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Do Steelers Have a Plan B at Center after Cutting Mason Cole?

Do the Pittsburgh Steelers have a Plan B at center after cutting Mason Cole, or are they locked into taking one in the 2024 NFL Draft?



Pittsburgh Steelers QB Nate Herbig
Pittsburgh Steelers offensive lineman Nate Herbig snaps the ball during warmups on Nov. 26, 2023. -- Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

INDIANAPOLIS — The Pittsburgh Steelers made the unusual move of releasing staring center Mason Cole in the middle of the offseason last month, as part of a four-man cleansing of the Pittsburgh roster by general manager Omar Khan that went beyond the usual salary compliance.

The Steelers cut backup right tackle Chukwuma Okorafor, starting punter Pressley Harvin III, third-string quarterback Mitch Trubisky and Cole in the two weeks following the Super Bowl.

They are about $9 million under the salary cap after the moves, so Khan made way more space than he needs or can spend until the start of free agency in two weeks.

Backups at tackle and quarterback and a starting punter aren’t exactly pressing big-picture needs, but the Steelers very suddenly found themselves without a starting center, and not only that, have just one natural center on their roster: practice squadder Ryan McCollum, who has made one career start back in 2021.

Because of that, the Steelers have been well-connected to the centers in the 2024 NFL Draft class, but the team has traditionally not liked to pigeon-hole themselves into one position in the draft. So why release Cole when they did and does that mean the team will sign a free agent at center before the draft comes around?

It doesn’t seem that way. Khan said Thursday that the Steelers feel comfortable with what they have at center because of the positional flexibility of guards Nate Herbig and James Daniels, but specifically Herbig, who served as the team’s backup guard and center in 2023.

“Right now, we have Nate Herbig,” Khan said. “I always talk about offensive linemen that have position flexibility. That’s always been important to me. We have offensive linemen that are center-capable. But that’s not to say that we’re not going to take a look in free agency and the trade market and the draft process. There’s some good players at every one of those. We feel good about the center draft. We feel good about the center free agents. …

“We have position-flexible guys that are starters in the league as it is, but we’re always going to try to improve the team. We cut our starting center from last year. We feel good about Nate Herbig. But if there’s an opportunity to bring in some good competition, we’re going to do it.”

While Khan professed his confidence in Herbig playing center, if the team was so confident that he could play there, why did he never get a shot to beat out Mason Cole in 2023, while Cole struggled mightily? He has played less than 50 snaps of center in his NFL career.

With top centers Jackson Powers-Johnson, Graham Barton, Zach Frazier and Sedrick Van Pran all likely picks in the first three rounds, the Steelers are functionally nearly locking themselves into taking a center early.