OFFENSIVE LINE – 17** (Free Agent Scorecard: 1 unrestricted – Cody Wallace)
Check out the best photos from the 2016 season.
After signing a five-year contract worth a reported $50 million in September, DeCastro went on to finish a season that had him voted to his second Pro Bowl, as well as being voted second-team All-Pro. Since being picked on the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft, DeCastro has played in 67 of the possible 80 regular season games. He missed 12 in his rookie season after injuring a knee in the preseason, and then he missed one in 2013 with an ankle injury. DeCastro ended 2016 with a streak of 56 consecutive starts, which is the fourth longest active NFL streak among guards. He was flagged for holding nine times, but then again Cleveland's Joe Thomas held on virtually every snap of the Jan. 1 game at Heinz Field and wasn't flagged even once. In other words, what gets called in the NFL and what doesn't is increasingly subjective, based on the individuals involved, the teams playing that day, the score of the game, etc. More significant was the fact Ben Roethlisberger was sacked 17 times in 2016, not only the lowest total of his career, but only two quarterbacks – Tom Brady (15) and Derek Carr (16) – were sacked fewer times.
Originally signed by the Houston Texans as an undrafted rookie from Bloomsburg in 2014, Feiler has spent all but two games on practice squads. At 6-foot-6, 330 pounds, Feiler has intriguing size, but he hasn't yet been able to turn that into winning a roster spot at the end of any of the three previous preseasons. He'll get another chance at it this year, which would be his third trip to Saint Vincent College.
He initially was known via social media as the Kansas State offensive lineman who celebrated when his favorite NFL team called to sign as an undrafted rookie, but two years later Finney can be known as the Kansas State offensive lineman who showed he belongs in the NFL. Finney spent all of 2015 on the practice squad, and when Cody Wallace was slowed in training camp by the knee injury that would land him on injured reserve, Finney stepped into the void and became the game day backup along the interior of the offensive line. He started two games at left guard in place of Ramon Foster – vs. Kansas City, and at Buffalo – and Finney also relieved an injured Maurkice Pouncey in the game against the Ravens in Baltimore. He was not an obvious liability in any of his appearances, and right now Finney is still the top backup along the interior of the offensive line.
Check out the best photos from the 2016 season.
In his eighth NFL season, Foster started 14 games – he missed two with a chest injury – and was the only Steelers offensive lineman not to be flagged for a single holding penalty. Since becoming a full-time starter at guard in 2011, Foster has missed only six of a possible 96 regular season games. Entering the second year of a three-year contract, Foster is a starter, a reliable player, a solid teammate, a respected veteran. He entered the NFL as an undrafted rookie, but because he had played in a lot of games at different positions at Tennessee that was something of a surprise. Now about to enter his ninth pro season at 31 years old, Foster has started 101 regular season games for the Steelers plus 10 more in the playoffs, and that's a testament to his effectiveness.
Signed by the Steelers on Feb. 14, Friend (6-2, 304) was a center at Temple before signing as an undrafted rookie with the Jets last year.
Every offensive line, particularly the better ones, have an underrated member, maybe because those doling out the awards believe only so much credit deserves to go to one particular unit. With Maurkice Pouncey and David DeCastro having earned Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors before him, Gilbert has turned into the Steelers' underrated player along the offensive line. By all accounts, Gilbert is deserving of at least Pro Bowl honors after putting together quality seasons in 2015-16 during which he started 29 of a possible 32 regular season games – and the Steelers finished 1-2 in the three he missed. Signed through the 2019 season, Gilbert is a valuable part of the team's present and immediate future.
Signed as a veteran free agent a year ago, Harris came to the Steelers with starting NFL experience on both ends of the offensive line and with a Super Bowl ring that he earned as the Broncos' starting left tackle in 2015. When Harris was signed last offseason, the idea was to have a veteran compete with Alejandro Villanueva for the left tackle job with the loser to serve as the swing tackle, but Villanueva beat back the challenge and then Harris injured a shin and was placed on injured reserve in October. The idea of a veteran to serve as a swing tackle remains a good one, and having Harris gives the Steelers some solid veteran depth at an important position.
Check out the best photos from the 2016 season.
Drafted in the fourth round last April, Hawkins was seen as a developmental prospect at tackle. There wasn't much development that took place last summer, however, because Hawkins really never was healthy enough to reap the benefits of daily practices. He was placed on the injured reserve list on Aug. 28 and will get another chance to develop over the course of this offseason and training camp. At the time, this was seen as a value pick, because Hawkins has some potential and wouldn't have to play right away while being taught the tricks of the trade by Mike Munchak. Last season was a setback, but the plan still can work. It'll be interesting to get a look at Hawkins this summer in Latrobe.
Signed as an undrafted rookie in 2013 after being a four-year letterman at UAB, Hubbard started out in the NFL as an interior offensive lineman but recently showed he also can play tackle and serve as an extra tight end. A restricted free agent, Hubbard has become a versatile offensive lineman who was active for 15 of the 16 regular season games in 2016, while starting four – three at right tackle in place of Marcus Gilbert and once as an extra tight end. At this point, the Steelers are comfortable with Hubbard in his current role, and Hubbard seems to be comfortable in that role.
Manhart played left tackle at Division II Nebraska-Kearney from 2012-2014, and he entered the NFL with the Philadelphia Eagles as an undrafted rookie in 2015. From there, Manhart also spent time with the New Orleans Saints and Oakland Raiders. He signed with the Steelers last Feb. 9 and was waived injured on Aug. 22. He'll give it another shot at earning a roster spot as an interior offensive lineman in 2017.
A center who played at Texas A&M, Matthews is 6-2, 284, and he's one of the sons of Hall of Fame offensive lineman Bruce Matthews. Originally signed by the Cleveland Browns as an undrafted rookie last year, Matthews was signed by the Steelers on Feb. 14.
Another guy with intriguing size (6-9, 302), Mihalik was a defensive end during his college career with Boston College, and he was picked in the seventh round of the 2015 draft by the Eagles to play that position. He signed a futures contract with the Steelers on Jan. 20, 2016 and began the task of switching to offense, but he was waived injured on Aug. 14 of that year. He reached an injury settlement with the Steelers and then signed with Detroit. After the Lions cut him and placed him on their practice squad, the Steelers signed him following injuries to Ryan Harris and Marcus Gilbert. If Harris and Jerald Hawkins are both healthy, and with Gilbert and Villanueva as the starters, the Steelers would be set at offensive tackle. But things often don't go according to offseason plans.
Milton (6-4, 320) played college football at Louisiana-Monroe, and he has spent time with New Orleans, Cleveland, Seattle, New England, and Dallas since entering the league as an undrafted rookie in April 2013. He was signed to the Steelers practice squad last October, and then to a futures contract on Jan. 24. He is an offensive tackle.
Signed through the 2019 season, Pouncey returned in 2016 after missing all of 2015 with a broken leg sustained in the preseason. There was a belief Pouncey would be able to return at some point in 2015, and he was made the team's injured reserve/designated to return candidate, but complications with the injury ended up costing him the entire season. He bounced back in 2016, didn't miss a start with injury, and was voted to his fifth Pro Bowl. Pouncey is athletically capable of things few others at his position can duplicate, and his locker room presence falls well into the same "rare" category as well. Signed through the 2019 season, Pouncey is bound to the Steelers through his 30th birthday, which is good news for the team.
Ume-Ezeoke entered the league with Atlanta as an undrafted rookie from New Mexico State in 2015, and he also spent some time with the Cardinals before signing with the Steelers on Aug. 1, 2016.
When Villanueva came to the Steelers in 2014 and spent that whole season on their practice squad, he was a good story. Two years later, he is their starting left tackle and a good NFL player. Circumstances are what made him a starter in 2015, and he ended up starting 10 regular season games and two playoff games after Kelvin Beachum tore an ACL. After that, Beachum left via free agency and the Steelers signed veteran Ryan Harris in the offseason to compete with Villanueva for the left tackle job. But Villanueva never gave Harris the slightest opening, and he now is a fixture at left tackle. Still at a time in his career when he's multiple seasons away from qualifying for unrestricted free agency, Villanueva is the type of guy the Steelers might sign to a longer-term contract anyway. Villanueva's history as a decorated war hero is deserving of all the recognition it gets, but he has earned his job as the Steelers' starting left tackle.
He played well at center in place of Maurkice Pouncey for the entire 2015 season, and then he didn't play at all in 2016. Wallace, who will be 33 in November, was bothered by a knee injury that didn't ever improve and ultimately sent him to the injured reserve list on Nov. 5. Can he come back from that for 2017? If he can/does come back, can he be the same player? Or has he been passed by B.J. Finney on the depth chart?