Last week I put out an article of a list of potential options the Pittsburgh Steelers may look at to replace newly retired center Maurkice Pouncey via the 2021 NFL Draft.
Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that the Steelers will be able to find a replacement in the draft as it can be pretty unpredictable. Also, there is no guarantee that if they get their guy in the draft that he is ready to start Week 1.
Now, taking a look at the free agency pool, the Steelers can potentially find an immediate starter. If not a starter, at least a player they are more familiar with and know what they are going to get.
Below are some suitable options I think the Steelers will look at this offseason, and like most other positions, will have to come on a relatively cheap deal. The Steelers are yet again strapped for cash, but luckily, this years center free agency pool is rather crowded which could make it hard for some of the mid range talent to cash in.
Ben Garland, San Francisco 49ers, 32 Years Old
Garland is a journeyman center who has made stops with three different teams up to this point in his career. Until last season, he wasn’t relied upon to be a full-time starter in any of his seven seasons in any of his stops. However, Garland stepped up by starting three postseason games in 2019 for the 49ers due to injury and performed well enough for them to bring him back. Garland ended up being the starting center for the 49ers entering the 2020 season, and was playing decent until he ended up getting injured in Week 5 and not returning. Garland would be a good cheap option who has been around the league, and the last two seasons has proven he can be a starter if needed. Given his limited experience starting and his age, he likely would be best served as a one-year stop gap to allow another rookie sit and learn. Like most others on this list, he is also versatile and can play either guard spot as well.
Tyler Larsen, Carolina Panthers, 29 Years Old
Unlike Garland, Larsen has been with the same team his entire career and hasn’t seen the field much in recent years. His last time starting was in 2018 and that was only for three games. However, he played rather well when he was given the chance. Larsen started 10 games in his second year in 2017 while filling in for injured starter, Ryan Kalil. In those 10 games, he played rather well for the Panthers and helped them have one of the best rushing attacks in the league that season. Since Larsen hasn’t started many games recently it’ll be hard to know how he will perform now. However, he should be extremely cheap, and would provide good competition for an incoming rookie as a worst case.
Tyler Shatley, Jacksonville Jaguars, 29 Years Old
The second Tyler on the list is the one who has the least amount of experience at center, but definitely has shown the ability to play there without issue. This past season, Shatley started 10 games for the Jaguars and performed really well. Even though he started at guard for the Jags in 2020, the fact that he played well is a good sign. He also did so while keeping his play clean with only one penalty all season. Shatley is someone that the Steelers could sign for a cheap contract and have some confidence in him as a starter as long as he can pick up the offense. Being able to play guard as well as center has been almost a must on the Steelers over the years as the backup, and he definitely checks that box.
B.J. Finney, Cincinnati Bengals, 29 Years Old
A familiar name. We know how the Steelers love to bring back players who played on the team previously, and here could be another with Finney. However, people may be confused because he is currently still under contract with the Bengals. It is very likely the Bengals will release the five-year pro due to him being on the books for $3.25M in 2021, and they can save all of that by setting him free. Finney signed a two-year deal with the Seattle Seahawks in the 2020 offseason after spending his first four years in Pittsburgh. He was then traded to the Bengals after playing zero snaps for the Seahawks through seven weeks. He then proceeded to play zero snaps for the Bengals in 2020 as well. Finney isn’t the ideal starter for 2021, but he provides the organization with some familiarity, and potentially most importantly, some familiarity for Ben Roethlisberger.
With the 2021 NFL free agency pretty loaded at the center position, the Steelers should be able to sign one of these options, if not someone else, to a pretty cheap deal under the radar as other teams focus in on the bigger money players.
Who do you think the Steelers should look at to fill the shoes left by newly retired center, Maurkice Pouncey? Comment below!