Faced with an aging — and high-priced — interior of the offensive line, the Pittsburgh Steelers began preparing for the future last year when they drafted guard Kevin Dotson in the fourth round.
The rookie from Louisiana was thrust into the lineup earlier than expected, making two starts in place of David DeCastro Jersey early in the season and two for Matt Feiler down the stretch while appearing in 13 games.
Dotson performed so well — he was graded the NFL’s top pass-blocking guard by Pro Football Focus (minimum 200 snaps) — that he is expected to start full time in 2021.
Feiler, who started at left guard after playing right tackle in 2019, will be an unrestricted free agent in March. He will be 29 next season and can use his first foray into free agency to get a life-changing contract the Steelers likely won’t match.
Dotson also is a safety measure for DeCastro, the six-time Pro Bowl and two-time, first-team All-Pro selection at right guard. DeCastro turned 31 this month and has one year left on his contract that totals nearly $14.3 million against the salary cap in 2021.
After the Steelers finished No. 32 in rushing, team president Art Rooney II said the organization is committed to fixing that problem. Offensive line coach Shaun Sarrett was fired, and it’s not unreasonable to think changes will be made to the position group.
Although DeCastro was named to the Pro Bowl for the sixth year in a row, he was given the third-worst run blocking grade (58 of 60) by Pro Football Focus. Feiler was No. 41. Maurkice Pouncey was rated No. 28 among 32 eligible centers.
The Steelers could use the No. 24 pick in the NFL Draft to further replenish the interior of the line, be it at guard or center, where Pouncey is at the crossroads of his 11-year career. Pouncey, who will be 32 before the start of the season, is contemplating retirement rather than return to play out the final year of his contract that carries a $14.475 salary cap figure.
J.C. Hassenauer got his first NFL playing time in 2020, starting three games at center and one at left guard. He is an exclusive-rights free agent and can be brought back on the NFL minimum salary. He is the only internal option at center if Pouncey retires.
The Steelers could address the interior via free agency once they get the salary cap figure for 2021 and rework or shed contracts to get compliant. They attempted to add depth that way last season when they signed Stefen Wisniewski Jersey to a two-year contract.
Wisniewski, though, was injured in the season opener and never played another down for the Steelers. He was released and resurfaced at his former home in Kansas City and is set to return to the Super Bowl with the Chiefs next weekend.
The Steelers also lost another guard to waivers when Derwin Gray Jersey was claimed by the Jacksonville Jaguars in December. Danny Isidora was added to the roster late in the season but never got into a game for the Steelers and is an unrestricted free agent.
The only other guard under contract is John Leglue, who also can play tackle. Signed to the practice squad after Gray’s departure, Leglue was in the Denver, New Orleans and Green Bay organizations but hasn’t played in an NFL game.
Offseason outlook: G/C
Maurkice Pouncey Jersey, 1 year left on contract, $14,475,000 cap hit for 2021
David DeCastro, 1 year left on contract, $14,297,500 cap hit for 2021
Kevin Dotson Jersey, 3 years left on contract, $944,704 cap hit for 2021
Others under contract
John Leglue, 1 year left on contract, $660,000 cap hit for 2021
Matt Feiler Jersey, unrestricted, $3.259 million cap hit for 2020
Danny Isidora, unrestricted, $145,588 cap hit for 2020
J.C. Hassenauer Jersey, exclusive rights, $610,000 cap hit for 2020
Tomorrow: Defensive line