The Cleveland Browns are reportedly set to sign former Pittsburgh Steelers offensive lineman Chris Hubbard to an impressive five-year, $37.5 million deal that includes roughly half of that salary guaranteed and comes in with an annual figure of $7.5 million. And even though I don’t know him personally at all, I couldn’t be happier for him.
While that is good money for a starting right tackle, where he will presumably play, and is above what any estimate I’ve seen comes in for him, it’s certainly not past him to live up to the value of that contract, and he is actually being put into a position where he could succeed.
First and foremost, he is staying within the same division and going to a team with which he has familiarity, given that the Steelers and the Browns play twice a year. Add in the fact that the Browns have brought in the only offensive coordinator he has ever known in Todd Haley and you have a clear pattern of continuity there.
The 2017 season more than any other time in his career was an opportunity for him to settle down into one position, really for the first time. he had three multiple-game stretches, including a key late four-game stretch, during which he could consistently day-in and day-out focus on working at right tackle while Marcus Gilbert was sidelined, either due to injury or suspension.
And he showed clear growth when given that opportunity. There is a well-known story that is recited regarding former Steelers lineman Tunch Ilkin, who similarly was a utility player early in his career. As he told Ron Lippock, then-offensive line coach Ron Blackledge asked Ilkin what he could do to help him get better. He told Blackledge that what would help him more than anything else is to stay at one position.
And so he did. And he continued to develop. He even made the Pro Bowl twice. A former sixth-round draft pick developed not just until a reliable full-time starter but one of the best players at his position for a given period of time.
There is no question that Hubbard’s versatility is an incredible asset to have, and his ability to be used as a tackle-eligible really helped him to not only gain confidence and comfort in himself, but to show his coaches that he was deserving of their trust.
He can play any position along the line in addition to the tackle-eligible role, but with the salary that he was given, Cleveland clearly intends to have him start. Should Joe Thomas choose to retire—a decision that he said he would like to have by today—it’s possible they try him at left tackle.
What’s in it for Pittsburgh? Well, depending on what they end up doing in free agency, and what Hubbard does on the field, the contract that he signed should put them in position to get a solid compensatory draft pick next year.