According to Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, longtime Pittsburgh Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey “has told teammates he is likely retiring after 11 seasons,” and that unless Pouncey has a “change of heart,” a final decision could be coming soon.
If Pouncey decides to retire, the Steelers would save $8 million on the team’s 2021 salary cap. However, it would also result in a $6,475,000 ‘dead money’ cap charge. Pouncey has one year remaining on the contract extension he signed in 2019.
Of course, if Pouncey retires it will leave a big hole in Pittsburgh’s starting lineup. It would likely make center—along with offensive tackle—two of the club’s top priorities in the 2021 NFL Draft. At the moment, former undrafted free agent J.C. Hassenauer—an exclusive rights free agent—is the only other center on Pittsburgh’s roster.
The good news is that Hassenauer played in 15 games this past season, with four starts, so the Steelers did get a chance to evaluate him when Pouncey was on the Reserve/COVID-19 list or being rested by head coach Mike Tomlin.
Maurkice Pouncey’s Pro Bowl Career
Regardless, it will be a difficult adjustment for the Steelers to move forward without Pouncey, who was Pittsburgh’s first-round pick in the 2010 NFL Draft (No. 18 overall, University of Florida).
He has been named to the Pro Bowl in 10 of his 11 years in the league, the only exception coming in 2013, when he suffered a season-ending injury early in the first game of the season. Not only that, he has twice been named first-team All-Pro, in 2012 and 2014.
Nevertheless, his play appears to have slipped in the last few years, and some NFL observers regard him as overrated. Most notably, Pro Football Focus has described him as an “all-average center, and has said it will be “an injustice” when he is elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, statements that caused Pouncey to fire back at his critics.
And that was before the 2020 season, when PFF rated him as the 31st-best center in the NFL, with one of the lowest run-blocking grades in the league. Moreover, he sailed a shotgun snap over quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s head on Pittsburgh’s first offensive snap in this month’s Wildcard round game. The mistake gifted the Cleveland Browns a touchdown and set the tone for what would be a disastrous 48-37 playoff loss.
Maurkice Pouncey Soon, Ben Roethlisberger Next?
Pouncey’s decision could also have an impact on whether QB Ben Roethlisberger decides to come back for an 18th NFL season. The two were seen getting emotional on the bench after the postseason loss to the Browns, a hint that one—or both—might be seriously contemplating retirement.
In the past, Pouncey has said that he would not continue playing without Roethlisberger.
“I say all the time: The moment he walks away, I’m walking right behind him,” said Pouncey in 2017. “You get so used to playing with that type, man, and I don’t know if I’m ready to walk into a huddle with another quarterback.”
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