Last Thursday afternoon the Pittsburgh Steelers announced that they had signed quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to a new contract, freeing up approximately $15 million in salary cap space and opening the door for the team to begin signing free agents.
The Steelers went to work almost immediately, inking exclusive rights free agent center J.C. Hassenauer to a one-year contract, this according to Jeremy Fowler of ESPN. (The Steelers went on to formally announce the signing on Monday afternoon.)
Hassenauer, 25, started four games for the Steelers in 2020 while former center Maurkice Pouncey was out of the lineup. But now the Steelers need a full-time replacement for Pouncey—a perennial Pro Bowler—who announced his retirement last month after 11 seasons as the team’s starter at the position.
Hassenauer figures to get a chance to earn the starting job in 2021, but the Steelers will no doubt be looking to add at least one other center, either via the draft or free agency.
Hassenauer played a total of 303 snaps on offense in 2020, and—according to Pro Football Focus (PFF)—graded out better than Pouncey, producing 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 the PFF’s 30th ranked center last year, receiving a 62.0 pass blocking grade and a woeful 48.1 run blocking grade for a total of 54.8).
J.C. Hassenauer’s NFL Career To Date
Hassenauer—6-foot-2 and 295 pounds—came into the NFL in 2018, signing with the Atlanta Falcons as an undrafted free agent out of the University of Alabama. He was waived by the Falcons after the 2018 preseason but subsequently spent time on the team’s practice squad.
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 signed to the practice squad on November 20, 2019 and added to the active roster a 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 inked 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. Following are a trio of prospects that the Steelers might consider in the 2021 NFL Draft, as well as three unrestricted free agent centers who might (or might not) be out of their price range.
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