The Steelers have plenty of work to do when it comes to finding their five starting offensive linemen for the 2021 season.
The turnover at the position started last week, when longtime center Maurkice Pouncey announced his retirement, and is expected to continue through the start of free agency.
From the team’s Week 1 lineup in 2020, starting left tackle Alejandro Villanueva, starting left guard Matt Feiler and starting right tackle Zach Banner are all set to become free agents. Starting right guard David DeCastro is among a number of Steelers veterans that are potential salary cap casualties as the team sits at approximately $19 million in the red less than a month before the start of the new league year.
That doesn’t leave a lot to lean on, and general manager Kevin Colbert knows that re-building the team’s offensive line is priority number one for the team this offseason.
“We probably have the potential biggest losses in that position group,” Colbert said. “Al is a free agent, Matt Feiler is a free agent, Maurkice has retired, Zach Banner is coming off an ACL, so it is an uncertain group that we have upfront.”
Typically, Colbert would have the full arsenal of possible maneuvers to rectify the situation, from the franchise and transition tags, to contract extensions for pending free agents, external free agents and the draft.
But this season, the team’s salary cap crunch is taking at least some of those off the table. Colbert said Wednesday that the team is unlikely to be able to use a franchise tag this offseason, and with the team already over the cap, there may not be room to sign free agents, either theirs or other teams.
“Hopefully, we will be able to do some type of business in free agency,” Colbert said. “And we are always going to look at our own players first.
But the only place Colbert knows for sure that he will be able to upgrade the position this spring is through the draft, where the Steelers own the No. 24 overall pick in the first round as part of at least seven and probably more draft picks.
“The draft itself, it is stronger at the tackle position than it is at the interior,” Colbert said. “Center and guard, traditionally, is not a very strong group in any draft. The tackles are unusually deep this year. I think we can add players through the draft.”
The Steelers have not had to do that for quite some time. Ramon Foster was with the team from 2009 to 2019. Pouncey was drafted in 2011 and DeCastro in 2012. Villanueva joined the Steelers in 2014. Those four players formed the basis of a strong line for a long time for the team, but it’s clear that the end is near for most or all of them.
2020 rookie Kevin Dotson appears to have the stuff to stick as a starter at one guard spot, but the rest of the team’s line seems lacking in long-term answers as it enters the 2021 offseason.