The Steelers’ first transaction of the day on Monday — placing a franchise tag on outside linebacker Bud Dupree — set off a flurry of other moves as the team attempted to deal with the salary cap implications of keeping Dupree around.
The team released linebackers Mark Barron and Anthony Chickillo and wide receiver Johnny Holton, while guard Ramon Foster announced his retirement, reducing the impact of Dupree’s $15.8 million tender by over $15 million, though their replacements on the Top 51 roster will lessen that effect.
The Steelers will still have to make further reductions to get under the salary cap by 4 p.m. on Wednesday, as they started the day on Monday several million over the maximum.
The first three moves drew from the team’s depth, but should not impact the starting lineup, as Chickillo and Holton were backups in 2019 and Barron had largely been displaced by Devin Bush at inside linebacker.
But Foster was a stalwart on the Steelers’ offensive line, making 30 starts at left guard over the last two seasons.
Furthermore, the Steelers don’t seem to have a ready-made replacement for him at the moment. Top interior backup B.J. Finney is set to become an unrestricted free agent on Wednesday.
Besides starting right guard David DeCastro, the only other guard on the Steelers roster is second-year undrafted free agent Derwin Gray.
But they do have a player in Matt Feiler that has played guard before. Feiler started all 16 games at right tackle in 2019 after making 10 starts there in 2018, taking over for the injured Marcus Gilbert. Before that, as a swing backup, Feiler played five games and made one start at guard in 2017.
If Feiler moved to guard, the Steelers could replace him at right tackle with either of a pair of backups they like: third-year former third-round draft pick Chukwuka Okorafor, who has made four starts over the last two years or fourth-year lineman Zach Banner, who played in 14 games and made one start last year, splitting time between tackle and extra tight end.
The Steelers seemingly like both players and have given them both a variety of opportunities to show what they can do on the field in a reserve role over the last two years.
With further cuts needed before the team gets salary cap compliant, expecting a free agent to replace Foster seems unlikely. But the Steelers do have the depth to replace him from within, if they get creative.