After four full seasons of camps and practices, 44 meaningful games in uniform, nine starts and more than 700 regular-season offensive snaps, B.J. Finney is prepared for anything the Pittsburgh Steelers could need or ask of him going forward.
“Obviously, I feel like I am progressing and getting better every day,” the interior offensive linemen said at the end of the season.
At this point, plenty is potentially on the table for Finney’s role in 2019. Conventional wisdom suggests the organization is prepared to bid farewell to 33-year-old Ramon Foster, their second-longest tenured player whose contract has expired.
Foster has been a mainstay on the Steelers offensive line since 2009, when he — like Finney six years later — was an undrafted free agent. Foster has been the starting left guard since 2013, and Finney’s play has warranted him more playing time.
According to Pro Football Focus, Finney would have been the 12th-best rated guard and ninth-best rated center in 2018 if he played enough games/snaps to qualify. Only Pro Bowler David DeCastro — and just barely — graded better among Steelers interior linemen. Finney was rated by PFF as the second-best pass-blocking interior lineman in the NFL for 2018 (again, in a smallish sample size).
But Finney started only two games, a testament to the health of Foster and center Maurkice Pouncey, each of whom had missed several games in prior seasons. That’s why, other than his 2015 rookie season that he spent entirely on the practice squad, Finney started a career-low two games in 2018 and played a career-low 164 offensive snaps (most of which came while filling in for an injured DeCastro at right guard during Weeks 2-3).
Part of a veteran offensive line corps, Finney has been around long enough that he fits right in.
“Having an in-depth knowledge of the playbook is the biggest acceleration point for me,” Finney said. “The more I get into it, the more you have those ‘ah-ha’ moments and things that click, and you understand the finer details of it and are able to do some things that I wasn’t able to do beforehand.”
If the Steelers let Foster go, they then face another decision with Finney. He is a restricted free agent after making $630,000 last season.
Perhaps more urgently, though, is that Finney is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent after the coming season. If the Steelers let Foster go and Finney becomes the starter, they would want to lock him up to a longer-term deal — at a significant raise, of course.
The 27-year-old Finney, for his part, still is taking the approach that he wants to learn as much as he can and continue to improve. His time to start, it seems, will come at some point, be it in 2019 or ‘20, in Pittsburgh or elsewhere.
“I’m just kind of making sure I continue to develop,” Finney said. “It’s all about understanding what you’re doing out there.”
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris at [email protected] or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.