Steelers offseason positional outlook: Offensive tackles
Editor’s note: This is the fifth of a 12-part series breaking down the Pittsburgh Steelers at each position in the offseason. All salary cap information courtesy spotrac.com .
Marcus Gilbert took to Twitter soon after the season ended to proclaim on his verified account that “2019 will be my best one yet!”
But will Gilbert’s 2019 season come with the Pittsburgh Steelers? Or will the team with which he has been a mainstay — when healthy — at right tackle over the past eight seasons decide it’s time to move on?
Gilbert’s status is first and foremost among offseason priorities for the Steelers in regards to their corps of offensive tackles. Though many in the organization have insisted for years he’s one of the NFL’s best right tackles, Gilbert has been limited to just 12 games over the past two seasons because of injury or suspension. He missed the final 10 games of this past season and has made it through a 16-game season only twice since he was selected in the second round of the 2011 draft.
A stubborn knee injury prevented Gilbert from playing after Oct. 14 last season; a hamstring ailment kept him out of five games in 2017, and a suspension for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs kept him out of four others.
In Gilbert’s stead, the likes of Chris Hubbard, Matt Feiler, Jerald Hawkins and Chuks Okorafor have filled in adequately. In light of that — and perhaps in part as a tacit compliment to the work of respected offensive line coach Mike Munchak – might the Steelers decide Gilbert’s lack of recent reliability isn’t worth the trouble? Especially with the $6.64 million salary-cap hit he carries, maybe.
After all, the team has no shortage of potential replacements in-house with Feiler (10 starts in Gilbert’s place this past season), Okorafor (a third-round pick 10 months ago), Hawkins (a fourth-round pick from 2016 who has showed promise when healthy) and even Zach Banner (a high-pedigree, high-ceiling project entering his second year with the organization).
There would be risk in electing to move on from Gilbert, a respected and proven commodity — but not in the way of the salary cap. The “dead money” if the Steelers cut Gilbert is a manageable $931,000. And after missing so much time the past two seasons and coming off a lingering injury, it would be shocking if the Steelers offer him a contract extension.
On the other side of the line, Alejandro Villanueva has been the definition of reliable at left tackle. He has started 59 consecutive games since he took over as the starter in 2015, the sixth-longest streak among tackles in the NFL.
With all of the talent behind him – even if one of them steps in for Gilbert – the Steelers appear relatively set at tackle in 2019, whether Gilbert is back or not.
Offseason outlook: Offensive tackles
• Marcus Gilbert, 1 year left on contract, $6.64 million cap hit for 2019
• Alejandro Villanueva, 2 years left on contract, $6.78 million cap hit for 2019
• Chuks Okorafor, 3 years left on contract, $823,000 million cap hit for 2019
• Jerald Hawkins, 1 year left on contract, $852,622 cap hit for 2019
• Joseph Cheek, practice squad in 2018
• Matt Feiler, exclusive rights free agent, $555,000 cap hit in 2018
• Zach Banner, exclusive rights free agent, $555,000 cap hit in 2018
Coming Saturday: Interior offensive line
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.