After a season in which the Pittsburgh Steelers produced the fourth-fewest rushing yards in the NFL (1,583), improving the talent on the team’s offensive line is among the top priorities, whether via the draft or free agency or both.
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Help Wanted at Right Guard, Right Tackle
One can argue that the Steelers need improvement at every position on the line. But the two spots that require immediate attention are right guard and right tackle, as both of last year’s starters are pending unrestricted free agents.
Last June the Steelers signed five-time Pro Bowler Trai Turner to a one-year contract to replace an injured David DeCastro. This year it wouldn’t be a surprise if the team used a premium draft pick at the position to try to find the next DeCastro, who was selected No. 24 overall in the 2012 NFL Draft. That’s not unlike the No. 20 slot the Steelers occupy in the first round this year.
But there is arguably just as much of a need at right tackle, where starter Chuks Okorafor is set to hit unrestricted free agency. The Steelers could conceivably turn to Zach Banner, who suffered a torn ACL in the 2020 season-opener vs. the New York Giants and played just five offensive snaps in 2021. After all, Banner is under contract for 2022 at $5 million ($6.625 million cap hit), a very reasonable cost if he can start. But that’s a big “if,” and Banner seems more likely to become a cap casualty than a starter.
Trent Brown to the Black & Gold?
That’s why Brad Spielberger of Pro Football Focus suggests that the Steelers pursue former San Francisco 49ers seventh-round pick Trent Brown—who is 6-foot-8 and 380 pounds—to replace the “underwhelming” Okorafor.
“Brown bounced back in a major way in 2021 after a disappointing stint with the Las Vegas Raiders, earning career highs with both his 81.2 pass-blocking grade and 71.6 run-blocking grade,” writes Spielberger about the campaign Brown recently completed, having been traded from the Raiders to the New England Patriots in March 2021, with Las Vegas sending Brown and a 2022 seventh-round pick to the Pats in exchange for a 2022 fifth-rounder.
“Brown can play both right and left tackle, providing the Steelers with some flexibility,” added Spielberger. “His addition would be massive both for the team’s new quarterback and rookie running back Najee Harris, who often had to fight just to get back to the line of scrimmage.”
Brown would come with 60 games of starting experience in the NFL, and he earned Pro Bowl honors in 2019 with the Raiders. On the other hand, he has started a full slate of games just twice in his seven-year career and made only 14 starts in the last two seasons combined.
It’s worth noting that Brown agreed to take a pay cut in 2021 when he came to New England. Per overthecap.com, he had a guaranteed salary of $6.5 million, with up to $2.5 million available in per-game bonuses and weight bonuses, not to mention $2 million in other incentives.
At the right price, the Steelers could certainly do worse than Brown. To be sure, the Steelers don’t have enough picks (six, at the moment), to address all of the team’s immediate needs in the upcoming draft.
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