Player: J.C. Hassenauer
Experience: 3 Years
Free Agent Status: Exclusive Rights
2021 Salary Cap Hit: $780,000
2021 Season Breakdown:
We’re starting to scrape the bottom of the barrel in terms of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ projected free agents at this point, with veteran interior offensive lineman J.C. Hassenauer bringing us beyond the final free agents who are scheduled to wear an unrestricted or restricted title. The remaining four, including Hassenauer, are exclusive rights free agents, one of which has already been re-signed, the other two unlikely to be re-signed.
Hassenauer, however, is an important figure at this point, technically finishing the 2021 season as the Steelers’ starting center. While general manager Kevin Colbert insisted that Kendrick Green did not get benched due to his play, the reality is that Hassenauer kept playing even though Green was healthy enough to dress for multiple weeks.
Entering the 2022 offseason process, in fact, if I were to project an opening-day center, I personally would predict that Hassenauer will be there, with Green having either struggled too much to earn the job back or playing at guard instead.
To his own credit, Hassenauer has come a long way since arriving in Pittsburgh by way of the AAF in 2019, spending some time that year on the practice squad. He did get called up due to injury to dress as a reserve at one point, but he did not make the 53-man roster until 2020, starting four games that season, three at center, due to injury.
Hassenauer missed some time due to injury himself, ultimately playing in 13 games, with three starts (four including the postseason), with I believe almost all of his snaps coming at center. The only time he played at guard was the time between B.J. Finney’s injury replacing Kevin Dotson at left guard and his own subsequent injury, after which John Leglue took over.
Free Agency Outlook:
This is a case in which there is nothing to discuss. It would be nothing short of a stunner if Hassenauer is not under contract for the 2022 season. As an exclusive rights free agent, he is in a position in which he has to accept any contract the Steelers offer him if he wants to play.
The only way he doesn’t end up in Pittsburgh is if the Steelers were to decide not to offer him a contract, which would be all of $895,000, the veteran-minimum salary for a player with two accrued seasons in 2022 (a $190,000 difference between that and a rookie undrafted free agent contract).
There is a legitimate opportunity in front of Hassenauer right now. If he can solidify himself as a starter, he could position himself for the future. It’s not as though the Steelers don’t have a recent history in developing undrafted linemen.