Steelers lose out on draft pick by playing OT Joe Haeg in Week 18

Joe Haeg #71 of the Pittsburgh Steelers. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)
Joe Haeg #71 of the Pittsburgh Steelers. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images) /

The Pittsburgh Steelers were forced to play Joe Haeg in the season finale, but here’s why that decision cost them a fifth-round draft choice. 

Making the playoffs was obviously priority number one for the Pittsburgh Steelers. After narrowly escaping Baltimore with a win, Mike Tomlin needed the chips to fall his way for his team to secure a playoff berth. With the Colts losing and the Chargers-Raiders game not ending in a tie, they were able to do just that.

While they were gifted a spot in the tournament this year, it didn’t come without a cost. The Steelers sacrificed a fifth-round compensatory pick during the season finale against the Ravens. How did this happen? Simply by playing OT Joe Haeg too many snaps.

Haeg is a six-year veteran whom the Steelers acquired via free agency in the 2021 offseason. With players both coming and going in free agency this offseason, Haeg’s playing time became a deciding factor in the compensatory formula. Because of the way the compensatory formula works, the Steelers would have needed to keep Haeg’s snap totals down in order to hang onto their projected 2022 fifth-round compensatory pick.

Unfortunately, with Dan Moore out for the season finale, it was Haeg that took his place. With the backup offensive tackle finishing the regular season with 307 offensive snaps played, the Pittsburgh Steelers officially forfeit their fifth-round compensatory pick this year.

Should the Steelers have played Zach Banner instead?

Obviously, nothing was more important to the Steelers than winning the game against the Ravens, and I assume they knew what they were about to lose by starting Joe Haeg. Still, for a team that has talent deficiencies all over their roster, it makes you wonder if they should have started Zach Banner for this contest.

Banner was given a lofty 2-year, $9.5 million contract this past offseason. This is terrific money for a reserve player, and it probably indicates that the Steelers thought of him as a future starter. That obviously didn’t happen.

Upon Banner’s return from IR to begin the season, many thought he would be inserted back into the starting lineup. However, Banner isn’t even the first offensive tackle off the bench in the event of an injury.

While Joe Haeg kicked over to left tackle with Dan Moore missing the season finale, one would have to wonder if their offensive line would have been any worse with Zach Banner and Chukwuma Okorafor as their starting offensive tackles for this contest.

At this point in his career, I don’t expect Banner to become anything more than a reserve player, and the Steelers would be wise to cut him and save $5 million this coming offseason — especially considering they don’t trust him enough to insert him to the lineup in the event of an injury.

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We will never know for sure whether the Steelers would still have won against the Ravens if ZAvh Banner had been playing instead of Joe Haeg. While the playoffs are all that matters right now, I think there was a way for Pittsburgh to come out of Week 18 with a win and an extra fifth-round pick in their pocket. It’s too bad they had to lose that much-needed draft capital simply from playing a backup OT in the final regular-season game.