Steelers decision to release Mason Cole points to one of two things

Mason Cole has been released; Now the Steelers will eagerly pursue a notable upgrade at center.

Cincinnati Bengals v Pittsburgh Steelers
Cincinnati Bengals v Pittsburgh Steelers / Joe Sargent/GettyImages

We knew that the first wave of roster moves was just the tip of the iceberg for the Pittsburgh Steelers. In an effort to jump ahead of the curve, Omar Khan released Mitch Trubisky, Chukwuma Okorafor, and Pressley Harvin III as his first order of business during the 2024 offseason. Now it's Mason Cole's time to go.

On February 23rd, ESPN's Adam Schefter announced that the Steelers have released former starting center, Mason Cole.

This was an expected move, though many questioned if the Steelers could keep him on the roster to serve as the primary backup center. At the end of the day, Cole's 2024 cap number was just too large to stomach, and the front office knew they needed an upgrade at the position.

Where will the Steelers look for their new starting center?

The decision to release Cole wasn't because the team already has a center in place that they want to take over for a starting role. Nate Herbig was the primary interior backup last year, but he has limited experience at center, and he's not expected to be the answer.

This points to the Steelers doing one of two things during the 2024 offseason: they will either find their new starting center in free agency or the 2024 NFL Draft.

The good news is that there are quality options regardless of which direction Omar Khan and the front office intend to go. If the Steelers are willing to spend good money in free agency, they could go out and sign a player like Lloyd Cushenberry, Connor Williams, or Aaron Brewer. All of these options would be immediate upgrades over what the Steelers had in Cole (who really should have been a backup interior offensive lineman all along).

If Pittsburgh elects to forego a potentially pricey free agent option, the Steelers would be forced to address the center position early in the draft to avoid a glaring roster hole on their offense in 2024. Even before Cole's release, Oregon's Jackson Powers-Johnson emerged as a fan-favorite early in the process thanks to his dominance during Senior Bowl week.

In addition to Powers-Johnson, the Steelers could go with a tackle-convert like Graham Barton, who is projected to go in the back half of the first round. Barton was an excellent left tackle during his career at Duke, but his physical profile projects best at center in the NFL. Zach Frazier is expected to be the best second-round option who could be available in the NFL Draft.

Mason Cole was certainly better than Kendrick Green before him, but neither player could fill the shoes of Maurkice Pouncey. The Pittsburgh Steelers need a more permanent solution at the center position, and now that Cole is gone and the team has saved additional money, it looks like they will eagerly pursue a notable upgrade with a quality free agent or with a high pick in April's draft.