Steelers could lose two starting offensive lineman in 2021

Alejandro Villanueva Matt Feiler (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Alejandro Villanueva Matt Feiler (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images) /

The Steelers could be in a heap of trouble financially in 2021. Here’s why they could lose both starting offensive tackles in the same season.

Nobody likes to look ahead and think about the possibility of losing starters next season, but for the Steelers, that’s something that is going to happen. Some of Pittsburgh’s players with expiring contracts include Cameron Heyward, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Bud Dupree, Alejandro Villanueva, Matt Feiler, James Conner, and Mike Hilton.

Even if the Steelers were in a good financial situation, the likelihood of retaining each of these players would be slim-to-none. However, Pittsburgh’s salary cap outlook is worse than you might realize.

Because of the way that Kevin Colbert has backloaded contracts in a closing Super Bowl window, the Steelers have just 38 players under contract next year, but nearly $187 million in cap liabilities in 2021, according to Over the Cap. If NFL teams aren’t able to fill stadiums this year, Adam Schefter predicts the cap could drop by as much as $70 to $80 million in 2021 instead of the usual $10 million increase.

This would not only mean that the Steelers wouldn’t be able to sign most of the aforementioned players, but they would have to make some additional cuts as well. Even if it’s business as usual next year, there’s a good chance that the Steelers could lose both of their starting offensive tackles next offseason.

Why Steelers could lose both Villanueva and Feiler

Villanueva turns 32 years old this year and is entering the final year of a four-year contract he signed back in 2017. Feiler proved to be a staple to the offensive line last season – grading out as the best offensive lineman on the team, according to Pro Football Focus. However, Feiler is playing this season under the $3.2 million tender he signed this offseason, and there will no doubt be teams who could outbid the Steelers for his services in 2021 and beyond.

There’s a reason offensive tackle is one of the highest-paid positions in the league. Not only are they assigned with the difficult task of keeping opposing edge rushers away from the quarterback, but they are also typically the most athletic offensive linemen on the team and are essential to today’s running game.

Losing both in the same season could give the Steelers one of the worst offensive lines in the league in 2021. Whether Ben Roethlisberger is back there at that point or if Pittsburgh is rolling with another quarterback, that’s a recipe for disaster.

In addition, Maurkice Pouncey is now in his 30s and his coming off the worst season of his NFL career. Ramon Foster retired this offseason, and it won’t be long before Pouncey follows suit.

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It’s hard to say exactly what the Steelers will be able to do next offseason, as their financial outlook appears to be one of the worst in the league. Perhaps Colbert will be able to work his magic and find a way to keep a lot of his players with expiring contracts. However, I think it’s possible that Pittsburgh could lose both its starting tackles in the same year.