The Pittsburgh Steelers ended up having four new starters out of five along the offensive line during the 2021 season in comparison to the year before, and that included three players who were entirely new to the organization that season, among them two rookie draft picks. That was not by design, according to general manager Kevin Colbert, talking about how the line developed on SiriusXM radio recently.
While they knew that they had two starters who were unrestricted free agents in Alejandro Villanueva and Matt Feiler, and they knew that, with the salary cap as it was at that time, they would not be able to keep them, they hadn’t necessarily expected Maurkice Pouncey to retire. And they certainly were not expecting David DeCastro to be unable to play.
As a result, along with other complications, they ended up having two rookies in Kendrick Green and Dan Moore Jr. starting, along with second-year Kevin Dotson, free agent pickup Trai Turner, and Chukwuma Okorafor, who moved from the left side to the right side in the last weeks of the offseason.
“Kendrick Green and Dan Moore [Jr.], they were put into positions, they started, and that’s an unusual spot to have that many new starters up front”, Colbert said. “And it wasn’t something we hoped for; it just kind of happened when Maurkice [Pouncey] decided to retire, David DeCastro had an ankle situation and he decided it was time to move on”.
It was not a complete shock that Pouncey ultimately chose to retire, though it wasn’t without a surprise. He long said that he would keep playing as long as Ben Roethlisberger did, and when it looked as though Roethlisberger might retire earlier than anticipated, he talked about telling Roethlisberger to give him a few more years.
As for DeCastro, they did not know the extend of a chronic ankle injury he had been dealing with until they got him into minicamp and got him in the MRI machine. He would soon be waived injured, and it certainly appears since then that he has no intentions of playing again.
“We didn’t think that we were gonna be able to keep the Alejandro Villanuevas of the world because of the cap. So we went into it, and we knew about Al, but the other two were kind of thrust on us”, Colbert said, “and it was like, ‘Okay, how do we make up for that in a tight cap situation?’”.
You already know what their solution turned out to be, but picture an alternative season in which they still had Pouncey and DeCastro in the lineup at center and right guard, respectively, or DeCastro and either Villanueva or Feiler.
It may not have changed the outcome of the season, but things could have gone better. And it is a reminder that the plan that they ended up carrying out was not the one that they anticipated, through various stages of the offseason. The fact that a global pandemic gutted the salary cap in a year in which they had so many unrestricted free agents along the line didn’t help, either.