Free agent additions James Daniels and Mason Cole strengthen the inside of the Steelers offensive line


For the second year in a row, the Pittsburgh Steelers will begin offseason training next month without being certain of the identity of their starting center.

Unlike 2021, it won’t be because of a shortage of options for veterans.

Thanks to the efforts of the free agency organization, there will be no shortage of candidates this spring. Two of the five players signed from outside the organization are capable of starting in the pivot.

Mason Cole, former Arizona Cardinals and Minnesota Vikings, has signed a three-year, $15.75 million contract. James Daniels, who spent his first four seasons with the Chicago Bears, got an even bigger deal: three years for $26.5 million.

Both players have starting NFL experience at center as well as both guard positions.

Compare that experience to last spring after Maurkice Pouncey retired. The Steelers brought back inside linemate BJ Finney and retained an unproven JC Hassenauer before signing Kendrick Green, a college guard, to play center.

Green eventually won the starting job, but an injury led Hassenauer to start the final two games of the regular season and the playoff loss at Kansas City.

Green’s inconsistent play while healthy led the Steelers to consider his move to guard in 2022. Based on the signings of Cole and Daniels, the Steelers were looking for an upgrade at center. They also solved the vacancy at right guard, which Trai Turner filled last year, and provided some competition at left guard after a year shortened by Kevin Dotson.

The question is, which player will play where in the Steelers roster in 2022?

“If I had the choice, I would go for center, but I’m confident for the three inside positions,” Cole said. “Whatever they want me to do, I’m here for it. I have a job to do. I’m here to give my best to one or the other of the three.

Daniels is taking a similar approach for his future spot on the offensive line.

“The position is still in talks,” Daniels said. “I don’t know in what position I would be certain. I’m just excited to be here. Whatever position I may hold, I have experience in all three and am comfortable in all three.

A third-round draft pick by Arizona in 2018, Cole started 16 games at center in his rookie season. He lost his starting job in 2019 and made his only two starts of the year at left guard. The following season, he returned to center and made 14 starts. A trade last March sent Cole to Minnesota, where he had four starts at center and three at right guard.

Cole was at right guard when the Vikings rushed for 242 yards against the Steelers.

“I never cared where I played,” Cole said. “Anything I can do to help the team and bring the Lombardi Trophy here to the city of Pittsburgh (that’s my goal). Whatever that role is, I’m all for it.

A second-round pick by Chicago in 2018, Daniels started 48 of the 54 games he played in his four seasons with the Bears. Like Cole, he never settled in the same place on the line.

As a rookie, Daniels started exclusively at left guard. The following year, he split his 16 starts equally between center and left guard. Injuries have limited Daniels to five starts in 2020, and they’ve all come at left guard. Then the Bears moved Daniels to right guard last season, a position he played in starting all 17 games.

Given the financial commitment made to each player — Daniels received an $8.7 million signing bonus and Cole is expected to earn $11 million over the next two seasons — the Steelers did not sign them for s sit on the bench.

The Steelers could enter next season with an offensive line consisting of Dan Moore Jr. at left tackle, Green or Dotson at left guard, Cole at center, Daniels at right guard and Chuks Okorafor, who got a 29.5 million contract dollars over three years to avoid free will, at right tackle.

Cole, who turns 26 later this month, is the oldest of that group. Dotson is 25, Okorafor and Daniels are 24, and Green and Moore are 23.

“It’s exciting that we can grow together,” Daniels said. “We all played a decent amount of football. … It helps us get to know each other and grow with each other.

Joe Rutter is a staff writer for Tribune-Review. You can contact Joe by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .


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