Another in a position-by-position series in advance of the start of free agency on March 9:
OFFENSIVE LINE – (16)
(Free Agent Scorecard: 4 unrestricted – Kelvin Beachum, Ramon Foster, Doug Legursky, Byron Stingily)
Because Adams never touched the field – he started training camp on the physically unable to perform list and never came off through the end of the 2015 season – he is under contract to the Steelers for 2016. Bringing him back is a financial no-brainer since he'll be earning only the fourth-year minimum, but has Adams used up all of his goodwill with the organization? When Adams had back surgery, it wasn't automatically a season-ending situation, and yet it turned out to be. Why it happened that way will be evaluated, but if healthy Adams would seem to be a cap-friendly backup offensive tackle who has some experience with the team, and those don't exactly grow on trees.
There are a lot of moving parts here, so let's just start with verifiable facts. A seventh-round pick from SMU in 2012, Beachum worked his way up to the job of starting left tackle, which he held for 33 games over three NFL seasons. He tore ligaments in his knee against the Arizona Cardinals on Oct. 18, had surgery, and was placed on the injured reserve list. He can become an unrestricted free agent on March 9. The rest of it is conjecture right now. What kind of player will he be after the surgery? When would he be healthy enough to pass a physical? Do the Steelers re-sign him? Can they re-sign him based on the financials, or does he do better elsewhere? What is the impact of Beachum reportedly telling a reporter that he would not play any position except left tackle? Is his long-term future in the NFL as a tackle? It would be great if Beachum and the Steelers could work out something they find mutually beneficial; it just doesn't seem very likely.
Steelers G David DeCastro played in his first Pro Bowl in Hawaii.
Over the past 12 months, DeCastro has been voted to his first Pro Bowl and had the Steelers pick up his fifth-year option, which calls for $8.07 million in salary in 2016. When he was drafted No. 1 in 2012 from Stanford, DeCastro was touted as a plug-in-and-play guard who had all the skills to be a decorated player. It turned out to be true. Good player. Good teammate. Solid professional. Solid human being. A success story in every way.
Back in early September when Pittsburgh and New England were in the process of having to put together practice squads before everyone else because of that Thursday night opener, one of the guys the Steelers got on the second wave of cuts was Feiler – 6-foot-6, 330 pounds, but having played at Bloomsburg. What he needed was a heavy dose of Mike Munchak, and Feiler was exposed to that daily as a member of the practice squad. There isn't a team in the NFL that doesn't need backup offensive tackles. Including the Steelers.
He will be remembered for the post-draft video when Finney got the telephone call from his favorite team to sign as an undrafted rookie. One year later, Finney will be competing as a backup interior offensive lineman on a roster that had to dip into its depth there last season. If Finney can manage to stay healthy enough to get the repetitions on the field that lead to improvement, and if he listens to Mike Munchak, who knows?
After joining the organization as an undrafted rookie from Tennessee in 2009, Foster has been a fixture in the starting lineup since 2012. He celebrated his 30th birthday on Jan. 7, and he's a respected member of the locker room and given some credit for helping accelerate Alejandro Villanueva's development at left tackle after Beachum's season-ending knee injury. Foster has value, and it's going to be a question of whether he and the Steelers can come to an agreement on what that is.
The best photos of OT Marcus Gilbert from the 2015 season.
When he first came into the NFL as a second-round pick in 2011, the question hovering over Gilbert was whether he'd ever get it. At 6-6, 330, he had the size, and he started a lot of games for Florida when the Gators were winning a lot of games every year. But it takes more than that to succeed in the NFL, and those talents who figure it out have long careers while those who don't figure it out don't. Gilbert today is reliable and professional. He takes good care of himself and has been able to stay on the field to make improvements as a result. And he fared a lot better than most vs. Carlos Dunlap – a guy he had to go against three times – than most of the other right tackles on the Bengals' schedule, and Gilbert definitely did a better job against DeMarcus Ware twice than whomever the Patriots lined up over there in the AFC Championship Game. He is signed through 2019, which also happens to be when he turns 30. Good.
Signed to a futures deal a year ago, Hatchie never even made it to training camp after injuring an Achilles during the offseason program. June will be the one-year anniversary of the injury, and Achilles injuries often are described as 12-month injuries.
Once the Steelers got into their 2015 regular season schedule, Hubbard was mostly inactive, with Doug Legursky serving as the team's primary interior offensive line backup on game days. That was because Legursky could play center where Hubbard could not, and Hubbard's ability to keep his roster spot is going to depend on his ability to improve and diversify. If Ramon Foster doesn't return, maybe that increases Hubbard's value to the team, or it could have the reverse effect by exposing him to more significant playing time that he may or may not be able to handle. With guys in Hubbard's situation, job security rarely exists from one season to the next.
When Maurkice Pouncey went on injured reserve/designated to return, the Steelers saw the start of the regular season at hand and turned to Legursky as a veteran backup to Cody Wallace, who had become the starting center in Pouncey's absence. It was probably a good thing that the Steelers didn't need him to play a significant number of snaps.
Manhart, signed to a futures contract on Feb. 9, 2016, originally entered the NFL with the Philadelphia Eagles in May 2015 as an undrafted rookie out of Nebraska-Kearney. Released by the Eagles before camps opened, Manhart spent the 2015 camp/preseason period with the Saints and was waived on Sept. 1. Manhart was a three-year starter at left tackle in college and will be moved to guard by the Steelers.
He signed a futures contract on Jan. 20, 2016. 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 is 6-9, 302, so he has that going for him as he tries to make the switch to offensive tackle.
Twice in his still-young career, Pouncey has lost a season to an injury inflicted upon him by a player crashing into his leg while he was engaged with another. There were rumors of problems with the surgery performed to insert a plate to stabilize Pouncey's broken fibula, possibly an infection of some kind, but nothing ever was confirmed. Still, something kept Pouncey out for the entire season when it initially was believed he would have a chance to come back under the IR-designated-to-return rules. The knee injury he sustained in the 2013 opener didn't linger into 2014, and so there can be hope his 2016 won't be impacted negatively by having missed 2015.
A veteran signed to the 53-man roster on Oct. 19 when Kelvin Beachum went on the injured reserve list the same day, Stingily was the Steelers' choice because he was familiar to offensive line coach Mike Munchak. Stingily (6-foot-5, 318 pounds) was inactive for every game during his time on the Steelers' roster, and he can become an unrestricted free agent on March 9.
Since their season ended in the Divisional Round of the AFC Playoffs, the Steelers have been signing players to futures contracts, a bunch of nobodies from nowhere who rarely even make a roster. Last January, Villanueva was one of those futures signings, and this January he is the incumbent starting left tackle. Kelvin Beachum injuring his knee, and before that, Mike Adams not coming back from July back surgery were contributing factors, but Villanueva also played well enough and improved enough during his time on the field that he now can be considered a viable option moving forward at a critical position along the offensive line. The Steelers can feel comfortable about going into the 2016 season with Villanueva as their starting left tackle, which means he has come a long way since January 2015.
Guys who can step in and play center in the NFL are valuable, not only as members of a 53-man roster but also as part of the group of 46 in uniform on game days. Wallace, who turned 30 on Jan. 7, deserves credit for being one of the keys to the Steelers' season, because he stepped in immediately at center after Maurkice Pouncey was injured in August and played every significant offensive snap for a team that advanced to the Divisional Round of the playoffs. Wallace plays with a bit of an edge, and there's nothing wrong with having offensive linemen who won't take any guff or tolerate mistreatment of the quarterback. It will be good for the Steelers to get Pouncey back in 2016, but 2015 showed them the offense can survive with Wallace there instead.