunday, the Jacksonville Jaguars pulling off the upset against the Indianapolis Colts, and the Raiders and Chargers not tying on Sunday Night Football, many will be turning their eyes to 2022 given the amount of things that have to right for Pittsburgh to make it into the playoffs as the seventh and final seed in the AFC. While I do hope for the Steelers to win and make the playoffs, I can’t help but think about the roster heading into 2022, specifically who Pittsburgh will look to retain in free agency and who they decide to move on from during the offseason.

Two players whose future in Pittsburgh that could be up in the air that are currently scheduled to be a part of the 2022 roster are LB Joe Schobert and OT Zach Banner. Banner is coming back from an ACL tear suffered in Week One last season, starting the season on IR after hitting a snag in his ramp up period to the regular season, resulting in him missing the first month of the regular season. When Banner was cleared to start practicing in October, he had a tough time getting a helmet on game days, being placed on the inactive list. Recently, Banner has been active prior to his stint on the COVID-19 Reserve List but hasn’t seen playing time outside of heavy formations.

Banner was touted to be the starting RT this season before having complications during the preseason and has such not played any impact for the team. Pittsburgh inked Banner to a two-year deal worth $9.5 million this past offseason and has a cap number of $5 million in 2022. With OT Chukwuma Okorafor scheduled to hit free agency, Banner could feasibly slide right into the RT spot across from Dan Moore Jr. at LT for next season. However, with Banner being unable to crack the starting lineup all season and having very little experience as a starter in the NFL, should Pittsburgh look to the draft or a higher-caliber free agent to shore up the RT spot?

Hypothetically, cutting Banner would save Pittsburgh $5 million in cap space next season while incurring $1.625 million in dead cap. With Pittsburgh looking at a little under $43 million in cap space in 2022, they could look to trim other spots to free up extra cap space to either retain more of their own free agents or look to bring in higher-profile free agents on the open market.

Cutting Banner would figuratively create another hole for Pittsburgh to address, but with Moore looking to be locked in at LT moving forward and the need to improve the OL, Banner could be an odd man out should Pittsburgh be able to improve at the position with a high draft pick or FA. Banner’s availability is the key here, and should he prove to be completely healthy going into the offseason, Pittsburgh will likely keep him. Still, the possibility of Banner not being a part of the 2022 roster should be presented depending on how the chips fall this offseason.

The same scenario could take place with Joe Schobert, who Dave Bryan and Alex Kozora have mentioned on The Terrible Podcast as a potential cap casualty this offseason. Pittsburgh parted with a sixth-round selection this preseason to acquire Schobert from Jacksonville, hoping to stabilize a LB core where Robert Spillane struggled in coverage and Devin Bush was coming off his ACL recovery. Schobert has been solid in his first season with Pittsburgh, starting 15 games and recording 108 total tackles (66 solo), two TFLs, one forced fumble and one INT. While Schobert hasn’t been terrible as a starter, his play has seemed to have dropped off from previous seasons, especially in pass coverage.

Schobert also carries a base salary of $8.75 million next season with a total cap hit of $9.722 million. Parting ways with Schobert would net Pittsburgh some dead cap but would bring them nearly $8 million in cap savings. Bryan and Kozora mentioned that Schobert’s play likely doesn’t warrant that cap number and depending on the guys they want to bring back that are scheduled to be free agents or the outside options available on the open market, Pittsburgh could elect to move on from Schobert after just one season with the team.

Again, this would create a potential need at ILB, putting Pittsburgh in the same situation they were in the preseason before they made the Schobert trade. However, players like Don’t’a Hightower, Jayon Brown, Leighton Vander Esch, Rashaan Evans, Keanu Neal, and Anthony Barr are all scheduled to hit the open market this off-season along with prospects Nakobe Dean, Devin Lloyd, Darrian Beavers, Christian Harris, and others being available in the 2022 NFL Draft. Plenty of these options should be available for Pittsburgh to capitalize on, making cutting ties with Schobert easier to stomach getting comparable or better production for a similar price.

What are your thoughts on Zach Banner and Joe Schobert this season? Do you think that their roles in Pittsburgh are secured for 2021, or that either could be cap casualties prior to the start of the 2022 season? Should Pittsburgh focus on other needs on the roster and keep both players, or look to potentially add/upgrade at their positions while saving cap space? What do you think Pittsburgh will actually do? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below and thanks again for reading!

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