Steelers Encouraged to Bring Back Recently Released Starter

Mike Tomlin Mason Cole

Getty SB Nation's Kate Magdziuk argued that Mike Tomlin and the Pittsburgh Steelers should bring back center Mason Cole.

The Pittsburgh Steelers parted ways with center Mason Cole this offseason seemingly with the hope of upgrading the middle of their offensive line.

But the Steelers didn’t add a center in free agency during March. So, instead of an upgrade, the Steelers have a big hole in the middle of their offensive front.

To avoid bringing that hole into the NFL draft, SB Nation’s Behind the Steel Curtain’s Kate Magdzuik argued the Steelers should bring back Cole as “an insurance policy.”

“Currently, the Steelers do not have a true center under contract at all, let alone a viable starting option,” Magdzuik wrote. “The free agent market has dried up entirely — a good one, in which several experienced centers were available.

“There’s something to be said for a certain level of familiarity and comfortability on both the part of Cole and the Steelers coaching staff here. Virtually all available free agent centers at this point have similar pass-blocking concerns… so why not take up with the guy you already know?”

Including the postseason, Cole started 35 games for the Steelers the past two seasons. He played well in 2022. But last season, he struggled in pass protection and with snapping the ball.

Cole is as familiar with the Steelers as any NFL team. His 35 starts with Pittsburgh are more than for any other organization. He also started 32 games the Arizona Cardinals from 2018-20 and 7 contests for the Minnesota Vikings in 2021.

Why the Steelers Could Still Use Center Mason Cole

The Steelers released Cole with no clear option at center to turn to on the roster. And with no free agent addition made at center yet this offseason, the Steelers still do not have a center on the roster.

Head coach Mike Tomlin and general manager Omar Khan have floated backup guard Nate Herbig as a center option. But that’s seemingly a last resort possibility, as he has very little previous experience at center.

The Steelers saved $4.75 million against the salary cap by releasing Cole. But without him or any other center on the roster, the Steelers have essentially pigeonholed themselves into having to target a center early in the 2024 NFL draft.

There are quality centers available in the 2024 draft class. But the Steelers also have significant needs at wide receiver, left tackle and cornerback. They could use a veteran center to fall back on if the board presents more value at any of the team’s other needs in the first round.

Will the Steelers Draft a Center in the First Round?

Without a center on the roster, it would make a lot of sense for the Steelers to target one in the first round of the 2024 NFL draft.

But the Steelers hold the No. 20 overall pick. That’s typically a little early to draft a center.

PFF has Oregon’s Jackson Powers-Johnson rated as the top center in the 2024 draft class. But he’s the No. 24 prospect overall. Duke’s Graham Barton is another possibility at center in the draft, but PFF has him ranked the No. 25 overall prospect.

ESPN’s consensus draft board doesn’t consider either Powers-Johnson or Barton a first-rounder.

If the Steelers prefer to draft for value rather than need, then they will have to wait until their second pick to target center.

The problem with that strategy, though, is Powers-Johnson and Barton could be gone when the Steelers pick again at No. 51 overall. The next-best center, West Virginia’s Zach Frazier could be off the board too.

Trading back from No. 20 or up in the second round could overcome that potential problem. But the Steelers won’t have to rely on a trade if they have a center as a fallback already on the roster.

With Cole one of the better centers available in free agency and his likely cheap price tag, it would make sense for the Steelers to be interested in a reunion.

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