One of the biggest mysteries for the Pittsburgh Steelers this off-season has been, which offensive linemen the team hopes to bring back next season. With three key pieces of the offensive line potentially becoming available heading into free agency, it’ll be interesting to see how the Steelers handle the situation.
To help me better understand just how meaningful the loss of each potential offensive linemen could be, I thought I would reach out to someone with first-hand experience of battling in the trenches of the NFL. In particular, former Pittsburgh Steelers offensive linemen Trai Essex.
Trai Essex played seven seasons for the Pittsburgh Steelers while starting twenty-eight games for the organization. Essex played a key role in protecting Ben Roethlisberger throughout the 2008-2009 campaign. Of course, that was the season the Steelers went on to become Super Bowl XLIII champions.
The problem: potential offensive line losses for the Pittsburgh Steelers
Matt Feiler was one of the most memorable surprises throughout the course of this past season. His consistent play at tackle spoke volumes on why the Pittsburgh Steelers should bring back the 27-year-old out of Bloomsburg University.
Another reason would be that Ben Roethlisberger will be returning under center for the 2020-2021 season after suffering a season-ending elbow injury in 2019. The quarterback needs the best protection the team can put together. Feiler is currently listed as a restricted free agent.
B.J. Finney provided the depth necessary for the Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line to succeed in the 2019 NFL season. Finney saw a good amount of playing time due to suspensions, and injuries throughout the year for the Steelers.
The 28-year-old more than held his own, which is why I think the Kansas State alumni has a real chance of securing the starting guard position opposite of David DeCastro. However, Finney is an unrestricted free agent. With this being said, Pittsburgh will have to closely monitor the market for the offensive guard once free agency hits.
Ramon Foster would be the guard B.J. Finney would have to take that starting guard position from. Foster is currently 34 years old and has been with the Pittsburgh Steelers since 2009. The former Tennessee Volunteer, has been one of the leagues most underrated players throughout his career. Foster has started 145 total games in a Pittsburgh uniform. The Steelers need to find ways to save money, which is why Ramon is included on the list of potential losses. The team could have no other option, but to release the longtime Steeler.
Trai Essex’s perspective
My first question for former Pittsburgh Steelers tackle Trai Essex, should the Steelers focus on signing Matt Feiler or B.J. Finney first? Essex answers by stating, “I do not think they can afford to lose either one of them. Finney is the apparent heir to Ramon Foster’s position or even Maurkice Pouncey’s position in the future. No one has been able to unseat Feiler as the right tackle as well. I thought he has done a great job since taking over the position.”
My follow up question was whether the Pittsburgh Steelers should release Ramon Foster to create cap space. Trai Essex responded by explaining, “Foster is the leader and glue of the offensive line. The team needs him there to give some comfort to Ben Roethlisberger coming off an injury. So if he is healthy, they should not release him.”
The Pittsburgh Steelers need to do everything in their power to retain all three offensive linemen. As Trai Essex explains, they all serve an important purpose to their personnel grouping. Personally I anticipate Matt Feiler to be the priority out of the three, followed by B.J. Finney. I believe for depth, and leadership the Steelers should not cut Ramon Foster.
As I said earlier, however, the organization needs cap space which means Foster could be one of a number of cuts. Kevin Colbert should reach out to Foster about the restructuring of his contract. This way you have the flexibility of saving some money while keeping the glue of the offensive line intact.
It will be interesting to see how the situation plays out for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Let it be known if the team decides to part ways with any of these guys: They will have to find a replacement to fill that player’s particular function whether it is through free agency or the 2020 NFL draft. Fans can only hope the Steelers organization gets it right.