That reality has radically changed under Mike Tomlin, whose succession of starters spans Sean Mahan, Justin Hartwig, Maurkice Pouncey, and Doug Legursky.
If that bit of instability on this key offensive line position taught the Steelers Nation not to take center for granted, nothing prepared them for 2013. And that brings Steel Curtain Risings Steelers Free Agent Focus to Fernando Velasco and Cody Wallace.
Capsule Profile of Ve Velasco lazco and Wallace with the Steelers
The Pittsburgh Steelers were likely on Fernando Velasco’s mind for much of training camp, as he expected to start opposite them on opening day at Heinz Field. Alas, he fell as a cap casualty and was in church when David DeCastro’s errant cut block connected with Maurkice Pouncey’s ACL.
The Steelers signed Velasco immediately, and he brought stability to offensive line just as fast. Kelven Beachum was free to return to tight end and ultimately to relieve Mike Adams at left tackle.
Cody Wallace was in street clothes on opening day, and all the way to Thanksgiving saw little more than spot duty. That changed on Thanksgiving vs. the Baltimore Ravens, as Velasco went down with an Achilles injury. Wallace stepped in and started the Steelers final four games of the season.
Case for Resigning Velasco and/or Wallace
The Steelers are franchise that saw four players split the starting duties at center (with all due respect to Roger Duffy’s starts during 1999 and 2000) that was suddenly forced to start three centers in a single season.
But you know what?
- Save for the home opener, for all of the weakness of the Steelers offensive line, the quality of play on the interior line was never at issue. That speaks well of both men’s abilities.
This reality alone makes both Velasco and Wallace attractive. Both are veterans who know what it’s like to line up in the trenches, both have proven themselves, and both have position flexibility. What more do the Steelers want?
Case for Letting Velasco and/or Wallace Walk
While the NFL’s salary cap increase look to help the Steelers, it still does not give them a lot of room to operate. Fernando Velasco has shown the NFL he belongs, and the market value for his services should reflect that. Do the Steelers really have the luxury of a carrying veteran with 60 games and 30 starts under his belt?
The Steelers could do worse than Wallace, but his limited playing experience, he’d never started prior to the Steelers game vs the Dolphins, suggests that they could also do better.
Curtain’s Call on Velasco and Wallace
The wild card here is Fernando Velasco’s torn ACL, ironically enough. Had he not been injured, he almost certainly would have found a team willing to pay him more than Pittsburgh would have been willing to offer. But teams will be leery about throwing money at a player coming off an ACL injury, particularly in the early going of free agency, when the contracts are biggest.
That in all likelihood means that Velasco won’t see much interest until after the 2014 NFL Draft. And at that point the Steelers will have far better insight into the progress of his recovery.
- Cody Wallace might attract some interest, but he’s likely a player the Steelers can have back if they want back.