According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Pittsburgh Steelers intend to completely revamp their offensive line entering next season. Starters Max Starks and Ramon Foster enter free agency, and are not expected to be re-signed. Oft-injured starting left guard Willie Colon is expected to be released, after just two years of a five year contract worth around $30 million. In their places, the Steelers are expected to start Marcus Gilbert at left tackle, David DeCastro at right guard, Kelvin Beachum at left guard with Mike Adams becoming the starting right tackle.
Starks and Foster moving on aren’t surprises because the team has been moving towards a younger starting unit of offensive linemen in recent seasons; however, the release of Colon is sending a statement to the whole roster. Colon was considered a very important part of the locker-room in Pittsburgh. He was a very talented starter at left guard with the versatility to play tackle. He was also given that huge contract after a season when he didn’t see the field. The Steelers completely believed in his ability to play football and stay healthy over the long-term with that five year contract.
After another season when Colon couldn’t start and finish all 16 games; however, it quickly became clear that the Steelers had made a major mistake. In the two years since signing that contract, Colon has started just 13 games. Nowhere near value for his more than $5 million per year earnings. Instead of moving forward with a talented, but inconsistent performer who consistently gives away penalties and can’t stay on the field, the Steelers are instead making the right decision in letting him go elsewhere.
Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert are able to do that because of the newfound depth along the team’s offensive line. So many injuries to starters in recent years has allowed the Steelers to develop a group of young offensive linemen in game situations. Out of next year’s prospective starters, only Maurkice Pouncey has started more than two seasons, but every other player has already started multiple games at this level, despite three rookies and one second year player filling those spots. Beachum may have excelled at right tackle in a difficult situation, but he was drafted to be a guard and will revert to that role. With Doug Legursky‘s flexibility to play both guard positions and center, the Steelers don’t need Colon to return as a backup and can’t afford to keep him on his current deal.
Instead the Steelers could look to bring back Foster. Foster is an understated football player who has proved to be very reliable when called upon for the Steelers. Much like Trai Essex did for years, Foster provided the flexibility and consistency that would make him the perfect backup. He has the ability to play both tackle and guard positions and shouldn’t see much attention as a free agent. That makes Foster both affordable and valuable to this team. Furthermore, because he has started so often during his time in the league, Foster would also provide some veteran leadership to what has suddenly become a very young group.
The Steelers would likely be interested in bringing back Starks after a good season for the veteran left tackle, but Starks should get a better deal elsewhere and find a starting opportunity with another team. As much as the franchise wanted Colon to work out, he has never lived up to his potential whether it be as a right tackle or left guard. His inability to stay healthy has played a huge part in that and ultimately made him an expendable piece this off-season.
A team that failed to make the playoffs has too many weaknesses that need addressing for loyalty to take precedence over business.