It’s that time of year again. Free agency is creeping up in just a couple of weeks, so before we get there, we’ll get going over the Pittsburgh Steelers’ roster, position by position, making an assessment of what kind of shape they’re in, trying to figure out how they might, or should, attack the roster on that basis.
The Steelers are likely to be subject to more change than they are used to this year, with more than a dozen players scheduled to be unrestricted free agents, including numerous starters. Ben Roethlisberger’s retirement looms large over all discussions for the foreseeable future.
Position: Interior Offensive Line
Total Positional Figure: 9
Kevin Dotson: A 2020 fourth-round pick, Dotson entered the starting lineup full-time in year two after starting four games due to injury as a rookie. Unfortunately, he spent most of the year on the Reserve/Injured List. His play prior to injury did not live up to the hype, though he was on the ascent beforehand.
Kendrick Green: A rookie third-round pick out of Illinois, Green was drafted to be the successor to Maurkice Pouncey at center, even though he spent most of his college career playing guard. He had quite a substantial amount of growing pains, though the vast majority have been far too quick to write him off, discounting his potential for growth.
Trai Turner: A former five-time Pro Bowler, Turner was signed when the Steelers released David DeCastro due to injury in the middle of the offseason. He delivered an overall solid season on a one-year contract, but would have to be re-signed as an unrestricted free agent.
J.C. Hassenauer: A second-year player, Hassenauer entered the 2021 season as the Steelers’ primary backup center, though Finney was the backup guard. He made one start at guard due to injury before being injured himself. Upon returning, he started three games at center due to Green being injured. He could be in competition for the starting center job this summer.
B.J. Finney: The offensive lineman with whom the Steelers have the most familiarity, Finney spent the 2020 team away from the team after five years, leaving in free agency. He was cut loose and brought back a year ago, and opened the season as the top backup guard. In his second start filling in due to injury, however, he suffered a season-ending back injury. He will be a free agent later this month.
Joe Haeg: A free agent signing a year ago, Haeg ended up logging a substantial number of snaps, though most of them came at tackle. He had to fill in on occasion along the interior at guard, as well. He is under contract through the 2022 season.
John Leglue: Leglue finished the season as the Steelers’ starting left guard after spending most of the year on the practice squad, that coming following successive injuries suffered by Dotson, then Finney, and then Hassenauer. He turned in yeoman-like play, at least offering a glimmer of hope that they may have found a player in him.
Malcolm Pridgeon: First signed during training camp, Pridgeon is a practice squad veteran, having never made his NFL debut since going undrafted in 2019. He spent the entire 2021 season on Pittsburgh’s practice squad, minus a stint on the COVID-19 List.
Nate Gilliam: First signed to the practice squad on the first day of winter, Gilliam was released a week later to bring Pridgeon back from the COVID-19 List. However, he was signed again in early January, and then signed to a Reserve/Future contract at the end of the season.
With their starting right guard an unrestricted free agent, their first priority is assessing Trai Turner relative to their free agent alternatives and deciding if they want to continue their relationship. That will also be influenced by how they feel about their other ‘starters’, Dotson and Green, the latter of whom could theoretically be moved to guard this year.
The offensive line in general will be a top priority for the Steelers this offseason, perhaps second only to the quarterback position if they really intend to go all in there. There is a pretty significant market for interior offensive linemen coming up later this month, however, from Ryan Jensen and Matt Paradis to Andrew Norwell and Laken Tomlinson—the problem being these are all 30-something guys, certainly not long-term solutions. But there are younger options as well.