The Steelers officially brought back their second unrestricted free agent as they agreed to a two-year, $9.5 million contract with tackle Zach Banner on Tuesday.
Banner’s return was expected with the departure of Matt Feiler and expected departure of Alejandro Villanueva through free agency.
By signing Banner to this deal, the Steelers have essentially given Banner the keys to the kingdom. It is very likely he is the starting left tackle come Week 1. Off the heels of a torn ACL in the first week of the 2020 season, Banner’s position was shaky. However, the Steelers have only seen one start from Banner, but they clearly are projecting confidence in the 27-year-old tackle.
Now, the deal is structured like a one-year tryout deal. The Steelers are giving Banner a shot to prove he is part of the team’s future plans at tackle. If he does meet expectations, the Steelers can cut bait after the 2021 season relatively easily.
Despite the caveats the Steelers have put into the contract, this is essentially handing the starting job to Banner. Mike Tomlin reportedly told Banner emphatically that he was the team’s left tackle in Banner’s exit meeting, and that seems to be coming true. The confidence was projected once when the Steelers did not pick a tackle in the 2020 draft, and it is being doubled down with this new contract.
There were times in his career when Banner was badly overweight. It was why he fizzled out in Indianapolis. However, he has transformed his body into a leaner, more muscular frame. His footwork and mobility are certainly still a question mark. So is his experience, as Banner only has two career starts coming into the season.
However, the fact that Banner even has the opportunity to potentially earn nearly $10 million speaks volumes. He has limited starting experience and is coming off a major injury and yet the Steelers opted to make him a priority. They most certainly could have simply looked to the draft and told Banner to take a far less substantial contract. The Steelers have confidence in Banner.
They are taking a big risk because of all the factors listed above. Banner is not proven and yet very well might be protecting Ben Roethlisberger’s blindside. The high-risk and high-reward nature of the Banner deal has its effects this year. However, there has to be a wave of confidence going through Banner given how the Steelers are making their thoughts on him loud and clear.