Player: Chukwuma Okorafor
Experience: 4 Years
Free Agent Status: Unrestricted
2021 Salary Cap Hit: $2,386,091
2021 Season Breakdown:
A third-round draft pick out of Western Michigan in 2018, Chukwuma Okorafor enters the open market having started 33 games over the course of the past two years, including the postseason, all of them coming at right tackle.
The 2021 season was the first in his career in which he entered the regular season as the intended starter, although prior to the final couple weeks of the offseason, he was supposed to start at left tackle, rather than the right side.
With projected right tackle Zach Banner—who won the job in 2020 but tore his ACL in the season opener—having a setback in his rehab from the injury, the coaching staff decided it was best to move Okorafor back to the right side and start rookie Dan Moore Jr. on the left.
That combination lasted for the entire season, and Okorafor did show some progress, arguably the Steelers’ best offensive lineman all season. That might not be saying much, but he could certainly have played his way into a low-end starter’s deal for another team over the course of his play.
He’s never going to convince you as a run blocker, more likely to do just enough to get the play off, but he is capable of being a strong pass-protection option. He has shut down some good edge rushers, though his play is inconsistent. Also concerning is a high number of penalties, but as a cheap starting option, teams could do worse.
Free Agency Outlook:
Not to be mistaken for an elite talent, by any means, Okorafor is not going to be a top-market starting tackle next month. There are enough interesting names on the market, even at right tackle, that are within his same group performance-wise, such as Mike Remmers, Bobby Massie, and Bobby Hart, which could serve to keep his number down.
He does have a lot of playing time over the span of the past two seasons, however, and I think teams will also look at his team’s situation and how he came into the playing time he did and see it in his favor. Some may also look at him as a player who is better suited to left tackle, a position he hasn’t gotten to play.
Push comes to shove, however, I don’t think there is an overly robust market for him, and he should realistically be in the Steelers’ price range should they decide that they want to close one hole in their roster before they get to the draft. The cap savings of a potential release of Zach Banner alone may suffice to pay for that move, and at this point, you certainly take the two-year starter over the injured guy who you thought had potential.