Currently, the Pittsburgh Steelers have a couple of free agents from last season that remain out on the open market. One of them is CB Joe Haden who Pro Football Focus recently said in an article that Pittsburgh should look to bring back to shore up depth in the CB room. Matthew Marczi of Steelers Depot recently discussed the possibility of re-signing Haden, stating that the team has a fair amount of depth on the current roster to cover the loss of the aging 33-year-old.
However, one name remains out there unsigned at a greater position of need that would likely sign with Pittsburgh for the bare minimum that has been with the team before as a projected starter.
That name is Zach Banner.
Banner was slotted to be the Steelers starting RT in 2020 and played 59 snaps in a win against the New York Giants in Week 1 before suffering a torn ACL that sidelined him for the rest of the season. Banner looked like he was ready to return to the lineup in 2021 as the projected starting RT with Chukwuma Okorafor moving to the blindside, but complications with his knee recovery prevented him from getting the starting job. Pittsburgh ended up placing Banner on IR ahead of Week 1 in 2021 where he would remain until the middle of October.
By that time, rookie fourth round selection Dan Moore Jr. had been chosen as the team’s starting LT with Okorafor kicking over to Banner’s projected spot at RT, leaving Banner out of the starting lineup for the entire season. Ultimately, Banner saw action in seven games in 2021, playing only 27 special teams snaps and five offensive snaps according to Pro Football Reference. To clear cap space due to Banner’s $5 million in salary thanks to the two-year deal he signed the offseason prior, Pittsburgh decided to release Banner, saving $4.175 million in cap space prior to roster displacement.
Banner became a fan favorite in Pittsburgh after getting another shot once he flamed out with the Colts and the Browns. He managed to get his weight down from over 400lb and see action as a third tackle, reporting eligible in heavy packages. Still, Banner only earned two starts in his three seasons with the Steelers, playing a whopping total of 280 snaps.
Realistically, Pittsburgh could elect to bring back Banner (age 28) on a veteran minimum contract if they want to add more depth to the OT room that features the likes of Joe Haeg, Trent Scott, Chaz Green, Jake Dixon, and Jordan Tucker. Banner was primarily projected to play only RT when with Pittsburgh, making it a tough sell for him to pass up Haeg who is firmly entrenched as the team’s swing tackle. Still, While Scott and Green have experience playing on both sides (as well as Scott playing inside at guard), both players come off as uninspiring options, struggling mightily in pass protection while being inconsistent run blockers in their previous stops.
If Banner were healthy, I personally wouldn’t see the issue with extending him a veteran minimum deal to come into training camp and compete for the fourth tackle spot on the roster, should Pittsburgh elect to keep four. Banner versus Scott would be an intriguing camp battle as Scott has experience playing under OL Coach Pat Meyer at his previous stops with the Chargers and the Panthers but shouldn’t be considered a lock for making the team. His versatility helps his case though, something that Banner hasn’t shown thus far in his brief exposure to the NFL.
Still, a healthy Banner did manage to beat out Okorafor who Pittsburgh rewarded a three-year deal worth $29.25 million with $9 million guaranteed this offseason for the starting RT gig in 2020. He has shown flashes of being a people mover in the run game while getting the job done in pass protection, thus making him a suitable #4 OT should the knee check out after several more months of recovery.
What say yinz? Do you think that Pittsburgh should kick the tires on bringing back Zach Banner? Do you think that he could be an asset to the team as a depth piece if healthy? Does his lack of positional versatility put him behind Trent Scott for you, or do you think that he could be him out as a pure tackle if brought into camp? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below and thanks again for reading!