Pre-Draft Free Agent Movements: Offensive Line
The vast bulk of the offseason roster moves to be made before the draft are already completed, so now is a good time to start taking a look at how the month of March (and the early portions of April) have affected the depth chart.
The Pittsburgh Steelers entered the offseason with 21 unrestricted free agents. They retained many of them, but also lost a few that they likely wished to keep, and were forced to replace them from outside the organization. The Steelers also released a few players, in addition to signing half a dozen (and counting) players from other teams.
The first position we will take a look at is the offensive line and the offseason gains and losses there that the team has experienced.
Cody Wallace: Cody Wallace was a surprise roster signing after the final roster cuts of the 2013 season, with many questioning whether he offered greater value than John Malecki, who made the final cut down.
However, he was forced to prove himself over the final month of the regular season after a pair of centers went down with season-ending injuries. Bringing a career total 15 regular season snaps with him, Wallace started the final four games of the year, during which the Steelers went 3-1 and nearly made the playoffs.
Wallace played well in those games, particularly as he gained playing time, with the final two games being better efforts than the first two. He was also forced to play both left and right guard earlier in the season, showing his versatility. He played with a mean streak, and the Steelers rewarded him with a three-year contract, likely making him the first man up should injury hit the interior of the offensive line.
Guy Whimper: One of the more universally derided free agent signings in recent memory, Guy Whimper came into camp last season on a veteran-minimum contract with no guarantees to make the roster. He ended up with the final spot of the offensive line, and played far more snaps than any reserve lineman should, upwards of 300.
However, he proved to be versatile, playing all four positions other than center at one point or another during the season. His finest performance came filling in at right tackle early in the season during a division game, but he also started at both left and right guard. He still has room to grow as an interior player due to his inexperience there.
The Steelers re-signed him on another one-year veteran-minimum contract with a small signing bonus, though that still doesn’t guarantee a roster spot in September. Should the Steelers be unable to upgrade from Whimper, they seem comfortable bringing him back as an eighth or ninth lineman, though they would probably rather have him stick to tackle.
Remaining Free Agents:
Fernando Velasco: Fernando Velasco deserves a lot of credit for his play last season. His ability to step in cold and take over the center position after Maurkice Pouncey’s injuries in the season opener saved the Steelers’ year—such that it was, anyway.
While he didn’t show Pro Bowl-caliber play, he was a professional, and he anchored the line well, having brought with him starting experience before signing with the Steelers. The team reportedly has interest in re-signing Velasco, but that can wait until June. Velasco tore his Achilles late in the season and is still recovering.
That should stave off most interest from other teams and keep his value down. Having both Wallace and Velasco as interior reserves would represent exceptional interior value and would have the added benefit of keeping Whimper on the outside.