More Important OL Decisions Loom Next Offseason For Steelers

After two preseason games during which fourth-year right tackle Marcus Gilbert has been arguably the team’s best—and unquestionably its most improved—offensive lineman, the Pittsburgh Steelers rewarded the veteran entering the final year of his rookie contract with a five-year extension worth around $30 million.

Gilbert’s best friend and former college teammate, center Maurkice Pouncey, was also entering the final year of his rookie contract before he, too, signed an extension that will keep him in Pittsburgh through the 2019 season.

The Steelers thus have two pieces of their offensive line now locked up long-term. But it leaves me wondering: what happens next year?

The fact of the matter is that the Steelers will have four key offensive linemen entering the final year of their rookie contract next year—though they will assuredly exercise the fifth-year option on former 2012 first-round draft pick David DeCastro.

That still leaves three other linemen, however, including two starters, in contract flux after this season: namely, Kelvin Beachum, Ramon Foster, and Mike Adams.

Beachum and Adams, of course, are younger players, just entering their third season and playing on their rookie contract. Foster is a veteran entering his sixth season and is in the second year of a three-year contract. He will be 30 when he hits free agency in 2016.

Although the salary cap is expected to climb precipitously once again next offseason, the Steelers will have to decide what exactly they intend to do with their offensive line. How many of them can they afford to invest in long-term?

The matter is complicated when considering the inevitable quarterback contract extension due next season with Ben Roethlisberger, which will likely average over $20 million in annual value.

Of course, the reality is that neither Foster nor Beachum will likely command top salary at their respective positions when they hit the open market. Neither did Gilbert. DeCastro, of course, could very well be another matter, who like Pouncey could stand to command at-or-near top-level pay per position.

But with marginal-value contracts at the other starting offensive line positions, it is conceivable that the Steelers could keep this unit intact for a while longer. Foster, at 28, is the oldest of the group, and may be the least likely to return once his contract is up if he wants to play for a big contract, but that doesn’t seem to be his style.

Then again, his style isn’t necessarily ideal for Mike Munchak’s offensive line schemes. Nevertheless, replacing him doesn’t seem to be in the cards or on the horizon in the near future.

Adams is the truly forgotten man. A former second-round pick entering just his third season, it almost seems as though he is already destined to be a backup for his career. He does have two seasons left to turn it around, but the Steelers have shown in recent years that they are willing to walk away from high draft picks who have not panned out.

It’s not easy keeping an offensive line together, especially when one or more of them reaches the top level of their position. The Steelers know what it’s like to lose an All-Pro lineman when Alan Faneca left the team in 2007. They’ve succeeded in locking up two pieces of the line long-term, but what happens with the rest remains to be seen.

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.
  • Zach

    I see beach and foster signing for average deals and we let M. Adams walk.

  • Caesar

    Gilbert’s guaranteed money wasn’t that large. Wouldn’t be surprised to see it end up being a two year deal with him cut afterward with minimal repercussions to make room to extend DeCastro. And hope that by then there is a new prospect in the pipeline.

  • NW86

    Yes, it will be interesting to see how this all pans out. Everyone talks about how much better the Steelers cap situation will be the next couple years, but that’s still with some pieces of the puzzle unsigned. You still can’t keep everyone you want long term.
    Foster may not be the best fit for Munchak’s scheme, but he does have 2 qualities you want in a guard – he always knows his assignment, and he is always available (not hurt). I also don’t think there will be a huge market for him at the end of his deal, so there is no need to lock him up early – you let him play out his deal, then offer him another similarly modest, 3 year deal. At some point soon, you draft his eventual replacement, and allow him to finish that deal as a swing guard.
    I love Beachum, but I’m not convinced he is the team’s long-term LT. I’d still like to see him stay in Pgh, but he may also be best suited as a swing backup lineman. If you can’t get him at that type of price, it may not be worth overextending there. I may be wrong though, and if he plays well this year I’ll happily eat my words.
    I’d still like to see the team invest 1 more high draft pick in a tackle. That would make Adams expendable next year, and he could then battle Beachum for the starting job.

  • frednash

    Disagree

    Adams is our best road grader

    He’s worth a ton as 3rd te

  • Steelers12328882

    Steelers should draft a LT next year in the 1st rd and move Beachum to LG and let Foster leave. Adams will be lucky to finish out his contract.

  • steeltown

    I see them drafting OL early again soon, probably not 1st Rd, but early on with Munchak overseeing the process. The need to re-sign someone like Foster should be greatly reduced by this time ’16, plus as mentioned if the do plan to re-sign Foster he shouldn’t break the bank.

    Beachum should eventually be re-signed, even if he fails to become a mainstay at LT… I could care less what happens to Adams

  • Tullydew

    In my mind DeCastro is already signed “long term”. He will still be under contract for 2014, 2015 and 2016 option will be picked up. That’s 3 more years for DeCastro. No need to think about signing him to an extension until 2016.

  • Superdriller316

    Why not just draft a TE who can block?

  • Eric MacLaurin

    I think we’ll bring someone in before the start of this season. Maybe 2 guys.

    I would like to see the team use Munch as a tool to take someone to the next level as opposed to waiting until next year and giving him a 3rd or 4th round pick. I don’t want to limit that to our guys either. If we can replace Adams with someone better we shouldn’t hesitate and I have a hard time accepting that this is impossible to achieve via trade if there are no FA’s available. We need to stop hiding from that as a tool to develop the team.

    I would absolutely use our 1st round pick on a LT or guard if they’re the best available.

  • Josh Knepshield

    Who thinks Adams can play LG when Foster leaves?

  • ApexSteel

    The best thing that this OL can get is some consistency. Don’t change anything anytime soon and even in 2016 they might not need to get a linemen in the first round. Just wait it out.

  • Rick Mooney

    Too early to stress over this. Let’s enjoy now ! Besides we need to see a good year from this unit. Haven’t seen complete year yet. Ben will retire in 7 years omg can’t worry about that now!

  • Steeler Wheeler

    And how many teams pay anything more than the minimum for a 3rd TE? And they are probably all UDFA. 2nd round money for this guy is a joke. Steelers picked up the worst tackle in football off the crap heap last season ( Whimper ) and he outplayed Adams.

  • http://thereactionblog.com Michael Stickings

    All true, but after the worries this offseason it’s hard to think too far ahead to next year — let’s just see how this season plays out.

    That said, the trio of Pouncey, Gilbert, and DeCastro, assuming they all stay relatively healthy, is a pretty great core going forward. If Beachum plays at the level many of us think he can (solid but not all-pro), he can be signed at a reasonable rate. If Adams shows he can develop into something useful under Munchak, he too can be signed, if not for much. As for Foster, well, we’ll see. Overall, the first-team group looks very, very good. My concern is more with depth, though Adams and Wallace could help out a great deal this year if they prove to be keepers, and so too Johnson given his ability to play all across the line. And let’s not forget, there’s also the draft. They want D in 1 and 2 this year, but they could easily go CB and OL in some order next year, which means we might have a top-tier rookie in the mix in 2015 as well.