On Thursday the Pittsburgh Steelers re-signed exclusive rights free agent J.C. Hassenauer to a one-year contract. With the recent retirement of perennial Pro Bowler Maurkice Pouncey, the former University of Alabama backup has the inside track in terms of earning the starting center job in Pittsburgh.
While Pittsburgh will no doubt look to add at least one more center to its roster—either via the draft or unrestricted free agency—the Steelers already have some idea of what they have in Hassenauer, as he played in 15 games last year and made four starts while Pouncey was out of the lineup, including a stint on the Reserve/COVID-19 list.
In fact, many NFL analysts believe Hassenauer outperformed Pouncey last year, despite the fact that Pouncey earned Pro Bowl honors, as he did during all but one of his 11 seasons in the league.
For one, Pro Football Focus (PFF) gave Hassenauer a 68.0 pass blocking grade and a 52.6 run blocking grade for a total of grade of 57.7. (This as compared to Pouncey, who was PFF’s 30th ranked center, with a 62.0 pass blocking grade and a 48.1 run blocking grade.) Hassenauer did not allow a sack and was penalized five times over the course of 303 offensive snaps.
J.C. Hassenauer Entered the NFL as an Undrafted Free Agent
Hassenauer—6-foot-2 and 295 pounds—came into the NFL in 2018, signing with the Atlanta Falcons as an undrafted free agent. He was cut by the Falcons after the 2018 preseason but was soon signed to the practice squad, only to be waived less than two months later.
In 2019 Hassenauer played for the Birmingham Iron of the now defunct Alliance of American Football League before signing with the Steelers on April 5, 2019. Though he failed to make Pittsburgh’s 53-man roster out of training camp, he was added to the practice squad on November 20, 2019 and placed on the active roster little more than a month later.
Hassenauer’s College Career at the University of Alabama
Hassenauer was a reserve guard/center for most of his time with the Alabama Crimson Tide, playing in a total of 24 games with just three starts. However, he started in the 2018 National Championship game against Georgia and graded out as Alabama’s best offensive lineman in that contest. He went on to have an impressive pro day, doing enough to get himself signed as an undrafted free agent.
In a perfect world, the Steelers would probably like to find Pouncey’s long-term replacement in this year’s draft (as opposed to free agency), because Pouncey will count for $6,475,000 in ‘dead money’ on Pittsburgh’s 2021 salary cap, making a pricey free agent acquisition cost-prohibitive.
Traditionally, Pittsburgh has found long-term solutions at center via the draft, and there are several promising prospects in the 2021 NFL Draft, with Landon Dickerson (Alabama) possibly the best fit for the Steelers, perhaps in the second round.
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